One in 200 churchgoers in same-sex relationships
After the rows and debates that have dominated for the past few years, one image of Britain's Christians is of a people obsessed with rules around sex and with stopping people from having sex, especially when it is gay sex or sex outside marriage.
But new research strong support for the physical side of love among churchgoers. And they also seem to be more open to same-sex relationships than might perhaps have been imagined from their churches' stance on the issue.
One in 200 regular churchgoers have entered a formal relationship with someone of the same sex, according to research published this week.
A survey conducted by Christian Research for Christian Today found that 0.6 per cent of churchgoers are in a civil partnership, slightly more than the number cohabiting.
Although statistically small, given the size of the survey, the number is high considering the widespread hostility to homosexual relationships among the leadership of many Christian churches. The Church of England and Catholic churches believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The poll researched 1,400 people aged over 16 who were representative of the country's churchgoing communities.
More than one in 20, or 5.8 per cent, were divorced or separated compared to six out of ten who were married. More than one in 20, or 6.5 per cent, were remarried after divorce.
More than two-thirds said that Christians should not cohabit before marriage, and nearly as many also believed Christians should marry other Christians, rather than those of other or no faith.
Sponsored Watch Your Favorite Christian Films, 24/7. Click Here To Start Your Free Trial Today
More than two-thirds believed that personal desire need not necessarily translate into physical sex. However, more than seven in ten agreed or strongly agreed: "My spouse/partner and I love the physical part of our relationship."
Nearly seven in ten thought their spouse or partner had been specially "put aside" for them by God, while fewer than half did or do prayer about the kind of person they wish to marry. Friends or family had tried to find matches for more than one in ten, and nearly half looked for their ideal partner within a Christian church or community. More than a third felt "carefree" during their dating days, but a fifth felt pressure to find the "right person".
Nearly eight in ten felt it important to marry another Christian and more than eight in ten did indeed marry another person of the Christian faith. Just one tenth had not been Christian before they married.
The proportion in civil partnerships is about half the number of people in the general population who describe themselves as gay. According to an Office for National Statistics survey last year 93.5 per cent of people are heterosexual, 1.1 per cent gay or lesbian and 0.4 per cent bisexual.
Maggie Ellis, director of Lifecentre Rape Crisis Service, said this represented an evangelism opportunity. "It is statistically lower that the general population in our society. Therefore this is clearly a significant mission field for churches who have the grace to provide a safe and nurturing spiritual community for people with a same-sex orientation to be able to grow closer to God within."
On the healthy physical relationships of married churchgoers, she added: "It is encouraging to see that Christians are feeling confident to explore with enjoyment their God-given gift of sexual pleasure in marriage without some of the historical taboos and anxieties that have often traditionally shrouded the Christian sexual culture."
1,401 practising Christians responded to the web-based poll conducted by Christian Research between 28th - 30th June via 'Resonate', their 16,000-strong online Christian research community. Christian Research are members of the Market Research Society.