Tuesday 18 March 2014

A very constructive relationship: Mike Freer, an 'anti-gay' pastor, and Jesus House

Mike Freer, MP,  and his reception at Westminster for representatives of the evangelical Jesus House church

Poor Mike Freer. It must have come as a long, slow descent into the valley of disappointment, once elected as MP for Finchley and Golders Green, for our Vital Visionary genius to find that his brilliant easycouncil type concepts, and his grave concerns, expressed over and over again, in hundreds of written questions on such arcane subjects as government mobile phone contracts, electronic payment methods, etcetera, his stalwart support for the break up of the NHS, bedroom tax and every other merciless aspect of Coalition policy, were failing to win universal admiration from senior Tory parliamentarians, and to encourage them to reward him with fast track promotion in his new career.

The battle to win approval for equal marriage proved to be a turning point for him, however, and at last he was able to earn respect at least for his efforts in what was, for him, a personal issue, as a gay man with a long term partner, a detail which, sadly, caused him some unease on arriving at Westminster, as he describes here: 


As expressed in his speech, he has put any hesitation aside, and confronted the prejudices and assumptions that MPs - and some voters - make about their colleagues' sexuality- a bold move, and, sadly, not without risk of electoral impact, even in this day and age.

Freer made an admirable, strong and passionate contribution in debates in defence of the equal marriage, famously clashing with his local colleague, Hendon MP Matthew Offord, who maintained a preposterous objection to the legislation on the grounds that marriage must be for 'procreation', and that to allow same sex marriage was comparable to polygamy, or even incest.

In recognition of his support for the campaign, Pink News and the Spectator gave Mike Freer an award for Parliamentary Speech of the Year, and since then he has raised other important issues relating to the rights of civil partners and pensions, and the use of 'conversion therapy' for gay people. All very good. And then, at last his chugging away in obscurity on the back benches appeared to be rewarded with the offer of a position as a parliamentary private secretary to Mrs Angry's no 1 fan, Eric Pickles. 

But let's look a little closer at the new teaboy's activities closer to home, shall we?

Being a constituent of Mr Freer, Mrs Angry receives his email newsletter, and looks forward with great interest to each one, stuffed full, as it is, with exciting stories of her MPs ventures into the community. One item in the latest letter, however, was particularly interesting.

Mike Freer Hosts Event to Thank Jesus House Volunteers

On Monday the 20th of January, Mike Freer MP held an event in Parliament to pay tribute to volunteers from Brent Cross based Jesus House. Over 50 local volunteers based across Barnet and North London were invited to attend the event, where a reception was held. Attendees were also provided with a tour of the House of Commons by Mike Freer.

The organisation’s Christmas on Jesus event, which takes place annually, provides a network of volunteers to distribute hampers to some of the poorest families in the UK.
Speaking after the event, Mike Freer said “I am delighted to welcome volunteers from Jesus House to the House of Commons for a thank you reception. The Christmas Hamper initiative helps so many local people and it is only right that the excellent work of the church and the volunteers is recognised”.

Jesus House, lead by Pastor Agu Irukwu, are an evangelical church who are renowned for their local community work. Further information can be found at www.jesushouse.org.uk.

Jesus House for All Nations is an evangelical Christian organisation, part of the international 'Redeemed Christian Church of God', founded in Nigeria, and in this borough it has a large and very well resourced centre in Brent Cross. 

Very well resourced: according to the Charity Commission accounts, with an annual income, in the year ending 2012, of more than £4,666,000, most of it from tithes, 'offerings' and 'thanksgivings', of which a large amount went on salaries, one lucky employee earning between £90-£100K, another receiving more than £60k, and the Chief Operating Officer rewarded handsomely with 'emoluments' worth £85,610, and an unspecified amount as a loan, the balance of which was at the time of declaration was £2,500.
The Church undoubtedly does good work in the community, and clearly has a large and faithful congregation. Like many other evangelical churches, of course, it has seen the opportunities for spreading the Good News via ministry that steps into the vacuum created by a withdrawal of support by government funding, offering services to the community in a way which seems like practical christianity, but, as in the case of bodies like Christians Against Poverty, now hosted by Jesus House, can raise concerns about the risk of such activities being exploited in order to proselytise, and bring unbelievers to their fundamentalist interpretation of the bible, in which God's word is literal, and those who do not believe and become born again in Christ will face eternal damnation. 

