Stephen Timms MP has praised Jesus House, where a senior pastor has previously spoken out against same-sex marriage and LGBT+ equality legislation, after leader Keir Starmer issued an apology for visiting the church.
Taking to social media this afternoon, the Labour MP for East Ham tweeted: “I applaud the extraordinary work of @jesushouseuk, and of churches and other faith groups, in supporting our communities throughout the past year.”
The post has received criticism on the platform, with many Twitter users replying to the tweet with the apology from the Labour leader. “I think Stephen is saying he doesn’t agree with Keir on something quite fundamental,” Andrew Adonis wrote.
LGBTQ+ Co-operators council member Kira Lewis described the comment from the Labour backbencher as “truly shocking”, adding that “being provocative about those who endorse conversion therapy is just not OK”.
“This is a Labour MP trolling LGBTQ people in support of a homophobic church Keir Starmer had to apologise for endorsing,” Guardian columnist Owen Jones said. “Timms voted against equal marriage, claiming marriage was about procreation. He shouldn’t be a Labour MP.”
Timms voted against allowing same sex couples to marry in 2013 and was recorded as absent from parliament for several other votes on same-sex marriage. The east London MP later voted to permit same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland in 2019.
LGBT+ Labour has contacted Timms privately. The group told LabourList: “We were disappointed to see Stephen Timms’s tweet after Keir Starmer’s apology yesterday. We have contacted his office and will be taking it up with him privately.”
Update, 7.50pm: Stephen Timms has told LabourList: “In my constituency and others, churches and other faith groups have done an extraordinary job – especially through food banks – in supporting families during the pandemic. It’s important to affirm that.
“The attached report of the all-party parliamentary group on faith and society, which I chair, provides evidence on this. Many of my constituents would have had a far harder time during the pandemic were it not for their efforts. One of the churches in East Ham affiliated to Jesus House has played a key role.
“Given the attention this afternoon, I have checked with Jesus House. They tell me they don’t practise anything like conversion therapy, and regard homophobia as anti-Christian.”
Starmer apologised on Monday evening for the “hurt” caused by his visit last week. Socialist society LGBT+ Labour had said it had received an “unreserved apology” earlier, but the party only later made the apology public and deleted the tweet.
Starmer tweeted: “I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”
Boris Johnson’s spokesperson today defended his own visit to the Jesus House for All The Nations last month, saying: “It was a visit where he was able to meet Black community leaders and work to increase vaccine take-up and deal with vaccine hesitancy.”
Both the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales have visited the pop-up vaccine centre in recent weeks. Theresa May was criticised for visiting the church in 2017 and Johnson was also criticised for a visit in 2009 when London mayor.
Agu Irukwu, the pastor, signed a letter in 2006 to the Daily Telegraph opposing laws that would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination and signed another letter to the same paper opposing same-sex marriage legislation in 2013.
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”.
Stephen Timms and the Labour Party have been contacted for comment.