A leading Anglican has castigated his church for obsessing over gay issues while poverty, disease and hunger are ravaging the human race.

Speaking at a conference of church leaders in London organised by global poverty charity Tearfund, Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused his church of “persecuting the already persecuted” in its attitude to gay people.

“We really will not be able to win wars against so-called terror as long as there are conditions that make people desperate, and poverty, disease and ignorance are amongst the chief culprits,” he said.

“We seem to be engaging in this kind of, almost, pastime [while] there’s poverty, hunger, disease, corruption.

“I must imagine that God is weeping, and the world quite rightly should dismiss the Church in those cases as being totally irrelevant.”

Drawing on his experiences in apartheid-dominated South Africa, the Archbishop told more than 800 delegates: “If you want to keep people subjugated, the last thing you place in their hands is a Bible.

“There’s nothing more radical, nothing more revolutionary, nothing more subversive against injustice and oppression than the Bible.”

He challenged churches to be the “hands, feet, eyes and ears of Jesus” in the fight against local and global poverty.

Archbishop Tutu, a 76-year-old veteran of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and the winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, has repeatedly said the church should come together on the topic of homosexuality.

The ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 was the catalyst for the ongoing crisis in the Anglican communion over gay issues.

Archbishop Tutu told a gay audience in April:

“How sad it is that the Church should be so obsessed with this particular issue of human sexuality when God’s children are facing massive problems; poverty, disease, corruption, conflict.”

At the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference in July the symbolic head of the Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, said the “pieces are on the board” for a settlement.

The conference, held once every ten years, is a meeting of the leaders of the Church from around the world.

This year more than 200 traditionalist bishops boycotted the event over the acceptance of gay clergy.

In a sermon on the final day of the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, Dr Williams said:

“In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will still take time.”

But despite there still being “many questions” on the issue, a Covenant to bind the Communion together is needed, he said: “We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board.”

The Covenant could mean churches with new gay bishops could be expelled from the Anglican Communion.

In a reference to the bishops who refused to attend the Conference Dr Williams said: “In the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages.”

He added that the Communion must not just be “an association of polite friends,” rather, it must “embrace deeper and more solid ways of recognising and trusting each other.”