Jesus House’s senior pastor has rebuked claims that the London church visited by both prime minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer offers conversion therapy.
The evangelical ministry became caught in the crosshairs after Starmer attended the church on Good Friday (2 April) to promote its pop-up NHS vaccination centre.
Years-old accusations that the church carries out conversion therapy – that it performs “exorcism” on queer people – quickly resurfaced. Jesus House has denied such claims.
Starmer apologised for attending the church Monday evening (5 April), saying he was not “aware” of the church’s beliefs and that the trip was a “mistake”.
But in an interview with Premier Christian News, pastor Agu Irukwu shrugged off allegations that the church offers conversion therapy to its worshippers.
Though, he stopped short of denouncing the debunked and discriminatory practice long compared to torture by LGBT+ rights experts.
“We do not engage in any form of conversion therapy,” Irukwu told the outlet.
“We, as a church, provide appropriate pastoral support, including prayer, to all our members, whatever life situations or circumstances they find themselves in.
“This is consistent with the basic fundamentals of freedom of speech and freedom of religion and the government’s current position.”
He added: “I have said several times that it is incompatible with being a true follower of Jesus Christ to be anti-anyone.
“The cross reminds us that we all need Jesus.”
Jesus House once compared being LGBT+ to bestiality
Jesus House’ glass-fronted walls are not the only thing transparent about the church.
Speaking about the Equality Act in a letter to The Telegraph in 2006, he said: “The regulations force Christians in churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality.”
Moreover, while the website has since been stripped down, now acting more as a bulletin board for congregants to look up upcoming sermon times and events, since removed pages have taken aim at being LGBT+.
The church, at one point, appeared to compare being LGBT+ to bestiality.
Its “Men’s Ministry Survey” in 2015 asked respondents, according to an archived version of the web page: “Have you ever experimented with homosexuality or any other alternative sexuality (bisexual, transgender, beastiality [sic])?”
While an an archived “Teen Relationship” page said that “part of growing up is developing feelings for the opposite gender” – being queer is not a possibility, it seems.
Irukwu claimed that Labour emailed Jesus House as part of the party’s “Let’s Vaccinate Britain Campaign”.
The proposed focus being on how religious leaders – long trusted by church-goers over public health officials, researchers say – can help encourage people to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Labour, Irukwu explained, wanted to show Starmer seeing the church’s vaccine rollout efforts.
Although shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves also sought to stress this – that Starmer visited not the place of worship but the vaccine centre – the promotional video for the trip did appear to show Starmer and MP Dawn Butler pray with the pastor.
Downing Street officials expressed a similar wrap to Labour when pressed about Johnson’s visit. Again, training focus away from the church’s anti-LGBT+ track record and onto the vaccine rollout.
“From our perspective, the visit went very well,” Irukwu recalled.
“Sir Keir Starmer had a chance to see the pop-up vaccination centre setup, and to speak with some of our NHS frontline health care workers.
“He also had a chance to chat with young Black members of our church and to hear their views on the vaccine and its impact on our community.”
Since the saga, Irukwu said he has “not had any contact from anyone from the Labour Party”.
PinkNews contacted Jesus House for comment.