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Church News

Christians insulted by Keir Starmer's apology for visiting church that doesn't agree with gay marriage

Some Christians have expressed disappointment with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for publicly apologising for visiting a church that does not support gay marriage. 

Starmer visited Jesus House in North London last month because it is being used as a vaccine centre and is helping to building trust in the jab. A video of his visit a few days earlier was released on Good Friday but has now been taken down. 

Starmer told Premier last Thursday in an interview: "I've mentioned Jesus House that we went to last week or the week before - because the vaccine centre is in the church and the church has been doing the outreach work the percentage of people coming forward has gone up to one of the best in the country."

The church's leader Pastor Agu Irukwu has been accused of also supporting 'conversion therapy', something he has been accused of before and denied. Conversion therapy can refer to a wide range of practises to do with supressing sexuality from abuse and torture to prayer and support to remain celibate, like many straight non-married couples receive. 
Premier has asked Labour LGBT+ for details of what they believe was being done at Jesus House. In a letter, the Labour LGBT Staff Network Committee say Pastor Agu is "vociferously anti-abortion" and "compares homosexuality to bestiality". Despite newspaper headlines referring to the pastor's belief in conversion therapy as 'notorious', not one has cited an example. They do refer to him signing letters in the The Daily Telegraph questioning religious freedom in relation to sexual-orientation equality laws. 

In response to Starmer's visit, many LGBT+ people were hurt, so he wrote on Twitter: "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."

It is not clear whether Starmer's statement refers to the church's views on same-sex marriage or their Pastor's purported views on conversion therapy. Therefore, church leaders have been wondering where this leaves them in Labour's view if they too only believe in heterosexual marriage, such as the Catholic Church and the Church of England. 

The Christian Labour MP Stephen Timms, an advocate of churches working with local authorities on social issues, told Premier all Christians are welcome in the Labour party. 

"I haven't had a chance to talk to Keir about this yet, I hope I will when Parliament returns next week, but I really want to add my voice to applaud the support of Jesus House for its community over the past year...Never in my lifetime have we been in a situation where churches have had such a key role in supporting families, and frankly, keeping people alive.

"The debt we owe to our churches is enormous and things have been really hard for hundreds of 1000s of families over the past year, they'd have been much, much worse without the extraordinary help that our churches have provided."

Speaking about how this will change his leader's future visits, Timms said: "I'm absolutely sure Keir will be continuing to visit churches and other places of worship as part of our party work of engaging with the community - you have to engage with places of worship if you're going to do that job properly and I know that's what Keir certainly intends to do. We'll be talking to people from all parts of our community from every kind of organisation in order to build the support for the Labour government I hope we're going to have after the next general election."

Jesus House is part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination that started in Nigeria. 

Graham Miller, CEO of church planting network London City Mission, wrote that it was a case of Starmer and his team not understanding the cultural context: "Keir needs to stop using black Christians as a photo opportunity and do the hard yards of understanding the complicated cultural situations he is walking into when he holds meetings at places like @jesushouseuk…He owes Nigerian Christians an apology".

Columnist Brendan O'Neill wrote in The Spectator: "The Christians at Jesus House are guilty of nothing more than holding traditional Christian beliefs. Just look at the coverage of this daft controversy. 'Keir Starmer criticised over visit to church where pastor opposed same-sex marriage', says the Guardian's headline. In other words, 'Starmer criticised for visiting a Christian church that adheres to Christian doctrine'."

Others were pleased with Starmer's apology, seeing it as humble and genuine. 

Some said he should prove his support for the LGBT+ community by removing the whip from Rosie Duffield, a Labour MP who said last year that "only women have a cervix", something Archbishop Justin Welby defended her for when she was attacked online for her comments. 

Some have wondered whether Sir Keir Starmer will now not visit other religious building which do not support gay marriage. Neither the Church of England nor the Catholic Church conduct same-sex weddings, although the views within the churches vary, and some are accusing him of hypocrisy if he does continue to visit mosques which hold the same view.

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