The outspoken conservative Evangelical bishop of Rochester is stepping down 10 years short of his required retirement date. The expressed reason is bridge-building with the Muslim community with which he has been at odds.
The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Church’s only Asian bishop, who is just 59 and could have stayed at Rochester until his 70th birthday, intends to use his expertise as an Islamic scholar to work in Pakistan where he was born and in the Middle East to build bridges between Christians and Muslims.
The diocese said this morning: “Bishop Michael is hoping to work 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. Details of this arrangement are still being worked out.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said: “Bishop Michael’s decision to undertake this new and very challenging ministry will leave a real gap in the ranks of English bishops. 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.
In her blog Ruth Gledhill speculates,
The inevitable question now is, will his plan ‘to work in education and mission overseas’ see him emerge as a new ‘bishop’ of an emerging Global South?
His fearless conservative evangelicalism has won him the hearts of the Anglican churches in Asia and Africa that were behind Gafcon. No vacuum exists at present with Bob Duncan firmly in pole position, but if asked to play a leading role, would he demur? ‘That is a hypothetical question and we should not speculate,’ said a source.
Speaking of Muslims and the UK, Rowan Williams gave an interview to the Muslim News published March 27:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has praised Muslims for raising the profile of religion and ethical challenges in society. “I think Islam has made a very significant contribution to getting a debate about religion into public life,” Dr Rowan Williams said. “And I think it’s very right that we should have these debates and discussions between Muslims and Christians and others in public,” he said.