The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Church of England accepting gay marriage could be "absolutely catastrophic" for Christians in countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Speaking on his first live phone-in on LBC radio, the Most Rev Justin Welby said he recently visited the grave of 369 bodies in South Sudan where it was believed "if we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians".
Asked by one caller about whether the Church of England would accept gay marriage after it was allowed in law, he said: "The impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic and we have to love them as much as the people who are here.
"I've stood by a graveside in Africa of a group of Christians who'd been attacked because of something that had happened far, far away in America. And they were attacked by other people because of that.
"That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country," he added.
He told listeners the subject was "really not a simple issue", adding: "It's something that I wrestle with every day and often in the middle of the night."
Archbishop Welby may have felt his hour of questioning did not get off to the best start, with Ann Widdecombe as his second caller. The former Tory MP herself suggested his "heart has just sunk" on hearing her voice.
Ms Widdecombe said she left the Church of England in 1993 in part because it "never seems to know what it thinks about anything".
"One of the reasons I left was because of the sorts of answers that you've just given," she told him following a call about homosexuality.
"What I want is a church that serves what is right - regardless of whether it is popular or not - serves what is wrong, and gives us a very straightforward teaching. One can choose to accept or reject that, but at least there is a straightforward authoritative teaching."
After asking him to say whether the Church does or does not approve of homosexuality, the Archbishop told her drily: "How unsurprised I am by that question, I can't imagine."
"I just said the Church is quite clear that sex outside marriage is wrong, and marriage has been understood as a man and woman. That seems to be a fairly clear statement.
"I'm not going to pull my punches on that. I think I'm right, you think I'm wrong. We differ."Suggest a correction