Greenwich Council to review civic awards after giving prize to church which calls homosexuality ‘darkness’

Maximise Life flyer
Flyers for New Wine’s Maximise Life have been delivered to homes in the SE18 area. Pastor Enoch Adeboye is second left, in the yellow bow tie.

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council is to review its civic awards scheme after it gave a community prize to a Woolwich-based church whose sermons are critical of homosexuality.

New Wine Church – which advertises in the council’s media – was a winner at March’s Civic Awards for “organisations and activities which support the local community and beyond”.

The church, which is based in a former cinema by the Woolwich Ferry, operates a food bank and distributes food parcels each Christmas.

Current pastor Michael Olawore has referred to homosexuality and gay marriage as being part of the “darkness”, while his late predecessor Tayo Adeyemi said homosexuality was a threat to family life.

And this week it is playing host to a Nigerian pastor who believes gay marriage could wipe out the human race.

The Maximise Life event, organised by New Wine, will feature Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), who has claimed gay marriage will end civilisation. Greenwich Labour councillor Olu Babatola, who was the borough’s ceremonial mayor for 2016/17, is also due to speak at Maximise Life, at a separate youth-focused event.

Maximise Life event advertisemet
Former Greenwich ceremonial mayor Olu Babatola is due to speak at a youth spin-off from Maximise Life

Adeboye told a university service in 2013: “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.”

The comments led to calls to stop Adeboye entering Australia on a prayer tour. A decision by former prime minister David Cameron to meet Adeboye in the run-up to the 2015 election was criticised by campaigners.

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”.

Other participants include controversial US televangelist Creflo Dollar, who in 2015 launched a short-lived fundraising campaign so followers could buy him a $65 million private jet.

New Wine Church has not responded to requests for comment.

Council leader Denise Hyland has told this website that she plans to “review how we can square our awards system to ensure any organisations or individuals being nominated fully embrace the Council’s values of equality and diversity”.

A council spokesperson said of New Wine’s civic awards win: “Organisations are judged on the nominations and information provided to the panel by the nominees at the time. Clearly, upholding the values of tolerance, equality, acceptance and diversity are of the utmost importance to us.”

Greenwich civic awards
Thamesmead Moorings councillor Olu Babatola – here in his old role as Greenwich ceremonial mayor – and Denise Hyland with Michael Olaware (centre). Photo taken from Greenwich Council’s Facebook page

‘A warped sexual identity’

New Wine is well-known for the conservative social views expressed by its speakers. One sermon from founding pastor Tayo Adeyemi, which can still be found on the church’s website, brands homosexuality as “a warped sexual identity” that is used to “tear down the family”.

Fight For The Family, delivered in August 2010, described homosexuality as one of the “four primary weapons that the enemy utilises in tearing down the family today”.

A paper issued by the church describing the sermon says: “At the root of the escalation of the rise of homosexuality in the last 20-30 years was rejection often resulting in a warped sexual identity.

“Pastor Tayo noted that the biggest argument in favour of homosexuality today is that a person is born that way and therefore could not control their desires but made clear that he did not wish to become embroiled in the debate as to whether there was any scientific validity in that claim or not. The truth remained that even if someone was born with a natural tendency to do something, this did not mean that they should do it.

“Developing this truth further, Pastor Tayo illustrated that someone being born with a natural tendency towards paedophilia, would never justify paedophilia.”

Adeyemi added that the church should not reject or condemn homosexuals but followers should be “offering help and support to those struggling with homosexual tendencies in the same way that we should to those struggling with tendencies to lie, to those addicted to drugs or pornography”.

The following week’s sermon, Let Us Go To The House of the Lord, examined Christianity’s relationship with other faiths, branded tolerance as a “deception that works from without”. It called liberalism “a deception from within that encourages us to be ‘progressive’ with our thinking, shunning the ‘outdated’ tenets of our faith in order that we may ‘move with the times’”.

A video of Adeyemi posted to YouTube (see above, from 20 minutes 33 seconds in) in December 2016 sees him associate homosexuality with rejection by fathers. The video is introduced by his successor, Pastor Michael Olawore.

A second video, also introduced by Olawore, sees Adeyemi call on homosexuals to “rise above unnatural tendencies” (from 2 minutes in).

Homosexuality as ‘darkness’

Adeyemi died in June 2013 and was replaced by Pastor Michael Olawore, who collected the church’s civic award earlier this year.

In February 2012’s This Is My Time To Shine!, Olawore branded homosexuality and gay marriage as being part of the “darkness”, alongside “abortion”, “alcoholism”, “war and terrorism” and “public nudity”. Followers were urged: “It is your responsibility to turn on your light.”

