Woolwich big screen
New Wine Church has resumed advertising on Woolwich’s big screen

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has called on the controversial New Wine Church to publicly condemn homophobia after allowing it to advertise on Woolwich’s big screen once again.

Promotions for the church, which has hosted sermons critical of homosexuality, have reappeared on the screen a year after 853 revealed that its pastor, Michael Olawore, had referred to homosexuality and gay marriage as being part of “the darkness”.

Thorpe’s predecessor Denise Hyland, who gave the church a civic award last year, said she was unaware of the comments made by Olawore, who died this summer. New Wine’s previous pastor, Tayo Adeyemi, had also referred to homosexuality as a threat to family life.

853’s story ended many years of public backing by the council for the Pentecostal church, which is based in a former cinema by the Woolwich Ferry. It has its own food bank, and distributes food parcels each Christmas, and had sought to expand its influence in the area by hosting “leadership ceremonies” for local politicians.

Now moves are afoot to bring New Wine back into the fold, and promotions for the church on the big screen advertise its “New Life Program” [sic] and baptisms under the banner “here to serve you”.

The ad appears alongside a promotional video showing Thorpe’s work as leader of the council.

Woolwich big screen
New Wine’s ad is followed by a promotional video about Danny Thorpe

‘New Wine are not homophobic’

In a statement issued to 853, Thorpe – who is gay himself – said: “I met with representatives of New Wine Church over the summer, who assured me that they are not homophobic and will publicly condemn homophobia.

“We paused the discussions we were having following the recent death of the pastor, but will be picking it up with them again. The church does some extremely valuable community outreach work, particularly with young people, and they are one of our key local partners in tackling poverty and our work to reduce knife crime.

“I made it clear when I met them that we need to focus on what unites us, which is why the adverts are about services the church provides for all members of the community.

“Homophobic rhetoric is unacceptable and it would be very helpful if the church could draw a line underneath this by publicly distancing themselves from comments made by previous pastors and condemning homophobia.”

New Wine has not responded to a request from 853 for it to clarify its stance on homosexuality.

‘Sexual perversion’

Some sermons highlighted in 853’s story last year have been removed from New Wine’s website. They include February 2012’s This Is My Time To Shine!, where 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

But others have not been. 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.

While a video of Tayo 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 Olawore, who succeeded Adeyemi after his death in 2013. New Wine did not respond to an email asking why the video was still on the “Dr Tayo” YouTube channel.

Last year, its Maximise Life conference featured Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), who has claimed gay marriage will end civilisation. This year’s event was cancelled following Olawore’s death.

Prominent position in public life

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

New Wine is Greenwich borough’s largest black-majority church and secured a prominent position in the area’s public life during Chris Roberts’ term as council leader, frequently appearing in council media and at one point describing itself as “the melting pot for both the civic and religious leaders of the community”.

It began life in 1993 at the West Greenwich House community centre before moving to Gateway House – a former Odeon cinema – in 2000.

The church operates using a network of “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.

But the extremely conservative views expressed in New Wine’s sermons have led to embarrassment at Greenwich Council, and have been at odds with pronouncements made by its senior politicians.

During 2017’s general election campaign, Thorpe tweeted 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”.

New Wine ‘does a lot of fantastic work’

But asked by Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher about faith groups and homophobia at July’s council meeting, Thorpe said he had met New Wine representatives earlier that month.

“People will be aware that there was concern expressed after the civic award, and I would point out that one of the things that was really interesting about that meeting was the firmness of the New Wine Church that those were not the values that were attributed to them,” he said.

“The New Wine Church in this community does a lot of fantastic work and aside from the conversations about Private Eye [which covered the story after 853] and pastors that may have appeared there, I am in conversation with them about being clear about exactly the values they share with us, and that we can work together on.” (watch here)

New Wine Church has not responded to a request for comment or clarification on its views on homosexuality.

  • July 2017: Greenwich Council to review civic awards after giving prize to church which calls homosexuality ‘darkness’
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