The joint synod of two of Italy’s Protestant groups announced this week they would allow same-sex couples church blessings.

After two days of debate at the headquarters of the Waldensians’ and Methodists’ governing body in northern Italy, the announcement was made that churches would be permitted to bless couples “where the local church has reached a mature consensus and is respectful of different positions.”

The synod statement said: “The words and practice of Jesus, as seen in the Gospel, call us to welcome each experience and each choice marked by God’s love, freely and consciously chosen.”

An opposing group of Waldensians which included a member of the Italian parliament, Lucio Malan, advertised in Riforma, a Protestant newspaper, warning that same-sex blessings risked a schism within the church.

The group said that the 1655 Waldensian statement of faith described the Scriptures as the “rule of our faith and life.” It further added that many Bible passages condemn homosexuality.

Defending the decision, Waldensians said the references to homosexuality made in the Bible should be viewed alongside issues of culture and interpretation, to avoid the danger of fundamentalism.

Pastor Maria Bonafede, the moderator of the Tavola Valdese, the Waldensian executive board told Italian Protestant news agency NEV: “The issue is not that of welcoming homosexuals in our churches … The issue is the blessing of the union of persons who want to witness in front of God and in front of their community of faith their engagement in a journey of life together.

“We must understand what ‘blessing’ means in the Bible and in the Church.

“Obviously, it doesn’t mean marriage, which for us as Protestants is not a sacrament, but a civil matter.”

There are around 30,000 Waldensian and Methodist followers in Italy.