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Bishop Born in Muslim Country Says Church Has Responsibility to Speak Out Against Islamic Militancy

Michael Nazir-Ali, retired bishop of Rochester

Stone Owl PR

Greg Daly - published on 10/08/14

Many looking to Rome for leadership, says Anglican Nazir-Ali

The Catholic Church has “both a great opportunity and also a great responsibility” to speak out against the tide of Islamic militancy and the global persecution of Christians, according to Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican bishop of Rochester, England.  Many people, he claimed, including Evangelicals with no historic affection towards the Catholic Church, are now looking to Rome for leadership. Effective leadership would, however, need internal discipline, he said, pointing to how the lack of such discipline had "caused havoc" within his own Anglican Communion. 

Pakistan-born Bishop Nazir-Ali made his comments in London last Thursday when speaking on “A Global Christianity in the Making” to the plenary session of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Ordinariate was set up by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to allow Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church as groups rather than on an individual basis, and to do so without abandoning their Anglican traditions and heritage. 

Explaining how he hoped the Anglican patrimony Rome had recognized would continue to flourish, Bishop Nazir-Ali said such recognitions should not be an exception, but could instead be “a charter for the future.”  He argued that the diversity of cultures of the world meant that a truly Catholic Church would need to be open to varied expressions of faith from different cultural and ethnic situations, and that the Church must do more than recognize the distinct cultures of Eastern Christianity. “The Church must change the approach,” he said. “It must not capitulate to culture nor must it destroy any culture. Instead it must take heed of Pope Benedict’s point: that the role of the Church is to enable culture to find its true center.”

The importance of cultures finding their true centers has long been a preoccupation of Bishop Nazir-Ali, who was widely criticized in 2008 when he said that those values so often described as “British values” were essentially Christian ones, and just as the influence of the Churches had waned since the 1960s, so those values, cut adrift of their historical and theological moorings, were in danger. “While the Christian consensus was dissolved,” he said, “nothing else, except perhaps endless self-indulgence, was put in its place.”

“The real danger to Britain today is the spiritual and moral vacuum that has occurred for the last 40 or 50 years. When you have such a vacuum something will fill it,” he told the Telegraph at the time, adding, “If people are not given a fresh way of understanding what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Christian-based society then something else may well take the place of all that we’re used to and that could be Islam.” Warning of the growth of no-go areas for non-Muslims in Britain, he said, “There are extremist movements in this country whose agenda is far from integration,” adding that “they are significant enough to influence sections of young people.”

Bishop Nazir-Ali’s wariness of Islam stretches back decades.  Appointed Bishop of Raiwind in 1984 when he was just 35, he fled from Pakistan to the United Kingdom in 1986 when his life was in danger from Muslim militants. After serving for several years as an assistant bishop, he became Bishop of Rochester in 1994. When he stepped down 15 years later, a spokesman said that he was doing so in the hope of working “with a number of Church leaders from areas where the Church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation.” 

Bishop Nazir-Ali is now president of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD), which trains missionaries for situations where the Church is in danger around the world. There are no shortages of such places: even before the rise of the Islamic State group, the German-based International Society for Human Rights estimated that roughly 7,000 to 8,000 Christians are martyred every year, whereas the non-denominational charity Open Doors estimated in 2013 that about 100 million Christians worldwide are persecuted for the faith.

Beginning his talk by describing the remarkable global expansion of Christianity world over the last century, Bishop Nazir-Ali highlighted astonishing growth in Africa and Asia, before turning to an analysis of the beliefs and ideologies that had led to the global persecution of Christians. Speaking in particular of Islamic militancy, Bishop Nazir-Ali said that extremism could not simply be explained away with reference to social and economic factors alone, and disagreed with those who believe that “a truly Islamic state would not persecute Christians.” Bishop Nazir-Ali said this view romanticized Islamic militancy, and was belied by the evidence.

Calling for a more generous asylum policy for the victims of the Islamic State group, he said that even such a step would not solve the problem of the persecutions faced by Christians in Iraq. Echoing recent comments by the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, he insisted that an international force should be deployed to protect Iraq’s beleaguered minorities, saying that, “it would be a great tragedy if the entire Christian community were to be exiled in the way that the militants want.”

Greg Dalycovers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

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