Condemnation for bishop who called for gay people to 'repent'

Michael Nazir-Ali accused of pandering to hate and homophobia

The Bishop of Rochester has been accused of pandering to hate and homophobia after calling on homosexuals to repent. Michael Nazir-Ali provoked outrage among gay groups when he urged Church leaders to stick to traditional values instead of being swayed by "culture and trends".

While calling for the "traditional teaching" of the Bible to be upheld, the Bishop said of homosexuals: "We want them to repent and be changed."

His controversial remarks were published just hours after more than half a million people, including the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah, took part in the Gay Pride parade in London.

Sharon Ferguson, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, condemned Dr Nazir-Ali for making comments that she said would encourage hatred.

"It feeds to the more fundamental individuals who are looking to have their opinions ratified and speak hatefully and behave hatefully," she said.

"His comments are likely to cause more of a schism within the Church of England. He's saying their [gays and lesbians] sexuality is a sin. It's not. It's a gift from God. God made us all."

She added: "He is telling people 'You have to repent' for something they have no control over. It's like asking someone to repent because they have blue eyes."

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, said he was "shocked" at the level of anti-gay prejudice voiced by the bishop. "Homophobia is a social and moral evil, just like racism. Bigotry, even in the guise of religion, has no place in a compassionate, caring society," he said. "I call on the bishop to repent his homophobia. His prejudice goes against Christ's gospel of love and compassion."

Labour MEP Michael Cashman accused the Bishop of Rochester of being "selective" about which parts of the Bible he upheld. "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," he said. "Until then, unless he can say anything good, he should shut up."

In his comments, made to a Sunday newspaper, the bishop said homosexuals should be welcomed into the Church but that a person's sexual nature could only be correctly expressed in a heterosexual union within marriage. His remarks reopened the row over homosexuality that has for years threatened to tear the Anglican Church apart.

He made them on the eve of today's official launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans at Westminster Central Hall in London where he is expected to speak in support of the organisation. The UK branch of the Fellowship is regarded by many liberals within the Anglican movement as an attempt to create a church within a church with the aim of heading off moves to ease rules on homosexuality. Dr Nazir-Ali is to step down in the autumn and he is expected to play an important part in the Fellowship's activities.

The Very Rev Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark and a prominent liberal, was so alarmed by the the impending departure of Dr Nazir-Ali from the See of Rochester that he described it as "clearly a move towards a sectarian alternative church intentionally designed to create turbulence in the Anglican Communion".

Canon Chris Sugden, of the Fellowship, said a message from the Queen will be read out during the ceremony but a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman called it nothing more than a "standard response" to the many requests made to the monarch each year. "It isn't endorsing anyone's point of view," she said.

Zeal of the convert: The Bishop of Rochester

*Michael Nazir-Ali has been one of the most vocal and controversial of bishops of the past decade and has rarely been afraid to speak out.

He was a leading contender to become Archbishop of Canterbury when George Carey stood down but has found himself at odds with Rowan Williams, the incumbent.

The issue of homosexuality has been one of the biggest causes of friction between Dr Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, and the liberal wing of the Anglican Church.

In 2008 the rift was so marked that he boycotted the Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican Church leaders held once a decade, because of the row over homosexuality. He is part of an evangelical wing urging the Church to stick to a traditional interpretation of the scriptures regarded by liberals, especially on the issues of homosexuality and women priests, as backward.

This year he announced he would step down as Bishop of Rochester in September to allow him time to concentrate on representing the Church in parts of the world where Anglicans are a minority religion or oppressed.

Born in Pakistan to Catholic parents, he converted at the age of 20 and holds dual British and Pakistani nationality. Appointed the 106th Bishop of Rochester in 1994, he was the first non-white diocesan bishop in the Church of England. Since then he has been a frequent critic of the rise of Islam in Britain.

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