July 24, 2013

Bishop Nazir-Ali Gets It All Wrong

I generally find retired Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali quite irritating. The same can be said about David Virtue’s Web site VirtueOnline (“The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism”). A story about Nazir-Ali on VirtueOnline, therefore, was sure to be a perfect storm of militant traditionalist drivel. And that is exactly what “Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali sees hope for the Anglican Communion: GAFCON II is the saving grace of a conflicted communion” turns out to be. It is the product of an interview of the bishop by VirtueOnline contributor (and Nazir-Ali fan) Mary Ann Mueller.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
Photo by Steve Nimmons
I have neither the time nor the inclination to offer a general review of the VirtueOnline piece. Suffice it to say that Nazir-Ali “is convinced that GAFCON is the way forward in Anglicanism.” For some, perhaps, but my guess is that the Communion as a whole—and certainly The Episcopal Church— is not going there.

What prompted me to comment on the VirtueOnline feature at all (and to stop reading well before the end) was this passage:
“I think it is absolutely scandalous,” he said with measured words, "that people like +Mark Lawrence—who is one of the finest bishops that I have even known and who upholds Catholic truth and Christian teaching and the Gospel in everything that he does—should be deposed for doing so, and not for any other reason.

“I mean, this is a topsy-turvy world that we are looking at,” he continued, “where people are being deposed for being Biblical, for being creedal, for being Catholic by others who, if you read what they write or say, clearly seem to be heretical in their exegesis of the Bible, their doctrine of the Church, and in what they believe about the Person and work of Jesus Christ and so on.”

The Church of England bishop said that he and others had no problem whatsoever in recognizing and continuing to support Bishop Lawrence, Bishop Jack Iker, and Archbishop Robert Duncan and their clergy who have been dismissed by The Episcopal Church for their traditional and orthodox Anglican faith.

As a visiting bishop in the colonial-based Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, Bishop Nazir-Ali is helping keep Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese connected to the wider Anglican world now that the South Carolina bishop has been defrocked and his diocese has seceded from The Episcopal Church in their struggle to maintain Anglican orthodoxy.

“I have also helped the Diocese, in a small way, in its relationships with the rest of the Anglican Communion by giving them some kind of theological grounding in how to think of themselves for the future,” Bishop Nazir-Ali explained.

He clarified that it is inherent upon traditional Biblically-grounded Anglican Provinces, which have remained faithful to the Anglican formularies and have maintained Catholic faith and order, to make sure that the Catholic faith is not wiped from the Anglican map in North America and Britain. That is why he and others have reached out to like-minded traditional and orthodox Anglicans in the United States. As his adopted land becomes more sectarian, he is also concerned that Britain will follow in the same spiritually decaying footsteps as North America.
So, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali believes that Mark Lawrence was deposed for upholding “Catholic truth and Christian teaching and the Gospel in everything that he does” and “for being Biblical, for being creedal, [and] for being Catholic.”

This, of course, is total nonsense. The only “beliefs” for which Lawrence was deposed were his belief that his ordination vows to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” and to “well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church” were optional, and that absconding with property dedicated to use by The Episcopal Church was not really theft. (See, for example, the ENS story “Presiding bishop accepts Mark Lawrence’s renunciation.” One may quibble over the means by which Lawrence was deposed—the church may have bent the rules to be as gentle as possible with the bishop—but most objective observers would agree that he abandoned the church and left with real and personal property that did not belong to him.)

Nazir-Ali also believes that that interfering in the internal affairs of another Anglican church is just fine, and he is happy to support the schismatic actions of Lawrence, Iker, Duncan, and others of their ilk. He proudly acknowledges his support for Lawrence and his free-floating diocese. One wonders of Nazir-Ali considered whether encouraging Lawrence to advocate for this theological point of view within The Episcopal Church might have been a better way of assuring that “the Catholic faith is not wiped from the Anglican map of North America.”

Is this the behavior we expect of a bishop of a sister church of the Communion? Alas, increasingly, it is. The GAFCON movement of which Nazir-Ali is so fond is all about enforcing “orthodoxy” and “Biblical Anglicanism”—an oxymoron, I suggest—among Communion churches.

I don’t think it a stretch to suggest that most Episcopalians are alarmed at such a future for the Anglican Communion. The movement of which Nazir-Ali is a part is not going away, however. In the very long term—centuries perhaps—all may be well. In the near term, it is likely that GAFCON will either split the Communion into two rival groups, or The Episcopal Church will have to withdraw from or, at the very least, step back from participation in a dysfunction and destructive Anglican Communion.


