For traditionalists, the real problem is how these liberals see the Bible: man-made, sometimes helpful. But to traditionalists the Bible is divinely inspired; it is God communicating with humanity. To them the homosexuality debate, though important, is just a symptom; the disease is a misunderstanding about the authority of Scripture.
While the traditionalists see it as a matter of truth and fidelity, for liberals it is a matter of justice and human rights. God loves all alike, they say, and quote Paul’s letter to Galatians that for Christians “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
Each side would rather go its own way than compromise and keep the Anglican Church together. The topic goes to the core of how churches relate to the wider culture in which they live. The sexuality debate pits the African Anglicans, now the biggest group in the church, against the Americans, who are the richest.
American culture is deeply concerned with individual rights, which shape how even churches deal with moral questions. African culture is more communitarian, shaped by tribal structures, and more authoritarian.
After the Americans appointed a gay man, Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire in 2004 many African churches broke off relations.
That really made it a political problem for church leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: how could they keep the church together?
As with any global political dispute, it’s a mixture of principle, posturing and pragmatic politics on all sides, of complex motivations, divided loyalties and shifting agendas.
For example, the Africans who led the opposition to the American liberals have been influenced not only by theological conviction but by cultural misunderstandings and colonial resentment. It’s rather a thrill to tell the Americans where to get off.
So there have been international meetings and committees, and the US church has agreed to partly withdraw. Dr Williams has probably bought enough time to stop the church self-destructing before the 10-yearly meeting of the world’s bishops in London next year, which will reassess the situation.