Greenwich Council has been criticised for selling a Grade II-listed library building to a Pentecostal church whose head has branded gay marriage “evil” and claimed that married women “need to know how to do chores”.
The former East Greenwich Library, on Woolwich Road, has been sold for £1.8 million to the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which has over 40,000 churches around the world.
For the past 40 years the church has been run by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who has used both his pulpit and social media to espouse ultra-conservative values.
The sale – which took place in 2019 but was never announced publicly – was revealed by Metro on Monday, as part of an investigation into public assets being sold cheaply by councils.
East Greenwich Library’s sale price is likely to have been influenced by the poor condition of the building, which had suffered from a lack of maintenance for many years before it was replaced by the Greenwich Centre library in 2015.
Built in 1905 after being donated to the people of the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the library went into decline from the early 1990s after an attempt to close it was fought off by local residents. The building, once the former borough’s central library, was given a Grade II listing, but its opening hours were cut back and rooms later abandoned.
Now it is in the hands of the church led by Adeboye, who in 2013 told a university service: “How can a man who marries a fellow man produce a child and how can a woman who marries a woman produce a child?
“If this evil is allowed to stay, there will not be new-borns again in the world. As the older generation dies, will there be new generations to succeed it? Even plants and animals have new generations to succeed them.”
RCCG’s own Sunday school materials say “homosexuality is a sin and like any other sin, it needs to be dealt with in the only way possible … it needs to be laid at the cross and repented of”.
More recently, Adeboye – known as the “general overseer” or “Daddy GO”, has been a prolific user of social media. Last year he told women: “No matter how educated or successful you are, your husband is your head and you must regard him as such at all times.”
He told men: “My sons, don’t marry a lady who cannot cook. She needs to know how to do chores and cook because you cannot afford to be eating out all the time.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer apologised after visiting an RCCG church near Brent Cross, northwest London, last year, saying he was unaware of the church’s stance on homosexuality.
But this is not the first time that Labour-run Greenwich, which publicly proclaims its commitment to equality for all – and recently launched an equality and equity charter – has become embroiled in a controversy over its relations with an ultra-conservative church, or Adeboye’s comments on homosexuality.
For many years, it helped promote the New Wine Church in Woolwich, even handing it a civic award. In 2017, 853 revealed that its leading pastors had condemned homosexuality as a threat to family life, and had invited Adeboye to speak at its services. Denise Hyland, the leader of the council at the time, said she had not been aware of the comments.
In 2019, despite Hyland’s successor Danny Thorpe demanding that New Wine condemn homophobia, it invited the televangelist Creflo Dollar, who opposes equal marriage, to speak just days after the council unveiled rainbow-coloured Pride crossings across the borough.
Thorpe, who is gay himself, has also criticised those with similar views to Adeboye. In 2017, before he became leader, he told Twitter users that the views of the then Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron – an evangelical Christian who was reluctant to discuss his views on gay sex – “had no place in 21st century Britain”.
“Labour led on #LGBT rights, never forget it!” he said.
Nigel Fletcher, the leader of the Conservative opposition on the council, said: “There has been a lack of transparency about this sale, and serious questions about the suitability of the new owners. It would be most upsetting if a public library, donated to educate and enlighten the whole community, should ever be used to perpetuate discrimination and prejudice.
He added: “It is rather concerning to see community assets being sold off, especially historic listed buildings such as East Greenwich Library, which was donated for the use of all local people.
“We sadly have a long history of this Labour council letting its historic assets fall into disrepair, then arguing it has no choice but to dispose of them cheaply. This is a real failure of their duty to preserve our local heritage, and shows a lack of imagination. My own view is that we should invest in our historic buildings to bring them back into appropriate use and generate income, instead of just selling them off.”
Labour’s main opponents in east Greenwich at May’s council election, the Greens, also reacted with dismay.
A former candidate in the area, Matt Browne, told 853: “It is disappointing that the new owner has not taken steps to protect this Grade II listed building from deteriorating further since taking ownership of it in 2019.
“We see no evidence that planning permission has been sought for a change of use and it appears that the situation is being left to drift. Local government has the power to force repairs to be carried out on unused listed buildings and should consider this urgently.
“We are very concerned to hear reports of regressive views on sexuality and gay marriage being shared, and hope that the reopening of this important local building brings a new start which reflects the views of our borough in being open and welcoming to all.”
A Greenwich Council spokesperson told 853 that the decision to sell the library was made in 2007 to help fund the Greenwich Centre, which replaced both the old library and the former Arches swimming baths, a building which has also been left empty after being sold.
She added: “It is the council’s responsibility to follow due process to secure the best consideration in its property transactions. The council publicised its intention to dispose of the property and there were no expressions of interest received from community groups.
“The church has assured the council in the past that it is not homophobic however, to publicly distance itself from comments made by previous pastors we would welcome it to sign our equality and equity charter that we launched this year, to stand alongside the 95 groups that have already done so.
“We share an ambition to create a fairer, safer, accessible and inclusive borough where everyone feels they belong, has a voice and an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive. Equality and equity are embedded through everything we do from introducing our charter to our decision to paint pedestrian crossings in vibrant rainbow colours to show support for Pride month.”
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.
Please join over 100 donors who use Steady, PressPatron or Patreon to give a little towards our costs every month. The money pays the bills, a wage for the editor and pays others to write for the site.
You can also buy the editor a coffee at ko-fi.com. Thank you.