Byline: Jonathan Petre
ONE of the Church of England's most outspoken bishops is to resign a decade early after years of disenchantment with the liberal drift of Anglicanism.
The Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali - the Church's only Asian diocesan bishop - is planning to devote much of his time to helping persecuted Christians in Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Iran.
But Dr Nazir-Ali, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference last summer in protest over gay clerics, is also certain to remain a powerful spokesman for Anglican conservatives.
The 59-year-old bishop - who has been in the post for 15 years and could have stayed there until he was 70 - has never been afraid of controversy.
Multi-culturalism, secularism and liberal theology have all been among his targets.
Last year he faced death threats for writing in a Sunday newspaper that Islamic extremists were creating 'no-go' areas for non-Muslims in parts of Britain.
The Bishop, his wife Valerie and their two sons were placed under police protection.
Earlier this year, he told The Mail on Sunday that the Church of England was not doing enough to convert Muslims.
In 2002, Bishop Nazir-Ali was a leading candidate to succeed Dr George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, and he has been critical of the current Archbishop, Rowan Williams.
He has strong support among conservatives from all wings of the Church of England, and could be a thorn in Dr Williams's side for years to come.
The Archbishop yesterday paid tribute to Dr Nazir-Ali, saying in a statement: 'Bishop Michael's decision to undertake this new and very challenging ministry will leave a real gap in the ranks of English bishops.
'His enormous theological skill, his specialist involvement in the complex debates around bioethics, his wide international experience and his clarity of mind and expression have made him a really valuable colleague, and he has served the Church and the wider society with dedication and distinction. …