The head of the Anglican church in the United States has praised the ordination of an openly gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire.

While acknowledging that it may take many years to bring the worldwide Anglican communion to a common position on the issue of gay clergy, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori compared the struggle for gay acceptance to slavery and female ordination.

Her comments highlight the divisions among Anglican congregations.

Many African churches remain deeply hostile to gay people.

“Where the protesters are, in some parts of Africa or in other parts of the Anglican Communion today, is where this church and this society we live in was 50 years ago, and for us to assume that people can move that distance in a year or in a relatively instantaneous manner is perhaps faithless,” Bishop Jefferts Schori told The Boston Globe.

“That kind of movement and development has taken us a good deal of pain and energy over 40 or 50 years, and I think we have to make some space so that others can make that journey as well.”

The decision of New Hampshire Anglicans to appoint out gay man Gene Robinson as their bishop in 2003 caused serious divisions.

Bishop Jefferts Schori’s appointment as head of the US Anglican communion last year caused even more tension, exacerbated by her support of Bishop Robinson and civil partnerships.

At the Anglican Primates meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in February seven archbishops who claim to represent more than 30 million Anglicans refused to take Communion with Bishop Jefferts Schori.

Many on both sides of the divide are openly talking about a schism.

The spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has attempted to steer a course through the row.

Earlier this month Archbishop Rowan Williams said that the Biblical passage most commonly used to condemn homosexuality, an extract from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, was in fact meant to warn Christians not to be self-righteous in the face of others’ sin.

“Many current ways of reading miss the actual direction of the passage,” he said.

“Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding,” he added.

His comments constituted a direct attack on conservative bishops who have been using the Bible to try to force pro-gay Anglican communities out of the Anglican Communion.