Pastor Michael Olawore sermon

Two years later, in The Mystery of the Cross II, Olawore referred to Jesus Christ becoming “sorcery, lies, malice witchcraft, homosexuality, sickness, poverty in order that we could be delivered from sin and live victoriously”.

In November 2014’s Lord I Love You, while noting “that God is preparing the house of New Wine for a major manifestation of His glory”, he declared: “God loves every one of us. He loves the lesbians and homosexuals; he loves the murderers, cheats, gossips and liars.”

And in May 2016’s Raising A Godly Family sermon, Olawore warned of “a god that encourages divorce, homosexuality, teenage sex and pregnancy, cohabitation, adultery, fornication, all forms of sexual perversion and pornography”.

“Like Joshua drew the line in his day, we also have to draw the line and stand up for what we believe is biblically right,” he added.

Pastor Michael Olawore and Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland at New Wine’s “leadership event” in 2015, pictured in a church publicity shot.

New Wine’s relationship with Greenwich Council and Greenwich Labour

Founded in 1993, New Wine is Greenwich borough’s largest black-majority church and has secured a prominent position in the area’s public life. It began life at the West Greenwich House community centre before moving to Gateway House – a former Odeon cinema – in 2000.

The church operates using 42 “cell groups” across south-east and east London, north-west Kent and south Essex, including seven in Thamesmead and six in Woolwich. It also has branches in Nigeria, South Africa and the USA.

New Wine members are believed to be having a growing influence on branch Labour parties in the east of the borough – giving them great sway in who gets picked for next year’s council elections for seats in which Labour are almost certain to win.

In 2011 Greenwich Time, a weekly council-run paper which was delivered to most homes in the borough, published a gushing letter of praise from Adeyemi to former council leader Chris Roberts praising his stewardship after the Woolwich riot. He was also a regular invitee to the council’s private mayoral inauguration ceremonies at the Old Royal Naval College. The church is still represented at the events.

Following the 2015 general election, it held a “leadership” event which all three Greenwich borough MPs – Matt Pennycook, Teresa Pearce and Clive Efford – attended along with council leader Denise Hyland and the ceremonial mayor at the time, Norman Adams. In a release published by the Woolwich Online website, the church described itself as “the melting pot for both the civic and religious leaders of the community”.

New Wine church has paid Greenwich Council to advertise on its Woolwich big screen

In May, Michael Olawore gave a reading at a civic service at St Paul’s Church in Thamesmead, at the end of Olu Babatola’s term as ceremonial mayor. The church is in Babatola’s ward of Thamesmead Moorings.

New Wine has been a regular advertiser on the council’s big screen in General Gordon Square, Woolwich. It paid the council £5,658 to advertise on the big screen in the year to April, according to an answer supplied under the Freedom of Information Act.

The church also negotiated a bespoke price for an ad in Greenwich Time, but the council refused to reveal what was paid, citing commercial concerns.

A bench in Avery Hill Park, Eltham, commemorates “20 years of service by New Wine Church”, while Conservative councillors have also praised New Wine’s work.

New Wine's park bench
The park bench commemorating New Wine Church in Avery Hill Park, Eltham

New Wine’s civic award for ‘addressing community problems’

Greenwich Council’s civic awards ceremony are a relatively new innovation, designed to honour “individuals, organisations or businesses who have made an outstanding contribution to the social, economic and physical wellbeing of the borough”. New Wine won an award for its contribution to the community.

At March 2017’s ceremony – according to a script released under the Freedom of Information Act – Greenwich’s outgoing chief executive, John Comber, told invited guests that the award was “in recognition of the organisation’s outstanding leadership and services to the community”.

He added: “It is staggering how the efforts of New Wine Church can truly make a difference in addressing various community problems.”

The church operates its own food bank as well as Saturday breakfast events, and it also distributes Christmas hampers.

Awards are decided by council representatives as well as representatives from the local police, the South East London Chamber of Commerce, Greenwich Islamic Centre, Greenwich Young People’s Council, Volunteer Centre Greenwich and others.

Civic awards documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also reveal snooker player Steve Davis, who retired from the sport last year, was considered for a lifetime achievement award. The six-times world champion was born in Plumstead, and first picked up a cue at the Plumstead Common Working Men’s Club in Kirkham Street. However, he did not accept his invitation to the event.

Contrast with councillors’ own views

Woolwich Town Hall flies the rainbow flag during Pride wee

In 2015, Labour at Westminster pledged to appoint an international LGBT rights envoy if it was elected to government. In 2017’s manifesto, Labour said it would “appoint dedicated global ambassadors for women’s rights, LGBT rights and religious freedom to fight discrimination and promote equality globally”.

