STEPHEN GLOVER: When a Church of England bishop defects to Roman Catholic, that is the price of prostrating itself on the altar of trendy obsessions
When a man who once nearly became Archbishop of Canterbury defects to the Roman Catholic Church, it is time to sit up and take notice.
Michael Nazir-Ali is in most respects as unlike as is possible to a typical modern Church of England bishop, which is doubtless why he wasn’t appointed Anglican Primate in 2002.
He has stood out as an uncompromising social conservative in an Established Church which in recent years has become increasingly liberal, and has tended to swim with the tide of secular belief.
Michael Nazir-Ali was the first non-white diocesan bishop in the Church of England
One doesn’t have to agree with every aspect of Dr Nazir-Ali’s opinions – and some Anglicans, let alone people of other denominations and non-believers, won’t.
Like the Roman Catholic Church he is joining, he is robustly opposed to abortion.
Nor has he been supportive of celibate homosexual priests working in the Church of England, or of same-sex marriages taking place in church. Though still not permitted, it seems likely they soon will be.
At the same time, he has celebrated the importance of the family and the sanctity of marriage in a way that would have been familiar to Anglican worshippers half a century ago, but is now unusual.
Whatever one may think of his particular views, I find it impossible not to admire Dr Nazir-Ali for the rigour of his thought, and for his courage in speaking out in defiance of fashionable opinion.
His background largely explains why he is so different from run-of-the-mill Anglican prelates.
Born in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, he became a bishop there while still in his thirties, before leaving the country when his life was in danger.
For him Christianity was not a set of safe and comfortable beliefs which can be bent to accommodate progressive thought. It was a minority sect fighting for survival, and sometimes threatened by radical Islam.
Former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali with his wife Valerie
Dr Nazir-Ali was received into the Roman Catholic Church two weeks ago
That explains why, since his retirement as Bishop of Rochester in 2009 after 15 years in the role, he has spent a lot of time in communion with Anglicans in the Third World, who are sometimes persecuted.
He is above all a serious man. Not a few Anglicans will agree with him when he says he wants to be in a Church ‘where there is clear teaching for the faithful’.
It does exist in parts of the Church of England, but many priests seem too frightened of offending worldly values to speak out with much clarity.
Dr Nazir-Ali’s criticism of the C of E for ‘jumping on to every faddish bandwagon about identity politics, cultural correctness and mea culpa about Britain’s imperial past’ will also strike a chord with many people.
Of course there are historical events of which we should be rightly ashamed. What is so wearisome is the preoccupation with supposed misdeeds in the distant past, and the constant self-flagellation, when there are so many challenges and problems in our own time.
Yet the Church of England’s hierarchy has instructed cathedrals and churches across the country to review their monuments for links to slavery and colonialism, and take action if any are found.
Some 12,500 parishes and 42 cathedrals have been scouring their grounds and buildings for shameful connections.
Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has declared in the tones of a trendy Labour MP: ‘Some will have to come down, some names will have to change.’
Speaking about monuments linked with slavery, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: ‘Some will have to come down, some names will have to change.’
Aren’t there more pressing things for the Church to be doing?
Equally, although the Church is right to be deeply concerned about the despoiling of God’s world, it shouldn’t be involving itself in the politics of climate change.
There are scientists and politicians aplenty to do that. And yet earlier this year the C of E appointed a Bishop of the Environment to spearhead the crusade against climate change, and tackle the looming ‘chaos and destruction’ of ‘this precious planet’.
At a Christmas service not long ago, I heard a bishop preach about global warming. What about spearheading the fight against the seemingly ineluctable decline of religious belief in this country?
Religious attendance continues to fall, and the response of the Church of England, when it is not fretting about secular matters, is to talk about closing more churches.
Indeed, a recent C of E document called into question ‘the sustainability of many local churches’, and warned that most dioceses intend to ‘prune’ the number of clergy.
Dr Nazir-Ali wants to be in a church ‘where there is clear teaching for the faithful’
Admittedly, there are still, particularly on the evangelical wing of the Church, vibrant parishes that aren’t prepared to roll over and accept the inevitability of decline.
But much of the C of E has become defeatist and inward-looking. So one can understand why Dr Nazir-Ali yearns for the clarity and robustness of the Roman Catholic Church, though there is room for doubt whether he will in fact find that.
After all, it is itself divided between traditionalists and liberals over issues such as abortion, contraception, the celibacy of the clergy, and same-sex marriage.
All one can say with confidence is that if there were more devout and committed bishops like Michael Nazir-Ali in our national Church, it would be sending out a stronger message to a country that is drifting ever further from God.
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