A leading religious commentator has questioned why British fundamentalist Christian groups that oppose gay rights have spoken out against a hate preacher from America.

The Home Office confirmed yesterday that Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church will be denied entry to the UK should they try to travel here.

WBC had claimed it was going to picket a performance of a gay-themed play in Basingstoke later today.

The Kansas-based sect, which has less than 60 members, is notorious in the US for picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in action with placards claiming God Hates Fags.

The group claim to believe that deaths and natural disasters are God’s punishment on the world for tolerating homosexuality.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Evangelical Alliance UK, Faithworks, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and Bible Society-funded thintank Theos said in a joint statement:

“We are dismayed that members of Westboro Baptist Church (based in Kansas, USA and not associated with the Baptist Union of Great Britain) might picket the performance of The Laramie Project in Basingstoke on Friday.

“We do not share [Westboro's] hatred of lesbian and gay people. We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and we unreservedly stand against their message of hate toward those communities.

“Neither the style nor substance of their preaching expresses the historic, orthodox Christian faith.

“And we ask that the members of Westboro Baptist Church refrain from stirring up any more homophobic hatred in the UK or elsewhere.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, said:

“It is welcome that a number of churches and evangelical groups have made a public statement and joined the many others who are opposing Westboro Baptist church-style hate speech.

“But it is relatively easy to issue statements against extremists, distance oneself, and condemn them.

“It is more challenging, and uncomfortable, to acknowledge what one might have in common with those we find abhorrent. But that is what the message at the heart of the Christian faith requires.

“This is the real challenge that Westboro Baptist church presents.

“And among those who have condemned Westboro are some who preach rejection of faithful gay relationships, who deny their baptism and Christian ministry, and who refuse their wisdom.

“Some have attempted to negotiate opt-outs from equalities legislation so they can themselves discriminate against lesbian and gay people in employment and in the provision of goods and services.

“The Evangelical Alliance in particular removed the Courage Trust from its membership when the Trust made a Christian commitment to affirming lesbian and gay people.

“The six churches and groups have said with one voice: ‘We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation.’ We invite them to reflect these words in their actions.”