‘Some Christians believe homosexuality is a sin — get over it.’ I feel like this needs to be made into a poster. Or put on the side of a bus, perhaps. Because, amazingly, there are people out there who seem not to realise that traditionally minded Christians think it is wrong for a man to lie with a man as he would with a woman.
Consider the mad controversy over Keir Starmer’s visit to Jesus House in London on Good Friday. Jesus House, in Brent, is part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal ‘megachurch’ founded in Nigeria in the 1950s. It has a large following among traditionalist African Christians in particular. And — brace yourselves — it isn’t the world’s biggest fan of gay sex or gay marriage. Shocking, I know.
When Labour lefties and gay-rights activists saw that Starmer had dared to mingle with these Christians who believe the message of the Bible — ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’, Leviticus 18 — they whipped up a storm. His visit was ‘unacceptable’, declared the Labour Campaign for LGBT+ Rights. One leftie said Starmer’s shoulder-rubbing with Jesus House proves he has ‘zero integrity’.
And lo, Starmer apologised. For visiting a Christian church. On Good Friday. When will he apologise for not having a spine? Bowing and scraping before his critics, Starmer said ‘I apologise for the hurt my visit caused’. It was a ‘mistake’, he repented.
He also took down the video of the visit, which had only shown him meeting black Christians and praising them for the work they have done in their local community, which includes helping to roll out the Covid vaccine and running the local food bank. But these good, charitable works count for nothing, it seems, because ‘these people’ have the wrong views on homosexuality.
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’.
This is crazy. Over Easter I also visited a church that opposes same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church. Just a couple of weeks ago the Vatican reiterated that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions, because God ‘does not and cannot bless sin’. So Starmer should never visit a Catholic institution, either?
Jesus House has also been criticised for questioning sexual-orientation equality laws introduced by the Labour government in 2006. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, signed by Jesus House's senior pastor, Agu Irukwu, it was argued that these regulations could have a negative impact on the freedom of association of religious groups, for example by pressuring them to engage with gay people in the exact same way that they engage with heterosexuals.
But it wasn’t only Jesus House that raised the issue of the law potentially clashing with religious freedom. Many did. Including the Catholic Church, which was concerned — rightly — that Catholic adoption agencies could be forced to adopt children to gay couples. Again, what Starmer’s critics denounce as ‘notorious homophobia’ in Jesus House is actually quite normal, perfectly legitimate Christian beliefs. A few years ago, Jesus House was accused of carrying out ‘exorcisms’ on people who felt same-sex attractions, which would be more serious. But it has always strenuously denied these claims.
In apologising for visiting Christians who hold Biblical beliefs about homosexuality Starmer has insulted vast numbers of people. It is he who has behaved in an intolerant way, because he has essentially said that he will not associate with any religious group that doesn’t agree with his views on same-sex issues. To turn your back on good people because they disagree with you on sexual or social matters is a species of dogmatism, too.
Also, does this mean Starmer will stop visiting mosques? Many imams are against same-sex marriage. ‘And as for the two of you men who are guilty of lewdness, punish them both’, says the Koran. Starmer will have a hell of a lot of explaining to do if he ever again visits a mosque or Islamic institution that believes homosexuality is sinful, which of course he will.
And don’t even get me started on the hypocrisy of Starmer’s Corbynista critics. They have been at the forefront of the fuss over his visit to Jesus House. These are the same people who for years sang the praises of Jeremy Corbyn, a man who met with Islamists and who described Hamas as his ‘friends’. If you think Jesus House has iffy views on homosexuality, wait until you find out what Hamas thinks.
I’ll tell you what they think. They think homosexuality is so disgusting they have made sex between men a crime in the Gaza Strip. You can be locked up for being gay. If you cheered on Jeremy ‘friends with Hamas’ Corbyn for the past five years and now you’re fuming because Starmer visited an African-heritage church in Brent, then your hypocrisy is off the scale. Pipe down and let people with actual principles take control of the discussion.
It was wrong for Starmer to apologise for visiting Jesus House. In a pluralistic society like ours, politicians will frequently meet and mingle with people and groups whose views they don’t fully approve of. The alternative is to draw up blacklists of individuals and institutions who are apparently so evil that they must be dodged at all costs. It might be traditionalist black Christians today, but who will it be tomorrow?