Michael Nazir-Ali, the Church of England's Bishop of Rochester, is under increasing pressure after calling on gay and lesbian people to “repent” of their sexuality. A number of Christian and secular groups, and human rights campaigners, have denounced the Bishop's remarks.
Nazir-Ali, who has made similarly controversial comments in the past, said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that the Church should “welcome homosexuals” but “we want them to repent and be changed”.
His comments appear to have been timed to fall the day after London's Gay Pride festival and the day before the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a new grouping of hardline conservatives opposed to the inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the Church.
Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) said “It's like asking somebody to repent because they have blue eyes”.
Meanwhile, the veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell called on Nazir-Ali to “repent his homophobia”.
He told Ekklesia that homophobes “have turned their back on the love and compassion that is central to the Christian Gospel.”
Nazir-Ali has announced his intention to step down as a Bishop and will be leaving the job in September. His latest intervention has fuelled speculation that he is seeking to lead an excessively conservative group which is semi-detached from the Church of England.
Symon Hill, associate director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said “Michael Nazir-Ali's provocative comments will not help Christians move forward in engaging with questions of sexuality."
He continued "The Bishop seems to be appealling to a group of hardliners. People of all sexual orientations should be made aware that Nazir-Ali's views are not representative of Christians generally.”
A number of critics pointed to the Bishop's selective use of the Bible.
“When he calls for the closure of all the banks, finance houses and credit card companies because of what it says in the Bible about usury, then I'll take him seriously” said Labour MEP Michael Cashman.
The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) was launched yesterday at a conference in London. It brought together a number of conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who object to inclusive approaches to sexuality.
However, only a handful of bishops were in attendance. The Bishop of Sherborne, Graham Kings, himself an Evangelical, expressed grave doubts about the FCA, suggesting it could become “a Church within a Church”.
International messages of support were sent to the FCA's launch by a number of conservative Christian figures, including Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, who recently refused to condemn physical violence against gay Nigerians. He has described gay people as “worse than animals”.
Further controversy ensued when the FCA claimed to have received a message of support from the Queen. Her press office said that this was merely the standard letter of encouragement she sent to Church of England events. However, Peter Tatchell suggested she had made “a serious error of judgment... and breached royal protocol by embroiling herself in an issue of religious and political controversy”.