Also condemned to eternal damnation, according to the evangelical movement, are those who commit the sin of 'homoerotic practice', without resorting to 'repentence'. 

The man who leads Jesus House, Pastor Agu Irukwu, is a controversial figure, who has taken a firm position of opposition to equal marriage and  legislation designed to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, as you will read.

You might think that a close association with such a body, therefore, with such unflinchingly condemnatory views on gay sexuality, would be unwelcome to a man who has won universal praise for his advocacy for equal marriage, and opposition to homophobic views. Mrs Angry, genuinely curious about Freer's apparent betrayal of his parliamentary stance, thought she might write and ask him about it:

Dear Mr Freer

I hope that you are well.

I have been reading your latest newsletter with, I have to tell you, a certain amount of astonishment.

You tell your constituents that in January you held a reception at parliament for members of Jesus House, which, as you explain, is an evangelical church run by Pastor Agu Irukwu.

You have gained a fair amount of publicity and praise last year - including awards from Pink News and the Spectator - for your efforts in support of the successful campaign for equal marriage, expressing your disgust at those who oppose this legislation on the grounds of unfounded prejudice - such as your Conservative colleague in Hendon, Matthew Offord, with his offensive comparisons to 'incest' and 'polygamy'.

You have also spoken out in parliament against 'so-called conversion therapy' practised by some counsellors, describing it as 'voodoo medicine'.

I cannot believe that you do not know that Jesus House belongs to the Evangelical Alliance, which preaches that equal marriage is wrong: see here - http://www.eauk.org/church/resources/theological-articles/faith-hope-and-homosexuality.cfm

We affirm that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the form of partnership uniquely intended by God for full sexual relations between people.

This movement has even more extreme views, holding gay relationships to be inherently sinful:

We believe habitual homoerotic sexual activity without repentance to be inconsistent with faithful church membership. Where someone is publicly promoting homoerotic sexual practice within a congregation, there may be a case for more stringent disciplinary action.

It also overtly supports the move to 'convert' gay people to heterosexuality:

We commend the work of those organisations which seek to help homosexual Christians live a celibate life, and also commend those groups which responsibly assist homosexuals who wish to reorient to a heterosexual lifestyle.

Pastor Agu Irukwu, whom you mention in your newsletter,  is famous for his outspoken opposition to equal marriage, and has actively campaigned against it in the past. His stance has been frequently criticised by gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, and other campaigning groups, after Boris Johnson attended one of his events:  http://www.petertatchell.net/religion/mayor-boris-embraces-anti-gay-pastor.htm

Pink News, whose award you accepted last year, has  pointed to his objection to the sexual orientation regulations which became law in 2007, signing a letter to the Telegraph claiming: "the laws would force churches to “accept and even promote” homosexuality, claiming they were an affront to Christian freedom, and “Christianophobic”.


Furthermore, according to 'Ekklesia', the  Redeemed Christian Church of God, to which Jesus House belongs,  has reportedly engaged in 'exorcisms' of gay members - see http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10788 - supposedly 'with the calm consent of the person concerned'.

Now please tell me why you, as a gay man, and a member of parliament who has lobbied for equal rights in law, can possibly support a movement that  maintains such offensive views as a fundamental principle of their beliefs, without being accused of rank hypocrisy?

On a lesser note, rather than supporting the well publicised one off charitable gesture - and photo opportunities - supplied by the packing up of Jesus House hampers at Christmas, should you not have supported the motion in the house regarding the massive increase in the use of foodbanks, a third of users being children dependent on such support, and bearing in mind that many of your constituents are now being driven to use such services, as the motion reported, and as noted by the Trussell Trust, due to:

"rising living costs and stagnant wages, as well as problems including delays to social security payments and the impact of the under-occupancy penalty"?

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry 

As usual, there came a swift, if somewhat terse and limited response: 

Dear Mrs Angry 

Your continued interest in my work is most gratifying. I have a very constructive relationship with Jesus House even if we disagree on some topics. 

Mike Freer MP

Hmm. Well. Wonder how all those who nominated Freer for his awards in Pink News and elsewhere will view this 'constructive relationship'? 

Mrs Angry replied: 

No, my mistake: whatever political differences we have, I thought at least you had demonstrated some courage and integrity in appearing to stand upon a point of principle, in regard to your position on equal marriage and homophobia. Clearly I was wrong. Extraordinary.

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