The Archbishop of Canterbury appealed to hundreds of bishops to demonstrate mutual generosity as the row over sexual ethics continues to embroil the Anglican Communion.
In his second presidential address at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference on Tuesday, Dr. Rowan Williams said that warring factions in the worldwide Communion were "threatening death to each other, not life."
He said that some in the Communion regarded the independent actions of some provinces as "confused or reckless innovation" that were a "body-blow to the integrity of mission and a matter of literal physical risk to Christians."
"The reaction to this is in turn felt as an annihilating judgment on a whole local church, undermining its legitimacy and pouring scorn on its witness," the Archbishop said.
He acknowledged that demonstrating generosity would be costly for traditionalists and liberals, who remain at odds over a number of issues including the ordination of homosexual clergy, the blessing of same-sex unions and cross-border interventions.
"If both were able to hear and to respond generously, perhaps we could have something more like a conversation of equals – even something more like a Church," said Williams.
He challenged bishops to take up the recommendations of the 2007 Dar-es-Salaam meeting of primates, which asked different factions within the Communion to take simultaneous steps towards each other.
"To the innovator, can we say, 'Don't isolate yourself; don't create facts on the ground that make the invitation to debate ring a bit hollow?' Can we say to the traditionalist, 'Don't invest everything in a church of pure and like-minded souls; try to understand the pastoral and human and theological issues that are urgent for those you are opposing, even if you think them deeply wrong?'" he asked.
Williams went on to reaffirm his support for the Anglican Covenant and the formation of an international body responsible for issuing guidance on what constitutes "a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a local church."
"We need to speak life to each other, and that means change," he said, adding later, "I find it hard at present to see another way forward that would avoid further disintegration."
Around 650 bishops are gathered in Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference, which runs until Sunday. Around a quarter of the bishops in the Anglican Communion chose to stay away from the conference in protest of the presence of pro-gay bishops, including some of those involved in the consecration of the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.
Williams appealed to the bishops to remember their shared Anglican identity rooted in Jesus Christ as the "one unique center" and acknowledge "that the only responsible and Christian way of going on engaging with those who aren't here is by speaking from that center in Jesus Christ where we all see our lives held and focused."
He told the bishops: "I think we perhaps can, if and only if we are captured by the vision of the true Center, the heart of God out of which flows the impulse of an eternal generosity which creates and heals and promises.
"It is this generosity which sustains our mission and service in Our Lord's name. And it is this we are called to show to each other."