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Nazir-Ali to boycott Lambeth Conference as ‘matter of conscience’

Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali says he will not attend a worldwide gathering of his Anglican counterparts in July as a "matter of conscience", rather than as a challenge to the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion.

"I would find it difficult to be in Eucharistic fellowship with, and teaching the common faith alongside, those who have ordained a person to be bishop whose style of life is contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Bible and the Church down the ages," the Pakistan-born bishop said in a statement released in Jerusalem during a 24 June media conference.

He was referring to the 2003 consecration by the US Episcopal (Anglican) Church of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay divorced father with a same-sex partner, as a bishop in the US state of New Hampshire.

Nazir-Ali had earlier addressed the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, a gathering in Jerusalem of more than 1000 Anglican leaders, including almost 300 bishops, who oppose the actions of the US church.

Many of the bishops in Jerusalem have, like Nazir-Ali, said they will not attend the once-every-10-years meeting of Anglican bishops hosted in July by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and called the Lambeth Conference.

Nazir-Ali said his decision not to attend was, "not about punishment" but about "discipline exercised for restoration". Still, he said that if those who had gone against what he described as the teachings of the Bible would repent, the situation as far as fellowship would be changed and he would be willing to reconsider his position.

He said he had been in touch with the archbishop of Canterbury about his decision not to attend the Lambeth Conference. "He regrets my position," said Bishop Nazir-Ali.

The bishop said he had no qualms about meeting in fellowship with leaders of the Church of England because they had not behaved in the way the US Episcopal Church continued to behave concerning the consecration of gay clergy, and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Nazir-Ali has previously in Britain spoken out against extremist Islam, and he said certain "security measures" had been taken for his visit to Jerusalem. Three Israeli security guards were present at the media conference at which he spoke.

He called the Jerusalem Anglican meeting a "movement of renewal" for the Anglican Communion, and said the present structure of the church was not sufficient to deal with its current divisions.

Nazir-Ali said that although the Lambeth Conference had not become redundant, a more effective way of working together needed to be formulated, and logistically it was impossible to have the world’s Anglican bishops meet on a regular basis.

He said he, "prayed [the Anglican Communion] remains united."

There has been widespread media speculation that the GAFCON meeting will lead to separation, or schism. However, speaking to journalists, Stephen Noll, the head of the Uganda Christian University, said the meeting was viewed by the majority of participants as a movement within the Anglican Communion.