The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has told the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops that their disagreements over "human identity and sexuality" will "not be solved at this conference".
He made the comments in his first of three keynote addresses yesterday to 650 bishops of the Anglican Communion, which spans 165 countries.
They are meeting from July 26 to August 8 at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
Archbishop Welby said: "Too often the Anglican Communion has been known best – where it is known at all as a Communion – for looking inwards and struggling with its own disagreements.
"Those questions, especially on the Christian and Anglican approach to human identity and sexuality, will not be solved at this Conference."
The divisions over sexual morality have become so heated that orthodox bishops in the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) yesterday announced that they will not receive Holy Communion at the opening and closing services of the Lambeth Conference "alongside gay-partnered bishops, and those who endorse same-sex unions in the Church's faith and order".
The GSFA bishops "shall remain seated".
Archbishop Welby said his first Presidential address would look at God's world, the second at God's church and the third at "the vocation we have, as bishops and bishops' spouses, of leading God's Church when we remember that God's Church does not exist for us; it exists for the salvation of the world".
He urged the bishops to look outwards "because we meet, as most of you know better than me, at a time of world crisis".
Alluding to the Apostle's Peter description in his first New Testament letter of the devil prowling around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5v8), Archbishop Welby said: "Many of us come aware of what Peter calls the roaring lions; the sense - and often reality - of attack, hostility, danger and uncertainty.
"Crises in both world and Church will be normal, because wherever there are human beings, there is sin, and crises are always fuelled by sin," he said.
The Archbishop then listed the world crises since the last Lambeth Conference in 2008 hosted by his predecessor, Rowan Williams.
These included the "collapse of the Western banking system", Covid 19, and "the catastrophe that we are facing and particularly in the Global South over world food prices and availability", which he called "the biggest crisis in food availability in over half a century".
Added to the list were the war in Ukraine - "a major war involving a nuclear armed power" - before adding that "with growing force and spread we are affected by climate change".
He continued: "On top of those global changes, there have been great roaring lions in so many of our own countries. Wars, persecution, civil disorder, poverty have struck hard at the weakest and the poorest in the flock, killing thousands who put their trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord."
Addressing the question, "Should we not be focused on our inner differences, especially on those of sexuality?" he said: "Well, they do matter greatly, they are at the heart of people's understanding of who they are, as Christians, as human beings. We shall look at them both in the context of the Call on Human Dignity. We'll look at them again in the second Presidential Address, and in the context of our studies of 1 Peter. But they are not everything."
To applause from some in the audience, he said: "We cannot wait until everything is fixed to be God's Church for God's world, because that wait will go on longer than the wait for Jesus to return. And I have to say from the deepest point of my heart, I believe we will not quickly be forgiven if this is another gathering which focuses mainly on ourselves.
"To someone without food, or caught up in war, or persecuted, or suffering from intense poverty, their daily struggle is uppermost in their minds. They want a Church that stands with them.
"As shepherds we must, as Pope Francis said, 'smell of the sheep' because we are among them."
He concluded his address: "We must, as God's shepherds, hear the lions, understand them and be a global Church that will face and defeat, in the power of Christ - not by power, not by might, but by God's powerful Spirit - their empty and powerless threats, because at the end, for every one of us here and everyone in the flock, and everyone in the world, Christ is the conqueror, redeemer and saviour of all."