The general director of the Evangelical Alliance has spoken of the “huge challenge for Christians” living in a liberal democracy after his appointment as a commissioner to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Joel Edwards was a controversial choice for some gay rights groups.

The Evangelical Alliance are one of the most strident voices against gay rights in the UK. Just last month they gave evidence to a House of Commons committee opposing a new crime of incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation.

They launched large-scale campaigns against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which ensure equality of gay, lesbian and bisexual people when accessing goods and services.

“There seems to be an incredible inability to hear an alternative world view about human sexuality without calling it homophobia, anything which is not from the gay position is by definition homophobic, whereas in a liberal democracy that is really freedom of speech,” Mr Edwards told PinkNews.co.uk in an interview last year.

“I believe homosexuality is sinful, but I believe heterosexual relationships outside marriage are sinful, the gay community must not misrepresent the proportionality of what we call sinful we are not raising the level of the sin and sometimes it sounds that way because people up the stakes on the gay debate.

“We see the issues around gay sex as no different to heterosexual sex, we don’t see God coming to clobber the gay community, it’s not like we see the gay community as superior sinners.”

The CEHR said in a press release: “Rev Edwards, a British immigrant from Jamaica, is an honorary Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, and is passionate about unity in the church.

“He was a probation officer for 14 years and the senior pastor of Mile End New Testament Church of God for 10 years before becoming the first black general director of the Evangelical Alliance in 1997.

“He has previously been involved in the Metropolitan Police Independent Advisory Group, the Government’s “Working Together” interfaith consultation group and an advisory group to HM Prison Service.

“Rev Edwards has vast, multiple-level experience of human rights issues at first hand, and is ideally placed to bring to the new EHRC a wealth of practical and pastoral wisdom, allied to a keen awareness and understanding of the tensions created by a swiftly changing social environment.

“Enjoying an accessibility and acceptability across the broad religion and belief spectrum, his expertise in cooperative consensus management and conflict resolution – as well as a deep appreciation of the philosophy underlying human rights aspirations – uniquely qualifies him to make a crucial contribution to the EHRC.”

Jim Herrick, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, said that his appointment will distort the concept of human rights and put gay rights in danger.

“Joel Edwards leads one of the most homophobic organisations in Britain,” he said.

“The Evangelical Alliance is an umbrella group that shelters some of the most extreme anti-gay groups and churches in the country.

“How does the Government imagine that this man can participate in decisions about the rights of gay people in a fair and balanced way when he believes that we are all sinners who should live without sexual expression?

“It must be one of the most dizzyingly daft and dangerous public appointments ever.”

Mr Herrick said the gay community should be “afraid, very afraid” by

this development.

Stonewall’s chief executive Ben Summerskill is also a commissioner.

The EHRC is designed to promote a fair, equal and diverse society and tackling illegal discrimination.

It was established by the Equality Act 2006 and began work at the start of October.

It brought together the three existing UK equality commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.

The EHRC incorporates three new human rights strands – age, sexual orientation and religion and belief.

Alan Wardle, director of public and parliamentary affairs for Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“All commissioners will have obligations to ensure equality for all people, including lesbian and gay people, and Stonewall intends to hold him to that.”