The evangelical Bishop of Liverpool James Jones has said that sexual orientation is not a choice and that he is “in sympathy” with religious civil partnerships.

Bishop Jones, 61, addressed his diocesan synod on Saturday. He called on the church to accept “a diversity” of views, allowing “a more humane pastoral theology”.

He has become more sympathetic on gay issues in the last few years. In 2008, he said he deeply regretted his public opposition to the promotion of gay Canon Jeffrey John and added that in his view, “gay rights are civil rights.”

Speaking on Saturday, he said: “[If] traditionalists are ultimately right and those who advocate the acceptance of stable and faithful gay relationships are wrong what will their sin be? That in a world of such little love two people sought to express a love that no other relationship could offer them?

“And if those advocating the acceptance of gay relationship are right and the traditionalists are wrong what will their sin be? That in a church that has forever wrestled with interpreting and applying Scripture they missed the principle in the application of the literal text?”

He added that allowing differing views would “allow for the development of a more humane pastoral theology”.

Bishop Jones added that in his view, sexual orientation was a “given”, rather than a choice. This view puts him at odds with many religious conservatives, who believe people choose to be gay.

He also gave his support to an amendment which would allow gay couples to have their civil partnerships in church, saying he was “in sympathy” with its aims.

The change would remove the ban on religious references in the ceremonies and allow willing faiths to carry them out. Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians have expressed their desire to officiate the ceremonies.

While Bishop Jones’ address was welcomed by pro-gay church group Changing Attitudes, a spokesman for the evangelical group Anglican Mainstream told The Times: “This comes as no surprise to orthodox Anglicans for whom the Bishop of Winchester has been a more significant spokesman in the last number of years.”