Why the time has come for British evangelicals to acknowledge their failure to confront antisemitism
In response to recent events in America, a number of British evangelicals have been tweeting, blogging, and talking about racism. One evangelical blogger helpfully says, ‘Talking about race is very difficult and we may say the wrong thing, but for the white majority we can surely begin by listening to our black brothers and sisters, standing with them against racism and seeking to serve them as we may.’ Another says, ‘I’ve learned this week that failure to say something, says something.’ However, such statements are in danger of ringing hollow, because of the sad record of antisemitism within British evangelicalism.
This is a long article, but much of it is material supporting sections (7), (8), and (9). We encourage you to read those three sections first, and if questions remain, and you want to dig deeper, you could then return to sections (1) to (6).
(1) Some Definitions
Racism against Jewish people has its own word: antisemitism. This has some advantages, but one major disadvantage is that antisemitism isn’t always recognised as the racism that it is. So let’s be clear at the outset that Jewish people share a common DNA, and during the Holocaust (to take the very worst example), we were persecuted not for religious convictions but because of our racial heritage.
The relationship between antisemitism and anti-Zionism often leads to confusion. Zionism is the view that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, while anti-Zionism argues Israel shouldn’t exist at all, or shouldn’t exist as a Jewish-led state. Is anti-Zionism antisemitic? The IHRA Definition of antisemitism, which has been accepted by (among others) the UK government, the Welsh and Scottish governments, the British Labour Party, and the Church of England, says it is. According to the Definition, one example of antisemitism is ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.’ Does that mean any criticism of Israel’s political or military activity is antisemitic? Of course not! Many Jewish people, both in Israel and elsewhere, make such criticisms every day. But the denial of Israel’s right to exist (anti-Zionism) is a recognised form of antisemitism.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that racism is often expressed in coded ways. For example, acting like a monkey isn’t racist in itself (many parents will act like monkeys for fun with their children), but directing a monkey gesture at a black football player will rightly lead to a person’s arrest. It’s the context and the shared understanding among racists and their targets that make an action racist. With antisemitism, the coded ways in which it’s expressed aren’t so well known among the wider population, and that allows antisemites to operate more freely. Here are some of the examples given in the IHRA Definition of antisemitism:
- Referring to contemporary Jewish people as Christ-killers
- Downplaying the scope of the Holocaust
- Promoting the myth of Jewish control of the world’s media and economy
- Blaming Jewish people for atrocities they haven’t committed [a recent version of this is the myth of Israeli involvement in 9/11]
You can see how a racist could play around with any of those coded forms of antisemitism. Jewish people will quickly pick up the signals, but often antisemitic goading will go unnoticed by others.
(2) Stephen Sizer
Between 1997 and 2017, Rev Dr Stephen Sizer was the vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, a church belonging to the interdenominational South East Gospel Partnership. He was also a member of Reform; a contributor to Churchman and Evangelicals Now; a GAFCON delegate; Chairman of the International Bible Society; a successful PhD student, and later an occasional guest lecturer, at Oak Hill College; an IVP-published author; and an Advocate (i.e. an official promoter and trainer) for Christianity Explored. In other words he was firmly planted within British conservative evangelicalism.
Dr Sizer also authored Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (2004) and Zion’s Christian Soldiers (2007). These books, both published by IVP, took a highly critical view of Christian support for the state of Israel. The underlying implication of the books was that Israel had no right to exist as a Jewish-led state. However, the books were written before the IHRA definition of antisemitism had gained near-universal acceptance, and (except in a few instances) they avoided flagrant antisemitism. Yet as Dr Sizer attracted international attention for his writing on Christian Zionism, he crossed the line into explicitly antisemitic speech and activity with increasing boldness and frequency.
(3) Stephen Sizer’s Antisemitic Activity: an Incomplete List
- Insinuating that Israel was complicit in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the USA in his 2004 book, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon?
