How Starmer's Trip to ChurchReignited a Row Over Conversion Therapy
From a Nigerian church to so-called ‘therapeutic counselling’ in Northern Ireland and Christian Right charities linked to UK MPs, Sian Norris reports on the tactics of anti-LGBTIQ groups
The apology by Labour leader Keir Starmer for visiting a church accused of holding anti-LGBTIQ views has reignited a row about conversion therapy – the process of trying to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity. The practice has been recognised by the UN as “a breach to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.”
The Jesus House Church in North London has been accused of historically offering conversion therapy and carrying out “exorcisms” of LGBTIQ people. Senior Pastor Agu Irukwu denies the claims, saying it offers “appropriate pastoral support, including prayer, to all our members, whatever life situations or circumstances they find themselves in.”
Boris Johnson and Prince Charles had previously visited the Church which is currently volunteering its space as a vaccine centre. The Daily Mail called the Prince’s visit “a beacon of diversity” and a “lesson in what service and duty really means.” Johnson’s Press Secretary has defended his visit, saying it was “incredibly important.”
Back in 2009, when he was Mayor of London, Johnson was criticised for visiting the Church.
The Government has promised to ban conversion therapy, a move backed by Labour.
However, LGBTIQ campaigners are concerned the plans risk being watered down after Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said the Government “did not intend to stop those who wish to seek spiritual counselling as they explore their sexual orientation.”
Matthew Hyndman, who founded the campaigning group Ban Conversion Therapy, told Byline Times “in my experience, spiritual guidance is Evangelical speech for conversion therapy.” Hyndman was offered conversion therapy “under the guise of wanting to talk and explore the Bible together.”
Badenoch’s statement led to the resignation of three LGBTIQ Government advisers, who called her and the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss, “ignorant.”
Meanwhile, religious groups have claimed a ban threatens religious freedom.
“Religious freedom ends at the point of harm,” said Hyndman.
Anti-LGBTIQ Views in the Church
Both members of Jesus House and the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) network it belongs to have a history of anti-LGBTIQ campaigning and statements.
An archived page on Jesus House website appears to compare being LGBTIQ with engaging in bestiality, asking respondents to its Men’s Ministry survey “have you ever experimented with homosexuality or any other alternative sexuality (bisexual, transgender, beastiality)?”
Pastor Irukwu has also campaigned against the Equality Act and equal marriage rights – co-signing a 2012 letter to the Telegraph that stated “marriage is and always will be distinctively a union between a man and a woman”. Any changes to marriage laws would mean “devaluing this vitally important social institution.”
RCCG originated in Nigeria, where homosexuality is illegal. It’s headed up by 79-year-old Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye who is worth between an estimated $60 – £130 million and it has a network of 40,000 churches in 168 countries.
The Churches’ Sunday School teachers’ manuals make clear its stance on LGBTIQ rights. Students are told to list four things “which the church can do to rescue our society from the sin of homosexuality.”
RCCG’s manuals offer the “prayer point” that “God will deliver the nations of the world from the sin of homosexuality and lesbianism” and claim that “homosexuals and lesbians … do not want to be perceived as abnormal or dangerous.” They say that homosexuality is a “sin” that “needs to be laid at the cross and repented of.”
The manuals encourage “Christians to preach Christ to homosexual rather than condemnation” and remind students that “homosexuals should be treated with dignity as they are made in the image of God.” However, this “does not mean that Christians should approve of their sin.”
Vera, a transwoman living in Nigeria, described how churches in the country “did not allow me to enter. They said people like me are not welcome here. In another church, the Pastor asked me if I was male or female. I left immediately.”
Conversion Therapy in the UK
The Alliance claims “homoerotic sexual activity without repentance” is an offence worthy of “church discipline” and that churches should welcome sexually active gay people, but only “in the expectation that they will come in due course to see the need to be transformed.”
Hyndman told Byline Times that “you do not get to choose what family or community you grow up in. If you are gay or trans growing up in the Evangelical community, you don’t fit the mould or adhere to the rules the Evangelical community wants you to. The choice that you have is to go through conversion therapy or leave. This is when the coercion element comes in and it’s very controlling.” In this context, he added “for the Government to say they want to leave room for spiritual guidance isn’t enough.”
One organisation caught up in the row over conversion therapy is the Core Issues Trust, run by Mike Davidson. During a conference in January, which Byline Times attended undercover, Davidson described treating so-called “unwanted same sex attraction” as similar to treating an “addiction” – offensively equating being LGBTIQ with having an illness.
In an interview last summer, Davidson said conversion therapy is a “pejorative term” and its usage “a political ploy” before accusing LGBTIQ-rights campaigners of being “totalitarian” and part of a “left-wing movement”.
Davidson also told the interviewer that the proposed ban on conversion therapy represented “the blossoming of cultural Marxism” – a phrase that has an anti-Semitic history and whose usage has been criticised by the Board of Deputies for British Jews.
The January conference was attended by members of Voice for Justice UK. The group, that claims sex education “sexualises” children, has links to Democratic Unionist Party MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – convening the The Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group which Donaldson chairs.
Links to Anti-Rights Groups and Politicians
Core Issues Trust is now taking legal action against Barclays Bank after having its accounts closed in a move Davidson described as “mob rule.”
It is represented by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), of the organisation Christian Concern. Its founder, Andrea Rose Minichello Williams, is listed as part of Core Issues Trust’s leadership. According to Companies House, Andrea Rose Williams was a Director between 2015-2019.
In the past, the CLC has represented anti-abortion activist Christian Hacking of CBR UK. The group targeted Labour MP Stella Creasy in 2019 and believes abortion is a form of Satanic Ritual Abuse. It is currently supporting a former magistrate who expressed anti-gay adoption views and a school caretaker who tweeted Pride events were harmful to children.
Like Voice for Justice UK, Christian Concern is linked to the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. In 2008 it supported anti-abortion Conservative Health Minister Nadine Dorries in her bid to reduce the upper abortion time limit when its members registered and created a website for her campaign.
The Christian Legal Centre also provided legal representation to Nadia Eweida and Ms S. Chaplin. The pair fought a religious freedom case to allow them to wear a crucifix in their respective workplaces. The case was supported in the European Court of Human Rights by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, including Roger Kiska and Paul Diamond.
Alliance Defending Freedom has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its European branch, ADF International, donated £927 to Conservative MP Fiona Bruce to attend its youth conference in 2019 and was cited in a recent Government report on freedom of speech at universities.
Back in 2012, Diamond provided legal representation to Abort67 on public disorder charges after activists displayed a graphic banner outside a reproductive healthcare clinic.
Kiska, who no longer works for ADF International, is on the Committee of the Values Foundation. The organisation campaigns for “traditional family structures” and is critical of LGBTIQ-inclusive sex and relationships education. Its patron is Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh.
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