What should we make of Keir Starmer’s visit to church?

Keir Starmer has come under fire in the last few days. His crime was visiting a church and praising them for their work during the pandemic. What’s the problem with that? Well, it turns out (and who could have predicted this from a church whose whole deal is believing the Bible) the church are not pro-LGBT+ stuff as pushed by the gatekeepers of LGBT+ orthodoxy, Stonewall. Specifically, their pastor didn’t support same-sex marriage. Apparently this is shocking (NB: only if your only news source is the Guardian).

LGBT Labour put out the following statement in response to Starmer’s visit:

Momentum followed up by jumping on the bandwagon:

Others are also sticking the boot in. But you get the general idea. LGBT+ Labour and those in sympathy with them cannot tolerate the leader of their party so much as rubbing shoulders with anyone who does not fully subscribe to their political agenda, no matter how good the work they might be doing otherwise happens to be. Given that this is precisely the sort of logic that has kept Labour out of government for over a decade now, with little on the horizon to suggest much of a sea change, it doesn’t bode well for those who ought to be about the business of winning elections. We will only tolerate and reach out to voters who already think the things we do on every point of orthodoxy we deem important. Well, good luck winning over the many millions of people who don’t!

Of course, they don’t actually think that exactly. As Paul Embery notes:

Of course, these things would be quickly overlooked should a visit to the local mosque be on the cards. Muslims are allowed to not be fully on board with the LGBT+ agenda. It is mainly just Christians for whom it is apparently detestable not to affirm every jot and tittle of Stonewall’s new orthodoxy. No doubt LGBT+ Labour can explain precisely why the mosque visits would be okay, but not to this particular church.

Of course, what makes the whole thing especially foolish is that Keir Starmer wasn’t visiting the church to praise them for their views on LGBT+ issues. He was praising them for their work during the pandemic. Work that really has nothing to do with their views on LGBT+ matters. What is more, I’d be willing to bet – as I suspect would be the case with almost any church doing work during the pandemic – that their views on political issues like Gay Marriage, for example, make absolutely zero difference to whether they would gladly serve LGBT+ people in their communities in exactly the same way as they serve everybody else. Apart from the fact that food distribution and English Classes (or whatever other things we do) never ask about your sexuality and gender as a condition of being able to receive whatever support is available, even if it was volunteered and made apparent by someone anyway, I find it difficult to believe many churches would refuse to hand out a bag of food as a result.

Of course, the current agenda being pushed is that of conversion therapy. Churches, they aver, are all over conversion therapy. Some, they argue, press aversion therapy and electroshock treatment to turn people straight. Apart from the fact that very few churches would advocate this and, for any that do, there are already laws that can be brought to boot against them as such would be abusive and damaging.

As an aside, we really need to stop maligning electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) this way. This is a recognised and still practised mental health treatment. I was offered it at one point to help deal with my chronic depression. Whilst people assume it has an air of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest about it, the truth is that it is still practised in cases of severe mental health issues and many have found it to be helpful. It is only cited because it sounds barbaric, but then so does an appendectomy if you described it as stabbing someone in the stomach and ripping part of them out whilst they’re unconscious! Of course, the fact it is a recognised treatment for mental health issues in general has little to say to whether it should be used to treat people with unwanted same sex attractions. But it is to say if the people trying to scare us away from what they brand as barbaric conversion therapies can’t recognise a legitimate medical treatment when they raise one, it doesn’t bode very well for their understanding of the other issues at play – especially as they are similarly trying to scare us round to their way of thinking about them.

Nevertheless, there is no denying there are abusive so-called treatments. But most churches do not advocate for conversion therapy. The Evangelical Christian organisation Living Out are quite clear on this and the majority of churches would share their view. Most advocate for helping those with unwanted attractions to come to terms with them and live faithfully to Jesus Christ in the midst of them.

In a recent article for the Spectator, Living Out director, Ed Shaw, said:

Our experiences of sexuality can be an incredibly confusing and painful part of human life for a whole host of different reasons. Central to my living healthily and happily with my same-sex attractions have been conversations and prayers with Christian pastors and friends. None have ever sought to coerce me into behaving in a certain way – or change my sexuality. Indeed the only contexts in which I have felt unwelcome pressure to change my beliefs and behaviour have been from gay Christians who have rejected orthodox church teaching – and the wider culture that thinks I am crazy to embrace it. They are, ironically, the ones that are seeking to convert me – and others in my position.

His whole article is worth reading as he addresses many of the difficulties with the definitions of conversion therapy being pushed at the moment. He notes:

Popular definitions of this have increasingly broadened out from obviously cruel and coercive attempts to unsuccessfully change someone’s sexuality, to now potentially including any ‘religious teaching and discussion’. This would almost certainly include classic Christian sexual ethics, preventing anyone like me from getting the help we feel we need to live in the light of deeply held religious beliefs.

The point here is that those who would seek the help and support of a Christian church to live in light of their understanding of the orthodox Biblical teaching will not be able to receive such help. Any kind of help that does not simply affirm a person in their sexuality and actively encourage them to pursue relationships in it are, according to certain groups, now damaging, coercive and attempted conversion. It cannot be ignored that those seeking to do this use a bait and switch tactic. They begin by talking about harmful conversion techniques such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (cf. the above point on this though) and then, before you know it, they’re talking about prayer, reading the Bible and pastoral counsel as dangerous conversion therapy. They very quickly seek to lump any support that does not end in the total affirmation and encouragement to pursue such things, despite the Bible’s clear teaching on the matter, as ‘conversion therapy’ that must be banned. Conversion therapy is, now, effectively being defined by Stonewall and any who disagree with Stonewall are deemed bigots, even if they themselves are LGBT+ people who see what they are doing. It is circular reasoning of the worst kind to push their own political agenda and, for the most part, it seems those in power are happy to buy it.

But on all this I digress. As I said, the reason for Keir Starmer’s visit to this church was not to affirm the church’s views on LGBT+ issues. Why pick a church when there are others doing good work in the community too? For the simple reason that Labour’s recent history of identitarian politics has put it at odds with people of faith. That, in turn, has largely put it at odds with the working class communities whom it was originally created to serve. That is not to say most working class people are bible-believing churchgoers – that is patently not true – but there is an overwhelming respect of religion in such communities and traditional values still largely hold sway. These are the communities that abandoned Labour in recent years and that Starmer is seeking to win back. It is only this sort of shallow, indentitarian nonsense from LGBT+ Labour that cannot cope with their leader visiting people with whom they disagree on one point – a visit that had nothing to do with their point of concern – that mean the party have little to no chance of winning them back and ever gaining power. If you don’t engage with people who don’t currently share all your views and seek to win them, you can never win an election.

Perhaps, most frustratingly, the likes of LGBT+ Labour only seem to find their big brave voices when it is Christians in view. The Muslims who do not share their views, but go much further and are more vociferous in their opposition and response to these things, rarely get such opprobrium. Funny that. And yet such people also expect Christians, the very people they openly hold in contempt, to turn around and vote for them. They expect the same from working class people who frequently don’t share their views either and wonder why many of them aren’t dutifully turning out to support them when their views and values are similarly derided. It is the very thing, I think, Starmer was seeking to address by visiting this church. The response is unlikely to be encouraging for people of faith, working class folks nor anybody hoping to see a Labour government within the next decade.