Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY;CLIFFORD LONGLEY
THE homosexual lobby in the Church of England was claiming yesterday that it is winning its battle for acceptance after a bishop declared that Anglicans must rethink their attitude to sex and the family.
The Bishop of Guildford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin, told a `gay festival' service in Southwark Cathedral: `The experience of the 20th century has been one of a changing understanding of sexuality for all of us.
Christian moral reasoning cannot proceed as if none of this had happened.'
He drew lengthy and enthusiastic applause from the congregation of 2,000 supporters of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, whose general secretary, the Rev Richard Kirker, said afterwards: `The numbers of people who oppose us are diminishing rapidly.'
Worshippers at the service, to mark the movement's 20th anniversary, drank milk and honey to symbolise their expectations of a `promised land'.
The order of service included advertisements for books on homosexuality, and a brochure about the movement was distributed which listed at length its political aims and added underneath, in much smaller print: `The objects include the advancement of the Christian religion.'
Outside the cathedral a handful of protesters held banners and handed out leaflets. And opponents of the homosexual cause, many of them from the powerful and expanding evangelical wing of the Church, held protest meetings in 50 churches across the country.
Their leaders have warned that if the homosexuals achieve their aims - high on the list is the official acceptance of actively homosexual priests - the Church risks a greater split than that brought three years ago by the ordination of women priests.
The Rev Philip Hacking, chairman of the evangelical group Reform, said: `My fear is that if this leads to an acceptance of practising homosexual clergy as being permissible, then inevitably that will lead to many of us distancing ourselves more from the Church.
`We are not going to leave the Church, but we will no doubt use different people for episcopal functions instead of the bishops who have accepted this.
`None of the bishops have taken a stand against this service, and that is what worries us. If we go further down this road, it will certainly lead to a fragmentation of the Church of England.'
The pioneering service on Saturday is expected to be followed by other, similarly high-profile events, and the homosexual campaigners hope to establish a network of `gay-friendly' churches. The Bishop, one of a four-strong group in the House of Bishops working on the problem of the Church's attitude to homosexuality, told the congregation: `Powerful and ungodly homophobic forces are at work in our culture undermining and destroying people's lives.
`There has been a serious loss of confidence in marriage. It is not meeting people's needs. High rates of divorce show that we struggle to sustain close and permanent relationships.'
Voices calling for a new sense of shared moral values made victims of the weak and the marginalised, including gays and lesbians, he said.
`At a time when we are afraid and anxious, we are tempted to scapegoat particular groups for the problems of the whole of our culture. Single parents, divorced people, homosexual people, minority groups carry the burden of blame, and, by implication, everyone else is let off the hook.'
The Church could not `turn cohabitation or same-sex relationships into marriage', he said, `but there could be a change to `privatised domestic living'.
He declared: `Family and household life need rebuilding in an inclusive way so that the needs of all - single people, old and young, gay and lesbian people, people with special needs - are brought within a community of support and care.'
THE service featured …