Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant church has produced a report on homophobia which has been accused of being homophobic.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has over 300,000 members and 560 congregations in Ireland.
Its controversial report by the Social Issues and Resources Panel will not be published until June, but was leaked to the BBC.
The panel defines homophobia as “the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex.”
The authors of the report told the BBC that their definition was chosen in part because “it allows us to state that taking the particular Biblical position we do, as a church, on same sex practices is not in and of itself homophobia.”
The report is expected to be discussed at the next General Assembly of the church, which will take place in June.
They do not use the term “gay people,” preferring instead to use the phrase “people with same-sex attractions.”
The church is unwilling to label gay people because they believe that “sexuality . . . does not define” a person’s identity.
They prefer to compare homosexuality to adultery, and speak of people who are struggling with a “gay lifestyle.”
But the panel has no hesitation in discussing heterosexual people.
The panel’s refusal to admit the real existence of gay people can be seen as demeaning to gay people in itself.
The church also advocates controversial re-orientation counselling that champions the idea of “converting” gay people.
These therapies have been much criticised by medical and psychological organisations for being harmful, and for reinforcing homophobic attitudes within society.
The report says: “It is sufficiently documented that there are those who have moved from a position of having same sex attractions to being heterosexual…
“This is entirely possible for some whose sexual identity has been part and parcel of a confused personal identity.
“Some may claim that such people were never truly homosexual or lesbian in the first place. That may be so and it is important to note that for many, even should they wish to undergo counselling their same sex attractions may not change. “
P.A Mag Lochlainn, the President of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, said: “I would urge all gay people to show respect and understanding for Presbyterians. It is not their fault that they are so often bitter homophobes…
“LGBT people should stretch out the hand of friendship to those in our society still afflicted by religion, and help them to see the light.”
However, some sections of the report do show an improvement in the attitudes of the church towards gay people.
The panel recommend the church to create a “PCI Safe Space” which can be phoned or visited anonymously by people who wish to discuss their sexuality.
It calls on the church to repent for times when gay people have been treated in ways that lack “grace.”
Church members are also told to modify their language and avoid phrases such as “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” or “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
The church say that these expressions “lock the door to effective pastoral care.”
However, the authors of the report do not mention that they are also making offensive and homophobic comments.
The report also dispels the myth that gay people are paedophiles.
A study by the University of Ulster in February found that Northern Ireland is the most bigoted country in the western world.
The subjects of the study were asked, “Would you like to persons from this group as your neighbours?”
The five groups were people of another race, immigrants or foreign workers, Muslims, Jews and homosexuals.
In Northern Ireland 44% of the 1,000 respondents did not want persons from at least one of the five groups as their neighbours.
A huge 35.9% of respondents from Northern Ireland would not like homosexuals as neighbours.
The report also found that homophobia was by far the main source of bigotry in most western countries.