THE BISHOP of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, has announced his resignation. He is leaving to undertake a new global ministry in places where the Church is under pressure and Christians are in a minority. The Archbishop of Canterbury has described his move as “a courageous initiative and a timely one”.
The news, which was announced in a statement on Saturday, appears to have come as a complete surprise to many. Dr Nazir-Ali has been increasingly outspoken on the threats posed by the rise of radical Islam — something he believes is filling a moral and spiritual vacuum left by the loss of Christian faith and the fall of Communism.
Last year, he said that Islamic extremism and multiculturalism had resulted in “no-go” areas for non-Christians (News, 11 January 2008). Clerics working in predominantly Muslim areas of British cities were angered, and some specialists in interfaith relations accused him of undermining years of patient work.
Other bishops contradicted his claim, but Dr Nazir-Ali insisted: “Unless we diagnose the malaise from which we suffer, we shall not be able to discover the remedy.” He received death threats after his comments, and had to have police protection.
He was the only diocesan bishop in the Church of England to boycott the Lambeth Conference — mainly over questions of sexuality. He later allied himself with the alternative Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) movement.
Dr Nazir-Ali will be 60 in August. He was born in Pakistan, and has dual citizenship and both a Christian and Muslim family background. He was the first non-white diocesan bishop in the Church of England. Before his move to Rochester, where he has been for 15 years, he had been general secretary of CMS and Bishop of Raiwind in Pakistan.
He is a scholar and theologian, a past chairman of the ethics and law committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and a member of the House of Lords since 1999. He has also served as a director of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, was on the board of Christian Aid, and was a trustee of Traidcraft. He is president of the Network for Inter-Faith Concerns in the Anglican Communion (NIFCON).
His resignation statement was brief, indicating that he had been invited by church leaders in areas under pressure to “assist them with education and training for their particular situation”. He writes: “We thank God for his blessings . . . and ask for your prayers as we take this step of faith, ‘not knowing where we are going’ (Hebrews 11.8).” He says that details of his work arrangements “are still being worked out”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “His enormous theological skill, his specialist involvement in the complex debates around bioethics, his wide international experience, and his clarity of mind and expression have made him a really valuable colleague, and he has served the Church and the wider society with dedication and distinction.”
The Bishop of Tonbridge, Dr Brian Castle, described Dr Nazir-Ali as “a true prophet in the way that he has courageously spoken out against both injustice and compromising the Word of God. . . He will be greatly missed by Rochester, whose people he has faithfully loved and nurtured over the years.”
The Dean of Rochester, the Very Revd Adrian Newman, also praised his courage: “His passion for making Christ known is matched only by his ability to communicate across cultural divisions, and this has opened doors of influence that he has always been courageous enough to walk through, often at personal cost.”
The Barnabas Fund, which works with persecuted Christians in predominantly Muslim countries, warned last month that, in the context of the growing polarisation of the Christian community in the UK, “even figures such as Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Baroness Caroline Cox are considered by some Christians to be extremists because of their frank statements on Islam.”
The Bishop will effectively stand down at the end of June, when he has completed his diocesan visitations. His farewell service will be held at Rochester Cathedral on 12 September.
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