A coalition of evangelical Christian groups have called on church organisations condemning an American anti- gay hate group to face up to their own discriminatory policies and behaviour.

Last week members of the Westboro Baptist Church claimed they were going to picket a performance of a gay-themed play in Basingstoke.

Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper, two of the leaders of WBC, were banned from entering the UK by the Home Office.

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.

Last week 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.”

As expected, no WBC members picketed the event.

Today a group of evangelical groups said they were “encouraged” by the┬ástatement but it does not address “a much deeper issue which groups like the Evangelical Alliance still have to face.”

Accepting Evangelicals, Courage, the Network of Baptists Affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians, the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian & Gay Christians, and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia issued a joint statement saying that opposition to the Westboro Baptist Church’s hate-stance towards gay people does not go far enough.

“The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change themselves,” they said.

“This means: engaging more fully and openly with lesbian and gay Christians and accepting them as equal under God; examining the way prejudice against gay people has distorted biblical understanding; prayerfully re-thinking church policies of exclusion and acknowledging the harm they cause; and recognising the growing number of evangelicals who have had a heart-change and now affirm faithful gay relationships.

“We would now call upon these groups to reflect on their own attitudes and prayerfully consider what their “hate the sin, love the sinner” teaching does to the minds and souls of faithful Christians who are gay.

“In the Gospels, Jesus warns his followers not to avoid their own failings by pointing to the failings of others – even if they are much larger. Westboro Baptist Church operates as a hate group and is an easy target. The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change themselves.”

MPs had written to the Home Secretary about the WBC protest, which was advertised on their website GodHatesFags.com.