Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Monday, 14 July 2008 19:14 UK

Sexuality stance 'embarrasses' Anglicans

By Christopher Landau
BBC World Service religious affairs correspondent

Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori says sexuality has become a fraught issue

The head of the Anglican church in the US has said that her church has embarrassed other parts of the Anglican Communion with its approach to sexuality.

Speaking ahead of the Lambeth Conference, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori defended churches that had confronted the controversial issue.

She said she hoped that Anglican bishops gathering in Canterbury this week would not be distracted by discussions about sexuality, but rather would focus on more important matters like international development and climate change.

But she admitted it was "very awkward" that the Anglican Communion's only openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, had not received an invitation to the once-a-decade gathering.

She said: "We're certainly aware that he will be present in a far larger way not having an invitation, than he would have been if he'd been part of the conference."

Culturally 'inappropriate'

The presiding bishop said that the discussions about sexuality had become so fraught because some churches were uncomfortable with the subject.

"We've had to talk about issues of human sexuality publicly. That's culturally seen as inappropriate in many other parts of the Communion," she said.

"We have embarrassed other parts of the Communion because we need to talk about these issues publicly. That's the biggest challenge - to figure out how to live together as a family of churches."

Katharine Jefferts Schori suggested that Anglicans needed to come to terms with their history if they were to find a way to move forward together.

That meant discussing the church's roots in the British Empire.

"The Anglican Communion needs to have conversations about colonialism, post-colonialism and neo-colonialism, but we haven't really begun to do that.

"I think that's going to be exceedingly important to healing the wounds of the past, and to some degree of the present."

She said she "did not envy" the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, as he attempts to balance the concerns of all parties within the church.

The presiding bishop conceded that many of Anglicanism's difficulties centred on the fact that both those for and against liberalising policies claimed to be following authentic Christianity.

Battle for truth

Neither group wants to leave the Anglican Communion - and that has led to a fierce debate about what constitutes Biblical truth.

She said: "Jesus says, 'the truth shall set you free'. Understandings of truth and the way people begin to appropriate truth vary culturally. And that's part of our difficulty."

As the only female leader of a national Anglican church, the Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori was always going to be a distinctive figure on the Anglican stage.

Her desire for the American church to remain a full participant in Anglican gatherings has angered her conservative opponents, some of whom are boycotting the Lambeth Conference.

She said that the meeting would be "diminished" by their absence.

But she believes that the bishops who are attending the Lambeth Conference are much more interested in how they can work together on issues of common concern, rather than focusing on their sharp divisions over homosexuality.

The conference's organisers - including the Archbishop of Canterbury - must be hoping, and praying, that she's right.

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