ENGLAND: Outspoken Rochester bishop reportedly calls on gays to change

Conservatives launch controversial fellowship in London
July 6, 2009

The outspoken conservative bishop of the Diocese of Rochester in the Church of England has reportedly called on gay Christians to repent and change, according to an article in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"We welcome homosexuals, we don't want to exclude people, but we want them to repent and be changed," Pakistan-born Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is quoted as saying in an interview with the London-based newspaper. "We want to hold on to the traditional teaching of the church. We don't want to be rolled over by culture and trends in the church. We want a movement for renewal. We need a reformation of the church and the life of the communion."

Nazir-Ali's comments came just days before the July 6 launch of a new coalition of conservative Anglicans in England, known as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, (FCA) "which critics have claimed is an attempt to create a 'church within the church,'" the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Supported by at least seven Church of England bishops, including Nazir-Ali, the FCA will present a challenge for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who has previously referred to the coalition as "problematic in all sorts of ways." Critics of the FCA have said that the coalition directly undermines Williams' leadership.

Nazir-Ali, 60, is set to step down from his position as bishop of Rochester on September 1, 10 years before the mandatory retirement age of 70. He was a leading contender in 2002 to succeed George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, a position that instead went to Rowan Williams. Since Williams' appointment, Nazir-Ali has become increasingly outspoken and critical of the direction of the church.

Nazir-Ali was one of about 230 Anglican Communion bishops who boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops in Canterbury, England, citing difficulty "being in eucharistic fellowship with and teaching the common faith alongside those who have ordained a person to be bishop whose style of life is contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Bible and of the church down the ages." Nazir-Ali was referring to the election and ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly gay partnered man, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

The FCA launch, at which Assistant Bishop of Springfield Keith Ackerman reportedly led a main session, came two weeks after a proposed new conservative entity in North America held its inaugural gathering and installed deposed Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan as its archbishop. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is also supported by Nazir-Ali.

The creation of entities such as ACNA and the FCA have been described as an attempt to set up parallel jurisdictions in the Anglican Communion. During a press conference at the early February meeting of Anglican primates, Williams acknowledged "some of the enormous difficulties around parallel jurisdictions" and underscored that the entity is "not a new province ... What its institutional relationship is with the communion is very unclear."