A church backed by Greenwich Council is to welcome an opponent of gay marriage to Woolwich next week – just days after it painted rainbow-coloured “pride” crossings in the town centre.
There are no rainbow crossings outside New Wine Church, whose Maximise Life event next week will feature Creflo Dollar, a televangelist who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
Two years ago, the council said it would review its civic awards ceremony after 853 presented evidence that New Wine Church had played host to sermons that were critical of homosexuality. Its founding pastor, Tayo Adeyemi, called homosexuality as “a warped sexual identity” that is used to “tear down the family”, linking it to rejection by fathers in a video still available on YouTube.
Adeyemi’s successor, Michael Olawore, had also referred to homosexuality and gay marriage as being part of “the darkness”.
But relations with the church – which has a big influence on branch Labour parties in the east of the borough – warmed again after Thorpe was elected council leader by one vote in May 2018, with the church resuming its advertisements on the council’s big screen in Woolwich. In September 2018, Thorpe demanded it “condemn homophobia”. By Christmas, he was posing for selfies with the church’s new pastor, Adekola Taiwo, to promote its festive hamper scheme.
New Wine has not responded to a request from 853 to clarify its stance on homosexuality.
Dollar, who in 2015 briefly launched a fundraising appeal to raise $65m so he could buy a private jet, is one of two speakers at Maximise Life, an annual event at the church. Greenwich councillor Olu Babatola was a speaker at a youth spin-off in 2017.
During the 2016 US presidential election campaign, Dollar joined forces with other conservative evangelists to pay for an advertisement in the New York Times to underline their opposition to equal marriage.
“We … reserve to right to refuse any mandate by the government that forces us to fund or support abortion,” it said.
“We also oppose same-sex marriage, polygamy, bestiality and all other forms of sexual perversion prohibited by Holy Scripture.”
Dollar, who founded his World Changers Ministry in Atlanta in 1986, is a leading proponent of the prosperity gospel – a belief that increased faith will lead to better health and wealth, a theology reflected in New Wine’s publicity material.
Indeed, New Wine, which has described itself as “the melting pot for both the civic and religious leaders of the community”, is, arguably, Woolwich’s most successful business of the past 20 years, taking £2.4million in donations and legacies during 2017. Most of this money was then spent on “charitable activities”, according to papers filed at Companies House.
Dollar’s arrival in Woolwich will come days after the council unveiled the four rainbow crossings in Thomas Street – within sight of the big screen where New Wine advertises – to show its support for the Pride in London festival. There are also crossings on Plumstead High Street and on College Approach in Greenwich.
In other fields, Thorpe, who is gay himself, has pounced on criticism of homosexuality. In 2017, he told Twitter users that the views of former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron – an evangelical Christian who prevaricated over admitting he believed gay sex was a sin – “had no place in 21st century Britain”. More recently, he made clear the council’s disapproval of the Labour MP Roger Godsiff’s backing for protesters outside a Birmingham primary school who objected to their children being taught about homosexuality. Godsiff is the chair of the Charlton Athletic Community Trust, which provides youth services for the council.
Asked why there was no crossing by New Wine Church, the council said the current locations were chosen because they had high footfall.
Thorpe told 853: “I have met personally with New Wine representatives in the past, to discuss how we can unite the community and have made it clear that homophobic rhetoric is unacceptable.
“The council has also created a pledge that sets out a joint understanding with faith communities in the borough, which assures they will serve all residents equally, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation. This pledge was signed by New Wine in October 2018.
“Royal Greenwich remains firmly committed to tackling discrimination and promoting equality for all.”
New Wine did not respond to a request from 853 – the fifth in almost two years – to clarify its stance on homosexuality.
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