Ahead of a major Anglican conference, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has blasted the African Anglican Church over its homophobic stance towards gay clergy.

Speaking at a news conference in Nairobi, while visiting Kenya to attend the World Social Forum, Tutu said that the Church should stop persecuting lesbians and gays and instead focus on more pressing issues.

“I am deeply disturbed that in the face of some of the most horrendous problems facing Africa, we concentrate on ‘what do I do in bed with whom’,” he said.

He went on to say that, “For one to penalise someone for their sexual orientation is the same as penalising someone for something they can do nothing about, like ethnicity or race. I cannot imagine persecuting a minority group which is already being persecuted.”

He called on the Church to focus on more vital issues facing Africans, such as poverty and Aids. “The God I worship would not consider that [the gay clergy issue] to be a priority concern,” he said.

The global Anglican Church is facing a split because of moves in some countries to appoint gay and female priests. African branches are among those factions vehemently opposing gay clergy and driving the seemingly inevitable schism.

The matter is expected to come to a head at a conference in Tanzania in which the 38 Anglican primates will be meeting, set to take place in February. Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and other conservatives have already stated that they will refuse to sit at the same table as the US female Episcopal leader Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

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