Belmont Club

The dark frontier

Michael Nazir-Ali, the Church of England’s Bishop of Rochester has resigned. The Daily Mail has the story.

One of the Church of England’s most outspoken bishops is to resign a decade early after years of disenchantment with the liberal drift of Anglicanism. The Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali – the Church’s only Asian diocesan bishop – is planning to devote much of his time to helping persecuted Christians in Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

Nazir-Ali was something of a bellweather in the UK culture wars. The Church Times has only a little more detail on his resignation, but the tone of their article suggests that it was somewhat unplanned.

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”.

Although the Daily Mail makes much of the death threats that Michael Nazir-Ali had to endure for his criticism of radical Islam, my guess — from the fact that he is leaving for “areas under pressure”, hence fleeing from danger into danger — is that he was really trying to get away from a liberal establishment which regarded him as an embarrassment. A Conservative politician recently described the COE as “overcome by political correctness”. The COE bishops probably don’t see things that way and doubtless sincerely believe that they are right. The highest compliment one may pay a politician, at least for some Bishops, it to compare a person to Barack Obama. For example, the COE Bishop of London praised Australian PM Kevin Rudd by calling his election “an Obama moment”.

In introducing Mr Rudd to the forum, the bishop was enthusiastic, referring to Mr Rudd as “right honourable”, a title not used for Australian prime ministers or ministers since the Whitlam government severed ties with Britain’s Privy Council as Australia’s highest court of appeal in the 1970s.

“It would not be too strong to say the election of Kevin Rudd constituted something of an ‘Obama moment’ for that country,” Bishop Chartres told the gathering. “He has a reputation as a politician who takes ethics very, very seriously.”

The tonal differences probably go beyond strictly religious issues. The culture wars are indicative of a deep division in world views within Western society. The lines are jagged and crazed. The boundaries crisscross the traditional categories of class, faith, urban and rural life and even education. But in some sense, I think the litmus test lies in the notion of freedom. Nazir-Ali has crossed the bridge towards his vision of it, not unlike someone coming in from the cold over some shadowy inner-German border during the Cold War. Nazir-Ali is arguably a figure from a still older war, but as ever in these cases, he goes over the edge into the unknown.