The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out after the director of a group representing gay Anglicans revealed he has received death threats.
Rev Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, said that the threats against his life were encouraged by the outspokenly homophobic language and attitude of some in the church.
Dr Rowan Williams said the threats are the “latest round of un-Christian bullying.”
Read an account of the attack on the head of Changing Attitude in Nigeria and the threats against Rev Coward here.
The row over the stance of evangelical and traditionalist bishops in the Anglican church worldwide over gay issues has exposed a deep division in the communion.
In his comments Dr Williams also spoke out against violence directed at sexual minorities in countries such as Nigeria.
Rev Coward said in a press statement issued on Tuesday:
“The Anglican Communion has been in turmoil for 10 years since the 1998 Lambeth Conference passed a very negative resolution about homosexuality.
“The conflict in the church has intensified since then, with many bishops and other leaders making highly judgmental and often abusive comments and pronouncements about LGBT Anglicans.
“Such inflammatory statements lead some members of Anglican Communion churches to believe that threats and violence against those who are LGBT (or those who support a more open stance towards LGBT people) are not only justified but are authentic expressions of Christianity.”
Dr Williams responded:
“The Anglican Communion has repeatedly, through the Lambeth Conference and the statements from its Primates’ meetings, unequivocally condemned violence and the threat of violence against gay and lesbian people. I hope that this latest round of un-Christian bullying will likewise be universally condemned.”
With 17.5 million members, Nigeria is the second-largest Anglican province after the Church of England, but its number of regular churchgoers is far higher and growing.
The leader of the church in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is one of those leading the charge against gay people being ordained as priests or the blessing of gay relationships.
The worldwide Anglican communion has been sharply divided since 2003 when a diocese in the 2.4 million-strong US Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop.
A meeting of church leaders, the Lambeth conference, is held once a decade. The 14th Lambeth Conference will take place in Canterbury between 16th July and 4th August.
The 2008 gathering has been dominated by fights about the place of gay and lesbian people in the Anglican church.
The Global South group of Anglican church leaders, which includes many African bishops, decided last year that it will boycott the conference and hold their own meeting in Jerusalem in June.
As many as 120 bishops out of the 800 invited will not attend Lambeth unless the American part of the Anglican church repudiates its current accepting attitude towards gay clergy and relationships.
However, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that 70% of bishops had already accepted invitations to attend.
A number of American Anglican congregations have decided to place themselves under the authority of bishops in Africa who are hostile to gay people in the church.
The Archbishop of Canterbury indicated in 2006 that he did not want to discuss human sexuality issues at the conference, emphasising training matters instead.
However at the launch event in January he said one day would be given over to discussions of gay issues.
“Gene Robinson has not been invited to the Lambeth conference and it is proving extremely difficult to see under what heading he might be invited to be around, and that is where we are,” Archbishop Williams said.
“To those bishops who do not wish to attend, I recognise their absolute right to choose in good faith and in conscience whether or not they can be there.
“I shall be delighted to see more rather than fewer bishops there, that is their choice, but the door is open.”