Speaking to the Evangelical Alliance, Agu Irukwu raised serious concerns about the erosion of justice, fairness, and freedom of religion and belief, which he says are foundational to a healthy society, as he called on the UK church to pray for unity in the body of Christ and steadfastness in doing good despite what is thrown at it.

This comes just days after the senior pastor and his church, Jesus House in north-west London, were subjected to a torrent of hate-filled, abusive and bullysome” messages after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his visit to the church’s pop-up vaccination centre on Good Friday was a mistake and apologised, tweeting that he was unaware of the church’s views on LGBT+ rights.

We spoke to Pastor Agu to find out more and explore what the UK church can do when it comes under fire for holding to orthodox biblical views. 

Jesus House has hosted several public figures over the last few weeks. Who has been to see you and why?


Along with other faith groups, Jesus House has been supporting the campaign to tackle concerns and dispel myths around the coronavirus vaccine within black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, which have been impacted more severely by the coronavirus than other groups. 

We were very concerned at the low uptake of the vaccine within BAME communities, and so working with the NHS and our primary care network, a pop-up vaccination centre was set up to encourage members of our community, and others who would have found it difficult to access the vaccines through the existing channels, to come and have the vaccine at the temporary clinic at Jesus House. 

The Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi MP, who is the minister for COVID-19 vaccine deployment, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Brent Central MP Dawn Butler visited the church to see the vaccination centre in operation and show support for the church’s efforts in helping to increase the uptake of the vaccine among BAME communities. 

How did the visit with Sir Keir and Butler on Good Friday come about?

We received an email from the Labour Party which referenced Jesus House’s support for the community during the pandemic and our efforts to encourage an increase in the uptake of the vaccine within BAME communities. A visit by Sir Keir Starmer was proposed by his office as part of the party’s Let’s Vaccinate Britain’ campaign, through which Sir Keir was raising the issue countrywide by visiting vaccination centres and organisations that had been providing support.

It was a positive meeting, during which you prayed for Sir Keir. What happened next?

Sir Keir and Butler, with some of his team, visited us on Monday, 22 March. It was a positive meeting, during which Sir Keir saw the pop-up vaccination centre, met NHS frontline workers and spoke with young black members of the church, listening to their views on the vaccine and its impact on our community. He also saw the church’s foodbank and pop-up foodbank and commended the church’s work in responding to the needs of some of the more deprived areas of the community during the pandemic.

"It was a positive meeting, during which Sir Keir saw the pop-up vaccination centre, met NHS frontline workers and spoke with young black members of the church."

A video recording of their visit was released by the party via social media on Good Friday, 2 April. This recording led to a backlash from some members of the LGBT+ community within the Labour Party. As the intensity of the backlash increased, Sir Keir responded via his social media handle by taking down the video and issuing a public apology for the hurt” he had caused in visiting Jesus House, stating: I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”

This led to a torrent of hate-filled, abusive and bullysome communications directed both at me personally and at Jesus House, on social media and by email, for our supposed anti-LGBT stance.

Politicians have previously been criticised for visiting your church or its events. In 2017 then-prime minister Theresa May came under fire for visiting Jesus House, and Boris Johnson did in 2009, when he was London mayor. You and your church are widely accused of being against LGBT+ rights, and this seems to be behind ongoing criticism. What do you say to those who believe you and your church are intolerant?

I think it is necessary to give some historical context to these false allegations that are peddled periodically against us at Jesus House. The origin of these vicious attacks dates back to 2006 after we signed an open letter written in The Daily Telegraph stating that we were of the view that some parts of the sexual orientation equality laws, which were proposed by the then-Labour Government, would have a negative impact on freedom of religion. More than 150 other church leaders supported the letter, with many appending their signature to it. There were yet more, who whilst not adding their signature, supported the position taken by those who did.

Our crime in the eyes of a few has been the position we took in appending our signature to views and concerns that are in line with orthodox biblical teaching on marriage and relationships. As a result, a range of labels were tagged on us, including homophobic, intolerant and anti-LGBT.

