Gay campaigners have criticised the “religious bigotry” of church groups in the US this week after Catholic bishops approved controversial guidelines on the treatment of gays and lesbians while other denominations have vowed to punish those acting too ‘gay-friendly.’

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the actions of several church groups undermines the work being done in some areas of Christianity to welcome gays and lesbians.

Earlier this week, the US Catholic Church approved controversial guidelines on ways of welcoming gay people into the church, one suggestion being therapy.

Meanwhile the North Carolina Baptist State Convention has adopted policies to investigate and expel any churches perceived to be too “gay-friendly” and, the US Presbyterian Church is putting a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple.

Mr Solmonese described these leaders as “out of touch.”

He said: “It’s a sad commentary that these religious leaders are out of step with most Americans of faith in terms of equality and fairness for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith.

“The real story is that more Americans of faith understand that God’s love is expansive, not exclusionary. In fact, church programmes welcoming GLBT people are on the rise and have in the last year experienced a growth of between 10 and 20 percent.

“That is the true story, and one that reflects a growing understanding among religious people that the message of Christianity is about love and not about isolation, exclusion and terror.”