Mike Freer, the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, has vowed to challenge the Charity Commission's decision to register as a charity a group that promotes sexual abstinence for gay Christians.
The regulator announced earlier this week that it had reconsidered the Christian group Living Out's application to join the register of charities and had accepted it, having previously turned it down in May.
On its website, the group describes itself as one that helps Christians "who experience same-sex attraction stay faithful to biblical teaching on sexual ethics and flourish at the same time", and helps the church to understand what it can do to support them.
The website says it believes in offering love, support and understanding to gay people, but the Bible explicitly prohibits homosexual relationships, marriage and sex. It says that any such activity is "inconsistent with faithful church membership" and should not be practised by Christians.
Speaking to the gay issue website PinkNews, Freer, who converted his civil partnership with Angelo Crolla into a marriage in January last year, criticised the decision to grant the group charitable status.
"I am surprised the Charity Commission could remotely believe this to be of public benefit," he said.
"Imagine if this group provided counselling and pastoral care to support those ‘attracted to’ stoning people to death for wearing two different cloths, or for the desire to sell one's daughter in a foreign market – that would be helping to live a life according to biblical teaching."
He also dismissed the group’s statements on its website that it does not believe in so-called gay cure therapies.
"They may not use the words ‘gay cure’, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck," Freer said. "This is gay cure therapy rebranded."
He said he would raise the matter with the Charity Commission and with the relevant minister in the Cabinet Office.
The commission published the full details of its decision yesterday after the Freer’s comments were published on the PinkNews website.
It said the objects of Living Out in its original application had included "the advancement of the evangelical Christian religion in particular (but not limited to) providing teaching based on the Bible on issues of human sexuality, raising awareness and understanding of evangelical Christian beliefs and practices in relation to human sexuality".
The commission’s decision said: "It was not evidenced that the organisation sought to promote the wider Christian religion rather than the specific doctrines with regard to homosexuality."
It said the commission had been unable to take a view on whether this particular doctrine was for public benefit.
But it said the commission had discussed the issue with the group and pointed to the revised objects, which had a wider focus on the support it offered to gay Christians and "the advancement of the evangelical Christian religion and Christian principles of love, acceptance, compassion and understanding" in general – which falls under the public benefit and acceptable charitable objects outlined in the Charities Act 2011.
A spokesman for the commission said the regulator received specific assurances during the course of its decision review that Living Out was not trying to cure homosexuality.
"The commission emphasises that its role is not to pass moral or ethical judgment on religious groups, but to assess whether religious organisations applying for registration as charities meet charity law requirements, particularly in relation to public benefit which requires the practice of the religion to provide benefit to the wider community," he said.
- The article originally said the commission declined to comment further on the decision. It had in fact issued a statement on the matter, which has been reflected in the final two paragraphs of the story.