Theresa May 'worships' with pastor who campaigned against gay equality and same-sex marriage

 Pastor Agu Irukwu campaigned against the Equality Act and the legalisation of gay marriage

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Theresa May has been criticised for "worshipping" with a clergyman who has a history of anti-LGBT campaigning.

The Prime Minister met with members of the Jesus House Church, which she described as “one of the most lively growing churches in the UK” over the weekend.

Her official Twitter account showed her meeting members of the congregation. Ms May also met with Pastor Agu Irukwu, who campaigned against the Equality Act and the legalisation of gay marriage. 

She participated in a Q&A session with Mr Irukwu, who became a senior pastor in 1994, and Jesus House said she took part in worship. 

LGBT activists expressed shock at the Prime Minister’s visit, made just ten days before the general election. 

"Theresa May's decision to visit pastor Agu Irukwu and Jesus House is an insult to the whole LGBT community but especially to black LBGT people," said veteran LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. 

"The pastor has a long history opposing LGBT equality, including opposition to same-sex civil marriage and to laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination.

"His church has been involved in exorcisms of gay people in the belief that they are possessed by demons. It's parent church in Nigeria backed the draconian anti-laws passed in 2014, which are some of the harshest in the world. Jesus House preaches against the human rights of LGBT people in the UK and Africa.

"These teachings fuel prejudice. They contribute to self-hatred and mental ill-health in black African LGBT communities."

He added: “The Prime Minister is wrong to fete and appease homophobic Christian extremists."

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Dr Christian Jessen, a television presenter, said: “Oh dear. Jesus House is a bastion of ugly homophobia, run by Agu Irukeu who strongly opposes homosexual equality. 

“Bad move by the Tories.”

Jesus House, which was founded in Nigeria and in the UK mainly caters to a black British congregation in Brent, west London, has defended itself from what it claimed were “misinformed comments”. 

A statement on Twitter said: “We are called to love all, irrespective of their ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation.

“It’s not in our place to judge others.”

But critics pointed to letters written by Mr Irukwu to a national newspaper, lobbying against LGBT rights. 

In 2006, he signed a letter to the Telegraph from over 250 pastors, who branded the Equality Act as “Christianophobia”. 

It said: “The latest discrimination against Christians is the new law called the Sexual Orientation Regulations, said to combat the problem of homophobia in Britain. It alarms us that the Government's only evidence for a problem actually existing is ‘accounts in national newspapers’.

“The regulations force Christians in churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality.

“For the sake of clarity, this is not what the Bible teaches and it is not what we believe to be the truth. In our view, these regulations are an affront to our freedom to be Christians.”

In 2013, Mr Irukwu was one of just ten preachers to sign a letter to the newspaper rallying against gay marriage. 

“Marriage is and always will be distinctively a union between a man and a woman,” the letter said, and called for a referendum on the issue. 

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "As Pastor Agu said himself in his sermon on Sunday, ‘we are called to love all, irrespective of the person's ethnicity, the person's background, the person's sexual orientation’.

"Theresa May has a strong record on LGBT+ equality, and has been clear that under her leadership, we remain committed to advancing equality for LGBT+ people at home and abroad.

"It's not for the Government to tell people what to believe. The law is clear - discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity is unacceptable."

The Independent has contacted Jesus House for comment.