The Reverend Paul Bailey has become one of the first black church leaders to back the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.

Mr Bailey, who leads the Regeneration Project, an inclusive Pentecostal church in Mitcham, south London, said that the Government plans to give “equal rights to an oppressed sexual minority.” He said: “At its heart, this is a civil rights issue. It is important to note that in the Bible, marriage was fluid and amorphous; there are many kinds of marriage in Scripture. It is only in Jesus that we move towards a concrete definition.”

The church leader was speaking to Keep the Faith earlier this month. The publication asked him why he supports equality given than many Pentecostals are against equal rights for gay people. “For some Pentecostals, this is a matter of conscience based on their interpretation of Scripture,” he replied. “For others, this is simply hate-based homophobia. Marriage is a legally-binding covenant of love and commitment. Gay people are uniquely created by God to reflect the beauty and diversity of His creation, just as heterosexual people; they should enjoy the same rights. Our failure to interpret and apply Scripture accurately has resulted in murder, persecution and oppression for the way gay people have been created, ie. their sexual orientation.”

The minister argued that he can support equal rights for gay couples because of the way that Jesus ministered to eunuchs, who were discriminated against in the Old Testament laws, as were gay people. “The statements in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy refer to a range of homosexual acts, but not to the issue of same-sex orientation, or to loving relationships between people of the same gender,” he said. “Scripture should be applied in the light of God’s welcome of excluded peoples. If the Scriptures do not prohibit same-sex love, then who are we to exclude those whom God has included? Some may say we are stretching, we are; we are trying to reach out to our lost and excluded brothers and sisters.”

He admitted that most of his fellow black church leaders disagree with his interpretation saying: “Homophobia is rife and unchallenged in many of our churches. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, we are called to love and reconciliation. Substance misuse, suicide, self-harm and poor mental health are significantly higher in the gay community. We all have a role in ministering to broken people. ”

Rev David Shosanya, director & regional minister of the London Baptist Association said that he disagreed with the interpretations of Mr Bailey but said: “How we handle our divergence of opinions is an indicator of our maturity and perhaps a statement of our measure in Christ.” He added: “We may not agree with Rev Bailey, (whom I know) but I refuse to demonise my brother!”