- In the same 2004 book, claiming that Zionist leaders in the 1930s collaborated with the Nazis (the same claim for which Ken Livingstone was later suspended by the Labour Party)
- Downplaying the significance of the Holocaust by captioning a 2006 photograph of Israel’s security barrier with the phrase made infamous by Auschwitz: ‘Arbeit macht frei’
- Again downplaying the Holocaust in a 2008 TV interview by equating Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians with the systematic, industrialised murder of two thirds of European Jewry by the Nazis
- In March 2010, making a negative and unnecessary allusion to the Jewishness of Monica Lewinsky
- Captioning a gallery of his March 2010 photographs of Israeli soldiers with the title ‘Herod’s soldiers operating in Bethlehem today’, thereby combining two antisemitic libels — that Jews are both Christ-killers and child-killers
- Publicly giving his unqualified support in October 2010 to Helen Thomas, a former White House Correspondent, when she was forced into retirement for saying that Jewish Israelis should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘go home’ to ‘Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else’
- In March 2011, making a negative allusion to the supposed Jewishness of Colonel Gaddafi
- Stirring up hatred of British Jews by falsely claiming, in June 2011, that British ‘Zionists’ were in an alliance with the far-right English Defence League
- Promoting, via a video uploaded in June 2011, the antisemitic myth that four of the world’s biggest companies ‘channel their profits to the Zionist agenda’
- In July 2011, offering unqualified public support to Raed Salah, a notorious antisemitic hate preacher. (Salah’s visit to Britain gained national attention because he had evaded a ban on entering the country. He had previously given a speech in Jerusalem in which he accused Jews of using children’s blood to bake bread.)
- Between July 2011 and June 2012, posting links on his blog and Facebook page to a number of explicitly antisemitic websites and giving contradictory explanations for doing so
- Hosting, in July 2012, an event on behalf of the ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’, a group that had called for the nations bordering Israel to ‘release their armies to burn that land.’
- Speaking at an antisemitic conference in Iran in the autumn of 2014, thereby legitimising the conference through his presence as a Church of England vicar on its platform
- In 2015, again insinuating Israeli complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks
(4) Church of England ‘Clergy Discipline Measure’ 2012–13
In October 2012, the Board of Deputies of British Jews lodged a formal complaint with the Church of England about Dr Sizer’s conduct. This triggered what is known as a Clergy Discipline Measure. Following a conciliation meeting in October 2013, Dr Sizer agreed to have his online activity monitored. Rather than retracting their complaint against Dr Sizer, the Board of Deputies restated it when the conciliation agreement was announced. As reported in The Times, a member of the Board explained that the complaint had been lodged because of Dr Sizer’s ‘statements that most of the community found utterly offensive, to the point of crossing the line into antisemitism, and his pattern of posting links to racist and antisemitic websites where scurrilous statements against Jews and others are published.’ The Board did not change their minds about the nature of Dr Sizer’s behaviour; they were simply satisfied that his online activity would from then on be closely monitored.
It’s important to note that the Clergy Discipline Measure never led to any verdict from the Church of England on the rights or wrongs of Dr Sizer’s conduct. This lack of verdict from the Church of England before February 2015 (see below) is significant. It has been suggested that the failure of British evangelical organisations to disown Dr Sizer can be excused because, in the words of John Stevens, FIEC National Director, ‘Stephen Sizer was subject to an inquiry and subsequent disciplinary measures by his diocese, who were the competent disciplinary body.’ Although that may possibly excuse evangelical inactivity between October 2012 and October 2013 (while the Clergy Discipline Measure was in process), it fails to account for the total absence of evangelical action against Dr Sizer before October 2012; and it also fails to explain evangelical inactivity after October 2013, when the Clergy Discipline Measure ended without any verdict on Dr Sizer’s behaviour.
It’s easy to understand why the Church of England was satisfied with the outcome of the Clergy Discipline Measure in 2013: by mediating between Dr Sizer and his Jewish opponents, the Church of England avoided having to take a stand against Dr Sizer. The Church of England seeks to keep very different groups within the same tent, which inevitably leads to peacekeeping compromises. A former Bishop of Ely once told ordinands at Cranmer Hall (including one of the authors of this article) that he refused to discipline a clergyman who had become an atheist, in order to avoid ‘making a martyr’. This pragmatic approach to discipline should, however, be unacceptable to Bible-believing evangelicals. Paul writes in 1 Timothy, ‘the overseer must be above reproach … he must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace.’ The gospel itself is at stake according to Titus chapter 2, which reminds Christians to ‘make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.’ Prior to February 2015, the Church of England characteristically displayed little interest in the question of whether Dr Sizer upheld those standards; what is surprising, and disheartening, is that Bible-believing evangelical organisations also displayed little interest in that question.
