Saturday 21 July 2012

‘Differing weights and differing measures. . .’

Archbishop Cranmer today posted an open letter to the South East Gospel Partneship regarding Church of England vicar the Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, against whom charges of anti-Semitism have been widely reported and discussed in the Church Times, the Church of England Newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, and Standpoint.

In spite of the evidence presented to it, the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership remain un-persuaded that Rev Sizer is racist. The allegations against Stephen Sizer are supported by a body of evidence, including a video on the Cranmer blog in which Dr Sizer equates Israel's alleged treatment of the Palestinians with the Holocaust. Such a charge amounts either to a form of Holocaust denial or to an appalling slander of the Jewish state.

When Baroness Jenny Tonge remarked earlier this year that Israel won't always be here, she was forced out of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. Her remark about Israel was far less offensive than that of  Rev Sizer. The Church is to set an example to the world, rather than the other way round.

Read the letter and decide for yourself whether James Mendelsohn and Nick Howard are right.
An Open Letter to the South East Gospel Partnership about Anti-Semitism

Among the many people and organisations who have declined to take action against the anti-Semitism of Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer is a group called the South East Gospel Partnership. Its Chairman is Rev. William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and its Committee is made up of Rev. Trevor Archer of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, Rev. Iain Broomfield of Christ Church Bromley, Rev. Richard Coekin of the Co-Mission network of churches, Rev. Charles Dobbie of Holy Trinity Lyonsdown, Nick McQuaker of Christ Church Haywards Heath, Brian O’Donoghue of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev John Ross of Farnham Baptist Church, and Rev. Simon Smallwood of St George’s Dagenham.

Recently we asked them to join Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, in publicly criticizing Dr Sizer for posting a link to an extreme anti-Semitic website, and on the basis of that offence and others to exclude Christ Church Virginia Water (Dr Sizer’s church) from their organisation.

In their response they did not engage with a single charge that we made about Dr Sizer. They concluded by saying they saw ‘no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen’. Here are the charges that were brought to the Committee's attention:

- Posting links to at least four different anti-Semitic websites, and offering demonstrably false explanations by way of defence: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Offering unqualified support for Raed Salah, a notorious anti-Semitic hate preacher and convicted fundraiser for Hamas: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Spreading recognised anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as Israeli complicity in 9/11 and the claim that McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and L'Oréal 'channel their profits to the Zionist agenda' - and on that false basis promoting a boycott of those four companies (which, being publicly-listed, pay their profits to shareholders of every nationality): 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Appearing repeatedly on Press TV, a TV station renowned for its anti-Semitism and aptly described by Daily Express columnist Stephen Pollard as 'the propaganda arm of the world's leading funder of terror': 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Describing regular Israeli troops photographed at ease in a street as 'Herod's soldiers operating in Bethlehem today', an unashamedly anti-Semitic blood libel: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Hosting an event on behalf of the ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’, an organisation that refuses to co-operate with the British police and openly calls for the nations neighbouring Israel to ‘release their armies to burn that land’: 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

- Seeking to divert money donated to the Christ Church Virginia Water mission fund to George Galloway's Hamas-supporting organisation 'Viva Palestina': 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'

We offered to provide evidence to back up all of the above claims. The Committee did not take up the offer. We also pointed out that no one, including Dr Sizer, has been able to find any inaccuracy in any of those charges.

What particularly troubles us is our firm sense that if a vicar belonging to the SEGP had posted links to four anti-black websites, such as Ku Klux Klan white supremacist sites, he would have been quickly excluded from the organisation. If that assumption is correct, the SEGP Committee are not demonstrating impartiality. As the Bible says, ‘Differing weights and differing measures - the LORD detests them both.’

Perhaps the SEGP Committee might say that what we see as anti-Semitism is in fact legitimate political criticism of the state of Israel. We invite people to review the charges above and decide for themselves.

The SEGP Committee might also point to the decision by the police earlier this year not to prosecute Dr Sizer for the incitement of racial hatred. Yet that decision was based solely on the police’s judgement that the racist material which Dr Sizer had publicised was not likely to incite hatred to the point of a disruption in public order. They raised no doubts about whether Dr Sizer had linked to the material.

Finally, the SEGP Committee might also quote the numerous statements made by Dr Sizer condemning anti-Semitism. Yet sadly Dr Sizer's word cannot be trusted. This was proven when he recently insisted that the first time he was alerted to the presence of a link to a racist website on his Facebook page was on 3rd January. The Diocese of Guildford, however, has confirmed that he sent an email acknowledging receipt of a complaint about that same link on 22nd November. The SEGP Committee were made aware of this, yet it did not seem to affect their wholehearted support for Dr Sizer.

We take no pleasure whatsoever in publicly airing this disagreement. But in the last analysis, racism is worthy of whistleblowing. We very much hope that the evangelical community will react better than the Roman Catholic church to fact-based whistleblowing. Sadly, thus far, that has not proven to be the case. An evangelical leader has posted links to racist websites, his explanations have then been exposed as false, and yet nothing has been done about it. Two questions have driven us to write this open letter: 'When is it ever acceptable for an evangelical to post links to racist websites?'; and, ' 'Why are other evangelicals refusing to take action in response?' It's because we can't think of any satisfactory answers to those questions that we have taken this step.

The Committee of the SEGP are good men. And so we appeal with hope to members of their churches to persuade them to act in a righteous, impartial way. The history of the Christian church has repeatedly been stained by anti-Semitism. Our prayer is that in this case the church will take redemptive action.

Rev. Nick Howard
Assistant Minister, Christ Church New York City

James Mendelsohn
Senior Lecturer in Law, Huddersfield University

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