Labour defends visit to church with pastor opposed to LGBT+ rights

Rachel Reeves has issued a fresh defence of Labour leader Keir Starmer’s visit to a London church with a senior pastor who has spoken out against same-sex marriage and LGBT+ equality legislation.

“I don’t think anyone can doubt Keir Starmer’s and Labour’s commitment to the rights of the LGBT+ community. Just in the last couple of weeks, Labour have been calling out the government on its failure to ban conversion therapy, for example,” Reeves said.

“Keir Starmer has spoken very powerfully and passionately about Labour would do in government. He was visiting a vaccine centre – that doesn’t mean we endorse all the views that the people who worship there would potentially endorse.”

 

In a video tweeted by Starmer on Friday, he said: “I’m here today at Jesus House in London. It’s a wonderful example of a church serving their community by coming together with health professionals and volunteers in the fight against the virus.

“From rolling out the vaccine to running the local food bank, Jesus House – like many other churches across the UK – has played a crucial role in meeting the needs of the community.” The video appears to show Starmer and local MP Dawn Butler praying with the pastor.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party is unwavering in its support for the LGBT+ community and a woman’s right to access safe abortions, and have called for the government to stop dragging its feet and ban the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy.”

Agu Irukwu, the pastor, signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph opposing laws that would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination in 2006 and signed another letter to the same paper opposing same-sex marriage legislation in 2013.

Reacting to the video initially, LGBT+ Labour tweeted: “We have spoken with the leader of the [opposition’s] team regarding his visit to a church on Good Friday that does not align with our values on conversion therapy or LGBT+ equality.

“We are satisfied that the Labour Party, and Keir Starmer personally, are determined to ban conversion therapy and achieve equality for LGBT+ people.”

Following criticism from some activists for the response, LGBT+ Labour added: “The visit was unacceptable and we made this clear to LOTO [the leader of the opposition’s office].

“We received an unreserved apology, and will be urgently meeting with them next week to ensure this does not happen again and that LGBT+ equality is embedded in everything that Labour does.”

Labour MP Kate Osborne tweeted: “Very disappointed to see this. @jesushouseuk have a history of supporting conversation therapy and general intolerance towards LGBT+ people. Have they found a ‘cure’ yet?”

Boris Johnson visited Jesus House in March to praise “the incredible work” being done on Covid vaccination there. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall also paid a visit to the north London church in early March.

Theresa May was criticised in 2017 when she met with members of Jesus House, which she described as “one of the most lively growing churches in the UK”, and participated in a Q&A session with Irukwu.

Jesus House responded at the time to what it termed “misinformed comments”, saying: “We are called to love all, irrespective of their ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation. It’s not in our place to judge others.”

The letter signed by Irukwu in 2006 said the Equality Act would “force” churches to “promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality” yet “this is not what the Bible teaches and it is not what we believe to be the truth”.

Jesus House has been contacted for comment.

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