(5) Public Rebuke, Social Media Ban, and Preaching Ban
In January 2015, Dr Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page suggesting that Israel had been complicit in 9/11. The Board of Deputies of British Jews made a public complaint, and Dr Sizer agreed to avoid using any social media for six months, and to avoid commenting on Middle Eastern issues for the remainder of his time as vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water. Dr Sizer gave a written promise that if he violated this ban, he would immediately resign as vicar.
In October 2016, however, Dr Sizer attended a meeting at the House of Lords about Israel and Palestine, and he wrote about it online, thereby violating the agreement he had made. He was warned that any future violation would lead to the immediate end of his tenure. But in the spring of 2017, Dr Sizer again violated the agreement, writing on Facebook in support of Margot Wallström’s stance on Saudi Arabia. Wallström is a Swedish politician previously accused of an antisemitic blood libel. The Bishop of Guildford required Dr Sizer to cease all preaching, teaching, leading of services, and social media activity with immediate effect, but allowed him to lead Easter services to enable his parishioners to wish him goodbye (he was due to retire that Easter).
Dr Sizer is now the director of a charity called Peacemaker Trust. Since leaving parish ministry, free from episcopal oversight, his antisemitic activity has continued. For example, in 2018 he posted a link on his Facebook page to an article titled, ‘Is Israel’s Hidden Hand Behind the Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn?’ — a classic expression of the antisemitic myth that Jews control the global media. Dr Sizer added the comment: ‘You would have to be blind as a bat not to see their hands.’
(6) National Notoriety
Dr Sizer’s activity has been reported in numerous places, including: the BBC website; the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News; the Church Times; the Church of England Newspaper; on the Archbishop Cranmer blog; on the political blog Harry’s Place; in The Spectator and Standpoint magazines; in The Times (both in news items and in editorials); in the Telegraph, the Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Independent and the Guardian; and on the Twitter feeds of various journalists from across the political spectrum. His activity formed part of the backdrop to both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, owing to the earlier defence of Dr Sizer by Jeremy Corbyn.
(7) The Evangelical Response
When Dr Sizer was eventually disciplined in 2015, 2016, and 2017, it was by the Church of England. But — as explained above — Dr Sizer had positioned himself firmly within the ranks of conservative evangelicals, both Anglican and Nonconformist. This section analyses the response of several evangelical organisations during the years before Dr Sizer’s retirement in 2017. A later section in this article considers what those organisations could do now to make amends to the British Jewish community.
(a) In 2011, Evangelicals Now was asked to publish a letter criticising Dr Sizer’s activities. It was suggested that EN could publish the letter alongside a response from Dr Sizer. EN declined, on the following basis: ‘We felt that it is a very different situation to that of the Steve Chalke controversy and at this point should not be something which EN takes up. In the case of Steve Chalke, he was making a direct attack on central truths of the gospel … and as such had to be countered. This is not the case with Stephen Sizer. … May the Lord give you grace and wisdom and enable us all to bear in mind Paul’s injunction to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”’ EN’s assumption that racism isn’t a gospel issue compares unfavourably with Ligon Duncan’s famous analysis (at T4G in 2018) of historical racism in American churches: ‘In America, Baptists and Presbyterians decided that slavery was too divisive an issue and therefore shouldn’t be addressed in the church — for the sake of “unity.” For the sake of preserving the “Spirituality of the Church,” matters of “politics” and “social life” were ignored. In reality, however, these church leaders and pastors were evading the second great commandment.’
(b) In early 2012, months before the Clergy Discipline Measure mentioned above, the South East Gospel Partnership was asked to consider excluding Christ Church Virginia Water from the partnership, for as long as Dr Sizer remained the church’s vicar. The chairman of the SEGP initially responded by saying the partnership had ‘no means of discipline’, and yet he did then pursue a limited investigation into Dr Sizer ‘on behalf of the Gospel Partnerships’, thereby indicating that the SEGP could take action if necessary.
During that investigation, the SEGP chairman was told that a former member of Christ Church Virginia Water was willing to discuss Dr Sizer’s broader conduct. Since this former member did not wish for anyone other than the SEGP chairman to know his identity, this information came with a strict request for confidentiality. However, the SEGP chairman chose not to contact this former member and, in disregard of the appeal for confidentiality, instead forwarded the relevant correspondence to Dr Sizer himself. As well as being of no assistance to the investigation, this also caused difficulties for that former member.
