The resignation of Michael Nazir-Ali as Bishop of Rochester is a terrible blow, not just for the Church of England but for Britain.
The bishop says he is resigning so that he can work for endangered or beleaguered Christian minorities both abroad and in the UK.
What a shocking rebuke to the church, that he has to leave his post of influence and authority as a bishop in order to carry out the church’s core duty to defend its own against attack.
Shocking — but hardly surprising. Across the world, in countries such as Nigeria and Sudan, millions of Christians are being persecuted at the hands of militant Islam, with forced conversions, the burning of churches and widespread violence.
Yet in the face of this global onslaught, the Church of England makes scarcely a peep of protest.
Worse still, when Dr Nazir-Ali warned last year that Islamic extremists had created ‘no-go areas’ across Britain where non-Muslims faced intimidation, he was disowned by his fellow churchmen who all but declared that he was a liar – even though he was telling the truth.
For this act of moral courage, he and his family had to be put under police protection, while his own church left him to swing in the wind of bigotry and intimidation.
Dr Nazir-Ali is one of the very few inside the church to make explicit the link between Christian and British values, and to warn publicly that they are being destroyed through the prevailing doctrine of multiculturalism.
That strong voice of protest has never been needed more than it is now. For Christianity in Britain is under attack from all sides.
Last month, the bishop protested that the arrival in Britain of so many from other faiths had led to the closure of chapels, the retrenchment of Christian chaplaincy and the advent of a ‘doctrinaire multi-faithism’ — not through pressure from the incoming minorities, but from British secularists who wanted to destroy Christianity.
That agenda is becoming ever more oppressive. Yesterday, it was revealed that a Christian council worker was suspended for encouraging a terminally ill woman to turn to God. He says he was also told it was inappropriate to ‘talk about God’ with a client and that he should not even say ‘God bless’.
This follows the case of the nurse who was suspended for offering to pray for an elderly patient’s recovery, the Christian who lost her role on an adoption panel because she disapproved of gay adoption, and Christian adoption agencies which lost their public funding because they had the same approach.
With multiculturalism discriminating in favour of all who challenge the established values of this country, it would appear that it is Christians who have become the oppressed minority.
At every level, Christianity is being displaced from its core position in this country’s national story. The BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, sent dog-collars spinning last year when he suggested that the media should treat Islam more sensitively than Christianity.
Now the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has protested to Mr Thompson that the BBC must not ignore its Christian audience. Recently, it sacked its head of religious programmes, Methodist preacher Michael Wakelin.
The emergence of a Muslim as the frontrunner to succeed him, along with the recent appointment of a Sikh to produce Songs Of Praise, has deepened fears within the church that Christianity is being sidelined.
Meanwhile the Government is flirting with changing the Act of Settlement so that it no longer ‘discriminates’ against Catholics — for all the world as if the monarchy is a council diversity outreach programme. But Protestantism is a core element of this country’s identity.
No wonder the Queen – as opposed to Prince Charles, who notoriously said he wanted to be not ‘Defender of the Faith’ but ‘defender of faith’ — is reportedly not amused.
But it’s no use Dr Williams squeaking in protest at the BBC when the church’s habitual posture towards the onslaught is to sink to its knees with its cassock over its head.
Take for example the proposal by a regular churchgoer that the churches should ring their bells on St George’s Day, to proclaim that the Christian element of English identity is in robust health.
Only five out of the church’s 44 bishops back the plan while the rest have scuttled for cover. The Bishop of Chester frets about the danger of such ‘public displays’ of confidence, while the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds murmurs faintly: ‘I am not sure assertiveness is a Christian value.’
Such cultural cringe would be comical were it not so tragic. For this is precisely how the church has all but destroyed itself. Instead of asserting its core beliefs against aggressive secularism, it has tried to accommodate its own destroyer.
As a result, it stopped doing God and spirituality and holding the line for Biblical values and mutated instead into a branch of nonjudgmental social work — a kind of Guardian newspaper at prayer. The resulting moral vacuum now threatens not just the church but the nation itself.
Although most people may no longer be churchgoers, Christianity infuses all this country’s institutions, traditions and values.
These have been systematically attacked by a secular culture of unlimited self-indulgence and self-destructive behaviour, resulting in the collapse of the married family, rising crime, drug and alcohol abuse and a grievous erosion of the sanctity of human life.
With the church refusing to assert itself, this vacuum has allowed radical Islam to promote itself as an influential force in public life. Indeed it is rubbing its hands at the opportunity. And in the longer term that risks destroying our basic values of individual freedom and equality — and with them the identity of Britain itself.
Dr Nazir-Ali understands this very clearly. This might be thought all the more remarkable since he was born not in Britain but in Pakistan. But that is precisely why he does understand what is at stake.
Back in the Eighties, he warned of the rise of radical Islamism. No-one listened. Now he urges an ‘ideological battle’ against fundamentalist Islam, which he likens to the Western struggle against Marxism. But the church still isn’t listening, and is falling over itself to accommodate it instead.
Thus Dr Williams’s lamentable statement that there was no reason why sharia law should not be accepted in Britain over certain areas of Muslim life – thereby abandoning British Muslim women, in particular, to the miseries of the second-class existence dictated by such religious law.
Dr Nazir-Ali’s outspoken opposition to such developments has made him powerful enemies within the church. Last summer, a group of influential churchmen met to work out how to sideline those ‘aggressive’ Christians who were ‘increasing the level of fear’ by talking about the threat from radical Islam. Among those in their sights was the Bishop of Rochester.
In any sane world, Michael Nazir-Ali — a church leader whose intellect is matched by his courage and insight — should be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury to defend our society at this most dangerous time. Instead, he is out.
The question now arises whether he will become the effective leader of the church in the Third World, which is on the edge of schism over gay rights and women priests.
If that were to happen, he could become a formidable adversary of the current craven church leadership and the prevailing doctrine of appeasement and religious submission.
But for the meantime, his departure threatens to make the church even more irrelevant, and its capacity to prevent this country from going under weaker than ever before.