As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, two notable Christian clerics — each playing a unique role in the debate over Islam and multiculturalism — are preparing new lives for themselves.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the outspoken Anglican bishop of Rochester, England, has announced that he will depart his position a decade ahead of schedule. According to a statement released by the diocese, "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." Specifically, his future efforts will focus on besieged Christian communities in Muslim nations such as Pakistan and Iraq.
Nazir-Ali's exit will leave a void, as he has been an important contributor to the discourse on Islam and the West. Last year he published an essay arguing that Britain's multicultural policies have destroyed societal cohesion and promoted insularity among Muslims, to the point that some cities now feature "no-go areas" ruled by Islamists. In addition, he hammered Archbishop Rowan Williams for suggesting that the implementation of Shari'a law in the UK is "unavoidable" and criticized the Church of England for being timid about converting Muslims.
In other news, the Episcopal Church has defrocked Seattle priest Ann Holmes Redding, who declared in 2007 that she is both Christian and Muslim. Redding insisted that her embrace of Islam would have no impact on her ability to remain a Christian and serve her congregants, but the church disagreed. Last year a committee determined that she had "abandoned" her flock by "formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church." She was deposed after refusing to resign the priesthood. The Seattle Times reports that she "said she was sad at what seems to her to be a narrow vision of what the church accepts."
The near-simultaneous announcements about Nazir-Ali and Redding offer striking contrasts. Three observations:
These individuals are polar opposites on the public stage. Nazir-Ali is one of the most vocal foes of multiculturalism; Redding is the very embodiment of it.
Some limits do exist on the multicultural accommodations criticized by Nazir-Ali. Redding is free to believe whatever she wishes, but she has no inherent right to continue representing a faith community from which she deviates fundamentally.
While Redding may openly practice her unique religious fusion in Christian-majority America, Nazir-Ali's new work reminds us that the adherents of minority faiths endure grave dangers in many Muslim-majority lands.
With Redding having begun to write her memoirs and Nazir-Ali set to remain a leader of conservative Anglicans, surely we have not heard the last from these fascinating figures.