Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant church yesterday adopted guidelines to help clergy deal sensitively with gay church members.

The Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast adopted the pastoral guidelines by 159 votes to 120.

It calls on the church to repent for times when gay people have been treated in ways that lack “grace.”

They ask for the church to create a “PCI Safe Space” which can be phoned or visited anonymously by people who wish to discuss their sexuality.

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 report also dispels the myth that gay people are paedophiles.

Former moderator Rev Dr Ken Newell said it was his hope that the whole church would apologise to gay people “for any hurt that you have experienced.”

He said: “To put it simply, if and when you need us, we are here for you.”

A proponent of the guidelines, Rev Bobby Liddle, said: “It is very humbling to sit across a table from a young person who was committed to Jesus Christ, devoted to youth work in his church, active in evangelism, well grounded in scripture and to hear him tell how he stood with a rope around his neck feeling… that suicide was preferable to being open with his church and his parents about his sexuality struggles.”

However, an amendment which proposed that the guidelines should be referred back to the presbyteries was only very narrowly defeated by 163 votes for, to 168 votes against.

Several church members were outraged by the guidelines.

Rev Ken Patterson described homosexuality as “a sin of the most heinous kind.”

He said: “I know of no other sin which caused God to destroy whole cities in ancient times, but that is what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Rev Stephen Neilly seconded the amendment, and said: “Christ can deliver people fully from the sin of homosexuality just as much as alcoholism or from other sexual sin.”

Last week PinkNews.co.uk reported how Ian Paisley Jnr caused huge controversy in Northern Ireland when he told Hotpress magazine:

Mr Paisley, 41, told Hotpress magazine:

“I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.

“That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do.”

Mr Paisley Jnr is a member of the DUP representing Antrim North in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and his department is responsible for ensuring equality for gay people.

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.