So you’d think the extremely conservative takes on sexuality expressed in New Wine’s sermons would seem at odds with Greenwich’s Labour administration, which has recently begun marking Pride week by flying the rainbow flag outside Woolwich Town Hall.

Indeed, when a rival political figure was said to hold similar views, the council’s deputy leader let rip on social media.

Danny Thorpe retweet of critical Tim Farron story

During the general election campaign, deputy leader Danny Thorpe used Twitter to attack then-Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron after the evangelical Christian tried to avoid saying in a TV interview whether he thought homosexuality was a sin. Farron later resigned over the issue.

On 18 April, Thorpe addressed Farron on Twitter: “Are you really accusing LGBTQI people of sinning? I’m proud of who I am and look forward to your public apology.”

Tory councillor Charlie Davis chimed in, adding that Farron’s views were “unacceptable in the 21st century”.

Danny Thorpe tweet at Tim Farron

Later that evening, in another tweet, Thorpe declared Farron’s views “have no place in 21st century Britain. Labour led on LGBT rights, never forget it”.

On 2 June, Thorpe also retweeted a Pink News story about a “car crash interview” Farron had conducted on LBC, in which he had prevaricated on expressing his personal views.

When one Twitter user claimed that senior local Labour figures “were happy to overlook” churches with hostile attitudes to homosexuality, Thorpe said: “I completely disagree.”

Fellow cabinet member Chris Kirby did at least address the issue, saying: “You can recognise the positive difference an organisation makes without agreeing 100% with everything they say.”

Thorpe also criticised Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which is also opposed to gay marriage – ahead of it signing a deal to keep Theresa May’s minority government in power.

Council reluctant to address issue

Peter Brooks and Olu Babatola
Current Greenwich ceremonial mayor Peter Brooks with predecessor – and New Wine speaker – Olu Babatola at this year’s inauguration ceremony. Brooks ruled out a public question which quoted New Wine’s stated views because it could be “defamatory”. Photo from Greenwich Council’s Facebook page

New Wine Church’s sermons on homosexuality are not only in opposition to Labour policy, they are also increasingly at odds with the majority of people in Britain, including those who identify as Christians. The most recent British Social Attitudes survey reports 64% of people believe there is nothing wrong with same-sex relationships, with figures at 55% for Church of England followers, 62% for Roman Catholics and 53% for “other Christians”.

Greenwich Council has been reluctant to discuss them in public, referring to them only as “allegations”. Indeed, leader Denise Hyland said neither she nor the judging panel for the civic awards were aware of them.

At last Wednesday’s full meeting of the council, current ceremonial mayor Peter Brooks, who succeeded Babatola earlier this year, ruled out a written public question referring to the views published by New Wine because he said it may be “defamatory”.

When the matter was raised as a supplementary, council leader Denise Hyland said: “If you have an allegation to put against New Wine Church, I suggest you put it in writing to me and we will deal with it.

“When we have a judging panel for awards, the judging panel is made up from the community. It can only go on the information in front of us at the time and that is the truth. If you’ve got an allegation, you should bring that forward.” (See video here, 14 minutes 38 seconds in.)

When evidence was put in writing, Hyland responded on Tuesday: “No-one values diversity and equal opportunities more than I do. This Council espouses equality, diversity and supports people’s rights and freedoms.

“The award was given to the New Wine Church because they were nominated and it was judged on the information available at the time by a panel from the community.

“Your allegations have been made after the award was given. There were good reasons why the church was given an award, eg, Christmas hampers and breakfasts.

“I’m glad you’ve brought this issue to my notice as I intend to review how we can square our awards system to ensure any organisations or individuals being nominated fully embrace the Council’s values of equality and diversity.”

‘Tolerance, equality, acceptance and diversity’

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “The civic award nominations come from members of the public and the winners are chosen by a judging panel made up of people from various organisations, including the council, police, South East London Chamber of Commerce and the Greenwich Islamic Centre.

“The New Wine church was one of six winners in the category of ‘community’ after the judging panel found that the church organised numerous activities and initiatives which supported the local community, such as their Saturday breakfast events, food-bank initiative, Christmas hamper campaign, wellness workshop and children’s holiday events.

“Organisations are judged on the nominations and information provided to the panel by the nominees at the time.

“Clearly, upholding the values of tolerance, equality, acceptance and diversity are of the utmost importance to us.”

New Wine Church has not responded to two requests for comment.

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