The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned the Church of England that refusing to allow blessings for gay married couples could be seen as “akin to racism”.

Justin Welby also said through its “rejection of LGBT people”, the church may find itself irrelevant “in a changing society”.

He was speaking to the General Synod in his presidential address ahead of discussion of the controversial Piling report, which made many recommendations for the church’s approach to LGBT people, including allowing blessings for gay marriages, as a compromise between the pro and anti-gay marriage church factions.

It was first discussed two weeks ago, but due to a lack of consensus among bishops, a decision was delayed until this month.

The church is profoundly split on the issue of allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages, and the Archbishop warned that a decisive agreement needed to be reached soon.

Archbishop Welby said of the report’s recommendations: “There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word.

“There is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism.

“We have to find a way forward. This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.”

He went on: “Already I can hear the arguments being pushed back at me, about compromise, about the wishy-washiness of reconciliation. But this sort of love, and the reconciliation between differing groups that it demands and implies, is not comfortable and soft and wishy-washy.

“It is exceptionally hard edged, extraordinarily demanding and likely to lead in parts of the world around us to profound unpopularity or dismissal.”

Same-sex marriages will begin from the 29 March. Under the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, the Church of England is explicitly banned from performing the ceremonies, as part of Maria Miller’s ‘triple lock’.