Tory leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom has organised a school exchange project for the last 10 years with a Ugandan centre co-run by an anti-gay Christian group that performs “gay cure” ministries and whose founder condemned homosexual love as “a sin”, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
Leadsom discussed the project in parliament in 2013, telling MPs it was set up in 2006 with one Richard Johnson, who “runs a fantastic youth centre in Uganda” called the Discovery Centre.
…The Discovery Centre – whose stated goal is “to promote the gospel and kingdom of Jesus Christ” – is a joint project between a UK-based charitable trust run by Johnson and the Ugandan branch of international evangelical group Youth With a Mission, BuzzFeed has learned.
Buzzfeed notes the views of YWAM’s American founder, Loren Cunningham, that homosexuality is “a temptation to people who have been rejected”, and draws attention to the existence of a specific YWAM ministry in Amsterdam that claims to provide “a message of hope and healing to those affected by unwanted same sex attraction through the compassionate and transforming power of Jesus Christ”.
YWAM is certainly controversial: there are concerns that it works to spread the ideology of the US Christian Right abroad, and there have been complaints that it can be controlling. There are also some intriguing links between YWAM and The Fellowship, a discrete religious group that has been been operating among politicians in Washington for decades (discussed here and here; more on group here).
However, it seems to me that it is important not to jump to conclusions. Of course Cunningham has conservative evangelical views when it comes to sexual morality, and YWAM’s ambitions are a cause for genuine concern, but to describe the organisation simply as an “anti-gay Christian group” is reductive. YWAM undertakes many kinds of missionary activities, and has many affiliated ministries; and the “school exchange project” seems to be unremarkable and benign. According to a 2007 report in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo:
The project was set up by Andrea Leadsom, prospective parliamentary candidate for South Northamptonshire.
She said: “I wanted to do something to engage sixth-formers in politics and development. The six who go to Uganda will have a conference with 10 students from there, and other students are involved with putting together information about Uganda to integrate into the school curriculum, to show what life is like in the Commonwealth. There will also be an exhibition.”
A number of recent media reports have focused on Leadsom’s Christianity, although there is a curious lack of detail about her denomination or style of worship. According to a video at the Bible Society’s Christians in Parliament website, she came to believe in God when she gave birth; speaking to the Telegraph, she explained that
“I am a very committed Christian. I think my values and everything I do is driven by that. It’s very important to me. I actually study the Bible in Parliament with a group of colleagues and I do go to church but I am not a regular. There’s the cross party Christians in parliament group and there are various Bible studies groups, which I find incredibly helpful.”
Which “Bible studies groups” would be interesting to know about.
In 2011, as I blogged at the time, Leadsom attended a talk hosted by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) on the subject of sex education, given by the notorious anti-Kinsey obsessive Judith Reisman. According to SPUC, Leadsom “joined parents in delivering to the Department of Education a 47,000-signature petition to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, calling for ‘sex DVDs’ to be banned from the country’s primary schools.”
A few months later, the PSHE (Personal Social Health & Economic Education) Association expressed a concern that Channel 4 had decided to to “remove its well respected and established ‘Living and Growing’ Sex and Relationships (SRE) resource from its catalogue” after Schools Minister Nick Gibb and Leadsom “held a special meeting with Channel 4 executives to express their concerns”.
On same-sex marriage, Leadsom gave a somewhat unclear account in a recent interview with ITV. The Independent has transcribed what she said – one suspects because it would have been difficult to provide a succinct summary:
“…Civil partnerships are called marriage as well. As in registry offices marriages are still marriages. The concern I had was the potential compulsion for the Church of England so I don’t think that the Anglican Church should be forced down a route where many Christians aren’t comfortable about it. My own view on it was to positively abstain.”
“This is not about do I consider gay couples to be any less worthy of marriage than heterosexual couples – not at all, it’s exactly the same. The issue is one I have around the consequences, the very clear hurt caused to many Christians who felt that marriage in the Church could only be between a man a woman. I think we’ve muddled the terms of marriage, civil partnership, church etc. I would have liked that to have been clarified.I didn’t really like the legislation – that was the problem. But I absolutely support gay marriage.”