LONDON: Change and repent, Bishop tells gays
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
July 5 2009
A senior Church of England bishop has called on homosexuals to repent and "be changed" in comments that have infuriated equality campaigners. The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, has defended traditional biblical teachings on homosexuality and said the Church should not be "rolled over by culture".
Dr Nazir-Ali spoke as tens of thousands of people, including Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister's wife, joined the annual Pride London march to celebrate homosexual culture. A war of words broke out between Labour and the Conservatives over the issue of homosexuality last week after a minister accused the Tories of having a "deep strain of homophobia" running through the party. The bishop's controversial comments will reignite the battle over homosexuality in the Church of England ahead of what promises to be a divisive week for Anglicanism.
Tomorrow, a new coalition of evangelical and Anglo-Catholic parishes, backed by Dr Nazir-Ali, will get under way, which critics have claimed is an attempt to create a "church within the church".
The organisers said The Queen, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, had sent a message to the leaders of the movement saying she understood their concerns about the future of the Anglican Communion. Next weekend the General Synod of the Church of England is meeting at York University. The following week, the Episcopal Church in America is expected to endorse liturgies for single sex marriage and allow more homosexuals to be made bishops.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Nazir-Ali said: "We want to uphold the traditional teaching of the Bible. We believe that God has revealed his purpose about how we are made.
"People who depart from this don't share the same faith. They are acting in a way that is not normative according to what God has revealed in the Bible. The Bible's teaching shows that marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the way to express our sexual nature. We welcome homosexuals, we don't want to exclude people, but we want them to repent and be changed."
The bishop added that it is not just homosexuals who need to repent, but all who have strayed from the Bible's teaching. He said: "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."
Dr Nazir-Ali, who is resigning from his post in September, said there was a need for the new evangelical movement, called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, because the Church is already divided. "We're two different sorts of religion," he said. "One has a view of God and the Church and Christianity that is completely different from the other."
Derek Munn, the director of public affairs for Stonewall, the homosexual campaign group, criticised Dr Nazir-Ali's comments. "It is unfortunate that in 2009, a church leader should continue to promote inequality and intolerance," he said. "Stonewall knows that most people of faith are accepting of lesbian and gay people. We also know that many lesbian and gay people who are themselves religious believers are not well served by some of those who claim to speak on their behalf."
The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, the president of the Inclusive Church, a liberal grouping in the Church of England, said: "Homosexuality is not a sin. It is the way many people love each other and is a gift from God. Ordinary people in the pews know this. And they are a lot more theologically aware than the handful of narrow- minded bishops who want to play politics with the Anglican Communion."
Dr Nazir-Ali's views, which he will repeat in a speech at tomorrow's gathering, will be seen as a direct challenge to the authority of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he tries to keep the Anglican church together.
Dr Williams secured an uneasy truce over homosexuality in the dispute at last year's Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. However, this will be shattered if the American Church passes controversial votes on homosexuality which would defy the archbishop's pleas for restraint.
Tomorrow's gathering will be attended by some of the Church of England's most senior figures, including the bishops of Exeter, Birmingham, and Chichester. Archbishops from around the world will also be present, including the Most Rev Henry Orombi, the Archbishop of Uganda, who last year challenged the Archbishop of Canterbury's right to lead the Anglican Communion.
Many other Church of England bishops have signalled their support for the new alliance, which describes itself as "a home of focus and support for orthodox churches" opposed to liberal leadership.
The Rev Paul Perkin, a leading evangelical and vicar of St Mark's Battersea Rise in south London, said the coalition was not intended to be "schismatic", but was needed to support "beleaguered evangelicals and orthodox parishes" across Britain.
"Evangelicals have often been ignored in the past when it comes to decision making," he said. "This should make people sit up and think and take notice. This represents a sea change in where the life and strength in the parishes lies."
Buckingham Palace said it would not comment on private correspondence from the Queen.
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