Theresa May just visited a homophobic Christian fundamentalist church – how can gay voters trust her?

Having been told by various priests that prayer would ‘cure’ my homosexuality, I am keenly aware of the lasting impact that these kinds of notions can have on a young person’s mental health

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The Independent Online

Those of you who follow Theresa May on Twitter will have seen that this Sunday she paid a visit to Jesus House, a religious organisation based in Brent Cross, north London.

Jesus House too, understandably proud of its visit from the PM and eager to highlight the relationship, heads up its own Twitter page with a pinned tweet highlighting the visit with a selection of very glossy press photographs of their own, featuring a smiling Prime Minister alongside Pastor Agu Irukwu.

With less than a fortnight to go until polling day, it is natural that Theresa May and her team are reaching out to all sorts of communities. With Labour continuing to gain ground and a Conservative landslide looking less and less likely, I suppose a “lively growing church” (while by no means my idea of a fun day out) could be the perfect place to focus such efforts.

However, Jesus House is, at its core, a fundamentalist institution, and promotes what many would consider to be extreme views on subjects such as sexuality and abortion. Presided over by Pastor Agu Irukwu (a passionate opponent of equal marriage), the organisation's website implies an equivalence between homosexuality and bestiality, and even features a dedicated anti-abortion page.

In a letter to The Telegraph from a few years ago, Pastor Agu Irukwu (Britain’s Most Inspirational Black Person 2011) says, of the Equalities Act: "The regulations force Christians in churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality."

Citing Christianophobia, he and his fellow signatories go on to assert that marriage equality is contrary to “views and values which have been at the centre of protecting and promoting British families, schools and local communities for centuries”. It is, of course, no secret that there are still a number of people who believe that equal marriage poses a threat to families and local communities, but it is surely of note that Theresa May now chooses to endorse these views by sharing a platform with some of their most passionate proponents.

Imagine being a gay teenager and visiting their “Teen Relationship" page and reading that “part of growing up is developing feelings for the opposite gender” with no mention of same-sex attraction. Perhaps even more troublingly, the website for Jesus House on at least one occasion draws an equivalence between homosexuality and beastiality (sic). Anyone filling out the "Men's Ministry Survey" is asked the following question: “Have you ever experimented with homosexuality or any other alternative sexuality (bisexual, transgender, beastiality [sic])?”

It has in the past been alleged that the church has been involved also with the exorcisms of gay people, although this claim was hotly refuted at the time by the Evangelical Alliance. In the context of the various other pieces of evidence, though, it doesn't seem a particularly radical notion.

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Tucked away in another corner of the Jesus House website is a page entitled "Unplanned Pregnancy", the thrust of which can be summed up in this one quotation, where it equates abortion with murder: “We believe that the baby you carry in your womb, no matter how young or small, is a living human being ... Abortion is the taking of that life.”

Of course I disagree with lots of what Jesus House say, and what it stands for, but that's not why I’m writing this. What a person believes lies at the core of their identity, and many millions of people around the world believe an infinite variety of disparate and often contradictory things. It is absolutely vital in a democracy that people are able to express their views without fear of persecution or prosecution. Organisations like Jesus House are as such free to exist within the UK, even though many of the views it promotes could well do long-term damage, in particular to the young people to whom it preaches and provides "counselling".

I struggle with this sometimes. Having been told by various priests that prayer would “cure” my homosexuality, and having been told once by a close relative that gay sex was the moral equivalent of bestiality, I am keenly aware of the lasting impact that these kinds of notions can have on a young person's mental health. Ultimately though, it is of course absolutely right that views like this are able to expressed in public forums, otherwise how can they be countered?

What is so deeply wrong, in this case, is the fact that Theresa May and by association the Conservative Party, are deliberately aligning themselves with and thus actively promoting an organisation that promotes hatred, homophobia and misogyny born of religious fundamentalism and masquerading as religious freedom. We should not underestimate the insidious nature of fundamentalist religion, and when our politicians fail to challenge it, we in turn must challenge our politicians.

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