The leader of the Anglican Church, archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has been accused of deserting gays and lesbians after saying they need to change their ways to be welcome in his faith.

Anglican conservatives welcomed his comments, saying Williams was rightly distancing himself from his previous support for gays in the church. Liberals said his comments confirmed their fears Williams was becoming more conservative.

Williams made the comments in an interview with a Dutch newspaper last week. He denied it was time for the church to accept homosexual relationships, saying it should be welcoming but not inclusive. He said gays and lesbians must accept the traditional teaching of the church.

I don’t believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is, he said, London newspaper The Telegraph reported.

We don’t say, -˜Come in and we ask no questions.’ I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions.

Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics.

In an effort to prevent a split in the church over the issue, Williams said he had backed a resolution which says homosexual practice is incompatible with the Bible.

While a professor in divinity at Oxford University in 1989, Williams wrote that the pressure that some church figures put upon people of differing sexual identities is a greater disgrace than anything else seen in the church, The Telegraph reported.

Reverend Giles Goddard, chairman of England’s liberal Inclusive Church, said Williams’s new stance was astonishing.

The implication is that there is no justification in scripture for the welcome of lesbian and gay people. It appears that he has moved into the conservative camp, Giles said, reported.

George Broadhead, of Britain’s Gay and Lesbian Humanist Society, agreed. Rowan Williams has now made it clear that he has thrown in his lot with the religious right, he said, reported.

If anyone in the Anglican Church was in any doubt about where Williams stood on gay rights, they now know.

The issue of homosexuality has created great division amongst the worldwide Anglican Church since the ordination of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in the US in 2003. Conservative leaders in Africa and the US have been threatening to split from the church ever since.

Two months ago the US Episcopal Church refused to ban the ordination of gay bishops, prompting further rumours of a split.

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