  1. I'm not going to comment on any of the bishops involved, as I have to cover all of this stuff. But I have a journalistic question about the description of the Diocese of South Carolina:
    "Colonial-based"???? What the heck does that mean? Maybe it was an attempt to say that it was founded prior to 1776, but is sure sounds like Royalist sentient to me.

  2. I cannot say for sure what “colonial-based” is supposed to mean, but a post from Mark Harris is interesting in this regard. The group headed by Mark Lawrence wants you to believe (1) that South Carolina, after the Revolution but before the organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was an independent diocese inherited from the Church of England; (2) that dioceses voluntarily associated with other dioceses to form PECUSA; and (3) that dioceses had the right to dissociate from PECUSA. All three propositions are questionable. (As an aside, I should mention that the term “diocese” was not used at first. It was “states” that agreed to the 1789 constitution. The term “diocese” came into use in 1838, when the possibility of having more than one judicatory in a state was addressed.)

    Before the Revolution, all Church of England churches were under the same Bishop of London, although the legal status of the churches varied by colony.

    I don’t have detailed knowledge of the remnants of the Church of England in South Carolina prior to 1789, but I doubt that there was an entity we would recognize as a diocese today in any of the states. Many of the original states (dioceses) were effectively organized long after the constitution was adopted. Of course, this doesn’t really matter, since accession to the constitution was required from the very beginning of the national church. The constitution provided for creating, but not for removing, dioceses.

    Only recently have people argued seriously that a diocese can withdraw from the church. I find the argument unconvincing, but here is not the place to make that case.

  3. I am troubled by the retired Anglican bishop's comments. Who, indeed, has created "this ... topsy-turvy world that we are looking at”? Is it not Mr. Lawrence's own renunciation that we now should regard his actions "Biblical" or "creedal"? Should we similarly regard "traditional Biblically-grounded Anglican Provinces ... faithful to the Anglican formularies and ... maintained Catholic faith and order" as those who may freely abandon the Church and steal its property? Messrs. Lawrence and Nazir-Ali, et al, have performed an unconscious act of projection, attributing to TEC the very behavior they exhibit or encourage. Very sad indeed.

  4. I have been curious for some time to know the size of the stipend Mark Lawrence & Co have been paying Nazir-Ali for his "support". When, in April, 2009, his intended retirement as bishop of Rochester was announced, a spokesman explained "Bishop Michael is hoping to work with a number of church leaders from areas where the church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation". Beyond attempting to give a hint of legitimacy to Lawrence's faux diocese, this doesn't appear to amount to much, does it?

  5. ps The requirement that every newly-elected bishop receive the consent of a majority of the church's diocesan bishops and of the diocesan standing committees, before he or she may proceed to consecration and installation, makes nonsense of the "diocesan independence" argument.

    This should be, but is probably not, a particularly thorny issue for Lawrence, who failed to achieve the necessary consents at the first attempt and who, when "re-elected" by the diocese, gave assurances to the church to achieve those consents which proved, once he was consecrated and installed, to be flat-out untruths. Fingers were crossed behind his back when he made the statement?

    "Dear Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church,

    I have been told that some diocesan Standing Committees have graciously offered to reconsider their denial of consent to my election as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, if they only have assurance of my intention to remain in The Episcopal Church. Although I previously provided assurance of my intention, this has not been sufficient for some Standing Committees, which are earnestly seeking to make a godly discernment. Therefore, taking to heart the apostolic admonition in 1 Timothy 3:2, "Now a bishop must be above reproach, .temperate [free from rashness], sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher.." I am reminded to make every attempt to reason with those who have denied consent or who have not yet voted. As I stated at the walkabout in Charleston on September 9, 2006 and again in a statement written on 6 November 2006, I will make the vows of conformity as written in the BCP and the Constitution & Canons, (III.11.8). I will heartily make the vows conforming ".to the doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church, as well as the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures. So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church.

    Yours in Christ,

    The Very Reverend Mark J. Lawrence"

  6. It had not occurred to me that Nazir-Ali might be on the payroll, but it makes sense.

    The requirement for consents is an important check against out-of-control bishops. There are too few such checks, and the church is reluctant to use the ones it has.

    I was unconvinced when Lawrence made his declaration. Actions speak louder than words.

  7. I doubt that he's doing it for free on a retired bishop's pension.


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