“Most look to Rome to stem Islamic militancy” says Anglican bishop

(6 Oct 2014) The prominent Anglican Bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali, formerly the Bishop of Rochester, has spoken of the overriding importance of the Catholic Church’s global voice for the future of Christianity in a world threatened by Islamic militancy and secularism.

He said the Catholic Church potentially had “a great future and a huge opportunity” in the emerging world order and that it now had allies in upholding orthodoxy, even in unexpected quarters. However, he said that how effective it would be depended on how Rome viewed its own position and on its willingness to address its approach to certain issues. He identified these as culture and language and discipline.

Bishop Nazir Ali, who has both a Christian and a Muslim family background and is now President of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD), made his remarks to the clergy of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – the structure set up by Pope Benedict to allow Anglicans to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church, bringing with them elements of their Anglican patrimony. He was speaking on the subject: “A Global Christianity in the Making” to the Ordinariate clergy’s plenary session at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Soho Square, London (on 2 October).

Bishop Nazir-Ali said that, with the growth of Islamic militancy and the persecution of Christians worldwide, many people were now looking to Rome as the voice that could stem the tide. He said these people included many Evangelicals he knew who never, in the past, would have thought about Rome. “So the Catholic Church has both a great opportunity and also a great responsibility”.

He said that he had watched the establishment and development of the Ordinariates with great and close interest. “I applaud their emergence and I hope that the Anglican patrimony which Rome has recognised for the first time will manifest itself more and more. Allowing Anglican patrimony to flourish should not just be taken as an exception, but it could be a charter for the future”.  Bishop Nazir-Ali said that there was now such a variety and diversity of cultures that it was not enough to say that the need to recognise culture was fulfilled by recognising the culture of the eastern churches. “The Church must change the approach. 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 centre”. 

Bishop Nazir-Ali went on to speak of the importance of discipline and noted that the lack of it had “caused havoc” within the Anglican Communion. But he said discipline must be distinguished from doctrine. “We must not give in to attempts to make discipline in any one part of the Church universal for the whole Church”.

Bishop Nazir-Ali’s talk began with an examination of the exponential growth of Christianity in various parts of the world over the last one hundred years. So he said there was much to be said that was positive about the future for Christianity. The main part of the talk was an examination of the underlying beliefs and ideologies which accounted for the persecution of Christians and the rise in Islamic militancy. He said that two things, in particular, had to be denied: one was the idea that extremism was explained solely by economic and social factors (this he said, overlooked the nature of the militants’ agenda) and the second was the claim, expressed by some church leaders, that “a truly Islamic state would not persecute Christians”. Bishop Nazir-Ali said he could see no empirical evidence to support this view, which romanticised Islamic militancy.

Bishop Nazir Ali also called, during his talk, for the deployment of an international force to secure the future of Christians, Yazidis and others within Iraq. He said a more generous asylum policy was only one step that needed to be taken. ” Taking that step does not answer the problem of the persecution of Christians by the IS in Iraq” he said. “It would be a great tragedy if the entire Christian community were to be exiled in the way that the militants want”.

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