As always, rumors swirled around the favorites in the 2002 race to become the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.
Efforts to derail Bishop Michael Nariz-Ali of Rochester were different, in part because he was born in Pakistan – fluent in Urdu and Farsi – and was set to become the first non-white leader of the Church of England. Others have noted that he attended Catholic schools as a child and practiced that faith.
Progressives have warned that Nazir-Ali is being too conservative on issues that divide Anglicans. He opposed the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians, while defending ancient teachings on marriage. He was a fierce critic of Sharia and “radical Islam”, while defending persecuted Christians around the world. Above all, critics noted that he was a strong evangelical leader in the global Anglican Communion.
Nazir-Ali insisted he was “evangelical and Catholic”, even though he lost his chance at the throne of Canterbury.
This is the same label he used when he stunned the Anglican world by announcing he was returning to Roman Catholicism. He is expected to be ordained a Catholic priest this Sunday (October 31), serving in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a canonical structure established in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI that allows Anglicans to enter Catholicism while maintaining many Anglican rites and traditions. Nazir-Ali, 72, is married with two children.
He said his switch to Catholicism was necessary “because I believe the traditional Anglican desire to adhere to the fullness of apostolic, patristic and conciliar teaching can now be better maintained in this way”.
Writing in The Daily Mail, he called the decision a “bittersweet moment”.
“Bitter, because I am deeply saddened that the Church of England is not the church I joined,” he said. “There are many individual parishes, priests and believers who remain committed to biblical faith and values. But as an institution, it seems to be going astray.
“Sweet, because I am excited about the opportunities that joining the ordinariate will bring: upholding human rights and helping millions of suffering Christians and others around the world.”
Another important factor was his experience in global dialogues between Canterbury and Rome, explained Nazir-Ali, appearing on the ‘Kresta in the Afternoon’ program on Ave Maria Radio. Even as important theological agreements were made, the American Episcopal Church and some other Anglican provinces “undermined them by behaving contrary to the spirit of the agreements and sometimes to their letter,” Nazir-Ali said.
The current crisis in Anglicanism, he concluded, is rooted in an “inability to make decisions together which affect everyone and then remain, so to speak”. So “when the going gets tough” there is no common authority on how to interpret Scripture and uphold Church traditions.
This is crucial, he said, because “we are confronted in our world with many daily problems where the faithful need to be guided, to be told what is the way of Gospel”.
Ironically, the bitter conflicts between liberal Catholics in Europe, especially Germany, and conservative Catholics in the South, especially in Africa, resemble the conflicts that have rocked Anglicanism for decades, noted an evangelical Anglican activist who has followed Nazir-Ali’s work for many years.
“Yes, Anglicanism has had its best day and will do so again. Roman Catholicism has seen its best day, and we pray it will see a better day again,” noted Kevin Kallsen, host of Anglican Unscripted video podcasts. “But you can’t trade Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism and say you’re looking for a purer religion – a purer doctrine, a purer church.” Rome may be purer “on paper,” he insisted, but “in practice” that is not the reality at this point in the Church’s history.
It is true that, in the days to come, liberals and conservatives in the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church may debate the significance of this leap of faith by Nazir-Ali, said broadcaster Al Kresta, joint by telephone.
“But one thing is certain,” Kresta stressed: “This man is more than a defender of the faith. He was a hero for evangelicals and a lion fighting for the rights of believers around the world who suffered for the faith. Michael Nazir-Ali attacked the gates of hell, not standing safely on the sidelines.
(Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.)