A number of Church of England bishops have hit out at a play that features Jesus as a transgender woman.

The one-woman show, ‘The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen Of Heaven‘, is fronted by trans playwright Jo Clifford – who portrays Jesus returning to Earth as a woman.

First debuted in 2008, the play was staged at St Chrysostom’s Church, Manchester on Sunday as part of the Queer Contact festival.

Some evangelicals have attacked the play’s subject matter, claiming it “distorts” the Christian faith – and hit out at the Bishop of Manchester for failing to block it.

The former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali told the Mail on Sunday: “It is quite clear from the Gospels that the identity of Jesus is male, his ‘mum’ is Mary and he always refers to God as ‘Father’, so to suggest otherwise is contrary to Christian teaching.

“In cases in which a play is to be staged in a church building, the bishop is perfectly entitled under Church law to direct the cleric in charge to ensure the content will be consistent with Christian teaching and not offensive to the public.”

A second bishop said: “This play is wholly inappropriate for performance in a consecrated building. I am sure that many people will be looking to the Bishop of Manchester to take action, as he is required to do by Church law.”

The Bishop of Manchester said that while he thought the venue was not entirely appropriate, he did not seek to ban the performance.

He said in a statement: “That an artistic performance is offensive to Christians does not of itself amount to grounds for seeking to prevent it taking place.

“In a richly diverse society, of which Manchester is a proud standard bearer, none of us has the right to be protected from being offended. It is only when offence reaches the level of incitement to hatred that the law properly comes into play.

“However, there are particular sensitivities surrounding theatrical performances in churches beyond what might properly apply to any other venue. The process for approving a performance in a church, together with the criteria that should inform the decision, are set out in canon F16, which is part of the laws of the Church of England.

“The responsibility clearly lies solely with the local minister, unless he or she elects to refer it to the bishop for determination.”

He added: “That I cannot support this particular performance, and have urged that consideration be given to transferring it to a less contentious venue, in no way weakens the support I and my colleagues continue to give to the transgendered members of our community and our churches, not least during the annual Sparkle weekend in the city centre.”