Tory leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom has organised a school exchange project for the last 10 years with a Ugandan centre co-run by an anti-gay Christian group that performs "gay cure" ministries and whose founder condemned homosexual love as "a sin", BuzzFeed News can reveal.
Leadsom discussed the project in parliament in 2013, telling MPs it was set up in 2006 with one Richard Johnson, who “runs a fantastic youth centre in Uganda” called the Discovery Centre. The project involves sending UK students to the Discovery Centre for conferences and meetings.
The project, she said, "has been an astonishing success", but she warned that that "over-sensitivity to cultural issues and a growing, muscular secularism has meant that the amazing work done by people of faith, often for the most vulnerable, goes unnoticed".
The Discovery Centre – whose stated goal is "to promote the gospel and kingdom of Jesus Christ" – is a joint project between a UK-based charitable trust run by Johnson and the Ugandan branch of international evangelical group Youth With a Mission, BuzzFeed has learned.
YWAM, which was founded by a Californian pastor, has regularly given out anti-gay messages, promoted anti-gay writers, and recommended "gay cure" ministries.
YWAM Uganda organises a "Family Ministry School" focused on training people "in building families on godly principles" and promises the school "helps its students to understand God's plan for the correct functioning of marriage and the family". Course topics include "normal and abnormal sexuality".
In Amsterdam, YWAM's "Kompassion Ministry" works to "help broken people ... who struggle with their unwanted homosexual orientation".
The ministry's website states "the Bible teaches us that any sexual relationship, outside of marriage between a man and a woman, falls short of God's plan" and that "any form of brokenness is the result of the fall and that the good news of salvation and sexual wholeness through Jesus Christ can bring restoration".
The World Psychiatric Association condemns "gay cure" treatments as harmful and unethical.
YWAM's anti-gay views are not restricted to "gay cure" ministries. In his book Making Jesus Lord: The Power of Laying Down Your Rights, the founder of YWAM, Loren Cunningham, condemned homosexuality as a "sin", referring to it as "counterfeit love":
I have come to the conclusion that the sin of homosexuality – and it is a sin – is not a condition you are born with, but a choice. It is a temptation to people who have been rejected. They have sought for love and are finding it in a counterfeit way, which is lust. In a cruel paradox, rejection leads them to homosexuality, which in turn brings them further rejection from society. And the counterfeit love of homosexuality becomes bondage. Homosexuality is a powerful bondage, but it will never be broken if we as Christians are not able to offer its victims the love and acceptance they were seeking in the first place.
In his next sentence, he writes that "the spread of AIDS, often considered a homosexual disease in the West, has fuelled that massive rejection".
In 2013, YWAM's Family Ministries International wing held the Sexual Reformation Seminar Series in Hawaii. Among the speakers was Dr Judith Reisman, whose book Stolen Honor, Stolen Innocence condemns pioneering sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey's "pornographic, homosexist lies".
The back of the book states she has "conclusively proven how Kinsey's frauds" justified "the 'gay rights' movement".
"Read!" the text urges. "Then act on this knowledge for our very survival as a nation."
Leadsom's views on gay rights and same-sex marriage have come under scrutiny during the Conservative leadership race following a confusing series of answers in TV interviews where she appeared uncertain of her own stance on the topics.
Asked by ITV News of her opinion on same-sex marriage, she appeared to confuse civil partnerships with civil marriage.
"I made very clear at the time I believe that the love of same-sex couples is every bit as valuable as that of opposite sex couples – I’m absolutely committed to that," she said. "But nevertheless my own view actually is that marriage in the biblical sense is very clearly, from the many, many Christians who wrote to me on this subject, can only be in their opinion between a man and a woman."
Asked by the interviewer if she shared that view, she added:
"I don’t agree with them, to be specific, but what I do think... I would have preferred for civil partnerships to be available for heterosexuals and gay couples and for marriage to have remained as a Christian service that was for men and women who wanted to commit in the eyes of God.
"Civil partnerships are called marriages as well. As in, registry office marriages are still marriages. The point is the concern I had was the potential compulsion for the Church of England."
She later said she "absolutely" supported same-sex marriage.
On Thursday morning, the Conservative LGBT group LGBTory published statements from Conservative leadership candidates on LGBT rights. Michael Gove and Theresa May both gave statements affirming their support for furthering those rights. From Leadsom, the group wrote, there had been "no response received despite several requests".
By mid-afternoon, LGBTory had updated the site, saying Leadsom for Leader had been in touch with this holding message:
"Because of the success of Leadsom for Leader, the campaign team has been inundated with media requests. Leadsom4Leadsom [sic] will issue a statement in due course. Andrea Leadsom is fully committed to LGBT rights and equality."
BuzzFeed News has asked Andrea Leadsom's office for comment on YWAM, and will add any response if it is provided.