‘Reckless’ government furlough scheme gave money to ‘homophobic’ churches

Maggie Baska May 26, 2021
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Human rights activists condemn the UK government's furlough scheme as “reckless and irresponsible” after an OpenDemocracy investigation found it financially supported “homophobic” churches. (Envato Elements)

An investigation has found that the UK government’s furlough scheme financially supported dozens of allegedly homophobic churches.

OpenDemocracy revealed the government’s job retention scheme – which was put in place to support businesses and jobs through the COVID-19 crisis – sent thousands of pounds to dozens of religious organisations with a track record of anti-gay beliefs.

The report made clear there is no suggestion that any of the organisations broke furlough guidelines by claiming financial support.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told OpenDemocracy it appeared the UK government has been “handing out furlough money like confetti”, without checking the “recipient bodies adhere to the minimum standards of equality and non-discrimination”.

He said that giving funds to such organisations is “reckless and irresponsible”.

“This is a form of de facto state endorsement of homophobic institutions,” Tatchell said. “Organisations that do not conform to the principles of the Equality Act should not receive public money.”

Amie Bishop, a senior research advisor at OutRight Action International, urged the UK government to “thoroughly vet the institutions it funds” and “follow through on its promise to ban harmful conversion practices“.

The OpenDemocracy investigation found Jesus House received at least £10,000 a month in December 2020 and January 2021 through the HMRC scheme.

The church’s senior pastor, Agu Irukwu, has been a vocal opponent of LGBT+ rights. He has spoken against anti-discrimination laws and marriage equality in the UK.

Jesus House, which is is part of the international megachurch network Redeemed Christian Church of God, has also been accused of offering conversion therapy, which Irukwu has denied. 

The OpenDemocracy investigation also found that the Redeemed Christian Church of God received furlough funds. In 2017, it was reported that Sunday School materials for the church taught “homosexuality is a sin” and that “Christians should pray for the salvation of the homosexual”.

Another church which reportedly received furlough money, the Destiny Church Trust in Scotland, announced in 2020 that it planned to sue Edinburgh city council over its decision to cancel a speech by pastor Larry Stockstill, who called gay people “repulsive” and labelled homosexuality as ‘demonic’.

Destiny Church Trust in Scotland was the only religious organisation named in the investigation to respond to OpenDemocracy’s report. The group said: “We embrace and welcome people of differing views and offer all our services, including food banks/hot food supplies (100,000+ meals given out through the pandemic), to all and any regardless of their faith, sexual orientation, identity or ethnicity.”

A government spokesperson told PinkNews: “Our furlough scheme has helped pay the wages of millions of workers across the UK during the pandemic – and it’s right that we acted quickly to protect British jobs.”

PinkNews has also contacted Jesus House and the Redeemed Christian Church of God for comment.

Related topics: Conservative Party, COVID-19

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