Cliff Richard asks the churches to go easy on gays
In an interview recorded before the Christmas break, pop legend and evangelical Christian hero Cliff Richard has said that the churches need to 'learn to deal' with gay people living in their midst.
The singer, a young-looking 65, is reported to be saddened by some hard-line Christians' attitudes to gay priests and has urged tolerance of homosexuality.
Speaking on ëSky Report' on British TV channel Sky News, heart-throb Richard said: 'I'm sad because we have to learn to deal with everythingÖThe church has got to come to terms with the fact that things have changed since even Jesus has died. It's only a mere 2,000 years.'
He went on: 'I mean slavery was an in-thing at one time. We were told to deal with it. And we've dealt with it. And we've got to deal with every aspect of life.'
Said the singer, who has raised millions of pounds for Christian causes across the world: 'There are gay people in this world. Some of them are very talented. Some of them could be great priests.'
Cliff Richards' comments illustrate that there is much more diversity of opinion among evangelical Christians than the general media and anti-gay pressure groups within the churches often claim.
In the UK the Evangelical Alliance, which seeks to represent one million evangelicals in both historic and newer churches, maintains the conservative view that faithful lesbian and gay relationships are incompatible with Christian faith.
It has parted company with individuals and organisations who disagree with this, including Roy Clements, a prominent evangelical writer  and former pastor who was forced to leave public ministry after being 'outed' as gay in 1999.
Courage, an evangelical support group  which formerly tried to re-orient gay people to a heterosexual life, was also required to leave the EA when it moved to the view that the biblical condemnations and prohibitions of homosexual practice should not be applied to the pastoral care of Christians who are gay, but rather sought to confront selfish and abusive behaviour in a very different social context.
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in the UK also has an Evangelical Fellowship , and one of its prominent supporters, George Hopper, has written about his 'reluctant journey'  towards an inclusive Christianity .
More recently Accepting Evangelicals  was formed as 'a new open network of evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for gay and lesbian people.'
Cliff Richard has remained single throughout his life, and has often been the subject of rumours concerning his sexuality. But in 1996 he told the Daily Mail newspaper, 'I'm aware of the rumours, but I am not gay.'
However he came out as a Christian at a Billy Graham rally in the 1960s. He went on tour with Christian group The Settlers, made a gospel album (Good News) and starred in a film made by the Billy Graham Organisation (Two a Penny).
In 1971 Cliff Richard leant his support to the Festival of Light, which campaigned against pornography, but also abortion and homosexuality. It was headed up by Mary Whitehouse and Malcolm Muggeridge.
The singer's latest views are set to disappoint those in the Anglican Communion and elsewhere who are trying to make opposition to homosexuality a litmus test of what they define as Christian orthodoxy.
[Also on Ekklesia: Oxford New Testament scholar Chris Rowland on St Paul and sexuality ; Political agendas of Evangelicals may be broadening ; Evangelicals form network to support gay and lesbian Christians ; C of E bishop gives backing to transsexual priest ; Church group builds bridges at gay festival ; Historic first meeting for gay Nigerian Christians ; Archbishop of Canterbury leads gay summit ; Ekklesia discussion: A Church At War: Questions to Stephen Bates ]