It is, and has always been, my belief that in a parliamentary democracy, when an issue is being put before parliament for debate, it is normal to expect that people would have diverse views, hence the need for a public discourse and debate. This sets a parliamentary democracy apart from a dictatorship where there is no discourse and rule is by decree.

I have said consistently that neither myself nor Jesus House are intolerant. The foundation of our Christian faith precludes any genuine follower of Jesus Christ from being intolerant. Let us not forget that Jesus, the one to whom we have given our lives, and on whom we model our lives, demonstrated love for the whole world, including those who do not follow Him and who might even have spurned Him, by sacrificing His life for all.

This is very troubling to many church leaders and Christians who hold to orthodox biblical teaching on marriage and relationships. What concerns you most about how you have been treated?

There are many things that concern me about this entire situation. I am very concerned about the erosion of values like fairness and justice that are foundational to a healthy society. I am also concerned that incidents like this are indicative of a society sliding into intolerance of views and opinions that are different. I also see the response of Sir Keir as a missed opportunity to model strong leadership and, sadly, it is a tacit encouragement of the culture of bullying and intimidation.

As a pastor I hurt for members of our congregation and other members of the larger church family, who on the most sacred weekend in our church calendar have been subjected to the most vile, abusive form of cyberbullying. I think one of the things that really saddened me personally was that Sir Keir and his team did not see it fit, before caving in to the pressure, to contact me or anyone in Jesus House to confirm or clarify the misrepresentations and allegations on which they acted.

It is obvious to me that the Christian faith in some quarters is now seen as a soft target. Part of my stand on this issue is that I feel it is a concerted attack against the ideals of freedom of speech and freedom of religion which we all must protect.

How can we respond to challenges that the Christian faith is inherently homophobic?

We have to take advantage of as many opportunities and mediums as we can to explain that homophobia is incompatible with Christianity. The foundation of our faith rests on love. As we take advantage of opportunities to express this love of Christ, in a practical way, we will find that certainly some people will respond. I take personal encouragement from Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth, in which he declares that, Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13.8).

Having been through what we have experienced, I fully understand why the millions who hold to orthodox biblical teachings on marriage and relationships will be very reluctant to speak up and, in some cases, frankly afraid to do so. This is the result of a cancel culture’ and the fear of falling into what has been described by comedian Rowan Atkinson (as reported in an article by James Mildred entitled Keir Starmer’s apology for visiting a church is deeply concerning7 April 2021 Premier Christianity) as falling victim of the digital equivalent of a medieval lynching mob, scouring social media for any evidence of indiscretion”.

You only have to have observed the vicious attack a few days ago by a vociferous minority on the MP Stephen Timms, Sir Keir Starmer’s faith envoy, for daring to state on his social media handle his awareness of and commendation for the good work that Jesus House is doing, to understand the destructive nature of this kind of culture. My encouragement would be for more of us to speak up in the characteristic loving and gracious manner of our model, our saviour Jesus Christ. I have personally taken encouragement from His teachings, especially those with regard to persecution that comes when we stand up for truth.

Christians are in the business of reconciliation. Is there more Christians can do to build relationships with, and show God’s love to, those whose beliefs differ, while holding to their biblical views?

The ministry of reconciliation is one which God commends to us as Christians. Of course we can always do more. We can certainly start by praying more for the Spirit of God to work in this ministry of reconciliation. We can also pray for more of the fruit of the Spirit to allow us to be more effective in this ministry. We can create more spaces for conversations to take place and work even harder to make our environment more welcoming to those who hold beliefs that are different from ours or who are different in some other way from us.

You and your church remain steadfast in your service to those in your community, despite the negative press. How can we pray for you and those at Jesus House at this time?

We would like to ask you, as our brothers and sisters, to pray for more grace for us. We would also like to ask you to pray for unity in the body of Christ. Please pray that we will not grow weary in doing good and that despite all that has been thrown at us, we will continue to obey the injunction of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ to bless them that curse you, pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:28). We believe that God is working out His own plans and purposes and ultimately His name will be glorified.

"Please pray that we will not grow weary in doing good and that despite all that has been thrown at us."