The SEGP chairman also emailed one of the authors of this article (Nick Howard) to tell him that he had spoken to his (Nick Howard’s) employer. That employer was based in the USA and had no knowledge of the issues involving Dr Sizer. He therefore could not have provided any assistance to the SEGP chairman in his enquiries. Why then did the chairman tell Nick Howard he had spoken to his employer? It can only have been intended to intimidate him into dropping his requests for action.
The SEGP’s investigation came to an end with the conclusion that they saw ‘no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen’. The SEGP adamantly stood by this conclusion throughout the next five years until Dr Sizer’s retirement in 2017, maintaining gospel partnership with Dr Sizer even after he had been publicly disciplined by the Church of England, and even after he had repeatedly broken the terms of his conciliation agreement with the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
What should the SEGP have done? While the Gospel Partnerships may not have formally-constituted disciplinary processes, it is easy to imagine situations in which a church would be removed from one of the partnerships. If Dr Sizer had begun preaching against central evangelical doctrines, or engaged in another kind of racist activity, or displayed another kind of serious moral failing, the SEGP committee would surely have found a way to remove his church from their partnership. Their failure to take such action when the moral failing was antisemitism demonstrates a tolerance for antisemitism that reflects very badly on the SEGP, and, by extension, the Gospel Partnerships movement to which the SEGP belongs.
(c) In 2014, the board of Christianity Explored Ministries was asked to remove Dr Sizer from his position as an Advocate for its evangelistic course, on the grounds of both antisemitism and dishonesty (the latter charge relates to his failure to admit that he had received a warning from his bishop about his link to the antisemitic website ‘The Ugly Truth’). They were sent this document, which carefully walked them through the charges of antisemitism and dishonesty. The Christianity Explored board said that Dr Sizer had acted ‘unwisely and carelessly’, but that the Church of England had undertaken ‘an appropriate disciplinary review’, and that therefore they themselves would take no action against him. It was pointed out to them in response that the Church of England had not cleared Dr Sizer of any of the charges brought against him under the Clergy Discipline Measure, and that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had never retracted their accusations against Dr Sizer. The Christianity Explored board nonetheless refused to remove Dr Sizer from his position when initially asked in 2014.
It is believed that Christianity Explored stopped working with Dr Sizer following the Diocese of Guildford’s public rebuke of his actions in 2015, although this has never been publicly confirmed, and Dr Sizer’s personal website still claims otherwise.
It has been suggested that Dr Sizer never held a position in Christianity Explored Ministries that he could have been removed from, and yet the fact remains that in 2014 the board decided not to distance themselves from Dr Sizer. That decision, at a formal board meeting, only makes sense if the board could in fact have distanced themselves from Dr Sizer, if they had deemed it necessary.
(d) Christ Church Virginia Water stood by Dr Sizer throughout his years of notoriety and provided significant financial support for his activities outside the church, allocating sums in the region of £6,000 p.a. to support his international ministry for several years before his retirement. Since Dr Sizer’s departure in April 2017, Christ Church has failed to renounce, or even distance itself from, his statements and activity, as the following evidence demonstrates.
In 2018, under the leadership of its new vicar, Christ Church made a donation of £6,600 to Dr Sizer’s charity Peacemaker Mediators (now known as Peacemaker Trust); and in March 2019 and then again in January 2020, Peacemaker Trust was named Christ Church’s ‘Mission of the Month’. Christ Church is evidently maintaining the friendliest of relationships with its former vicar, despite the fact that during the final months of his incumbency he was banned by his diocese from all preaching, teaching, leading of services, and social media activity. It is revealing to compare the attitude of Christ Church Virginia Water towards Dr Sizer with the attitude of Emmanuel Wimbledon towards its former vicar, Rev Jonathan Fletcher. Emmanuel has rightly distanced itself from Rev Fletcher in numerous ways; Christ Church Virginia Water has taken the opposite approach with Dr Sizer.
(e) In addition to the above organisations, a number of senior evangelical leaders were asked to make an intervention or provide behind-the-scenes assistance. With one exception they all declined to do so. The sole, notable exception was the late Dr Mike Ovey, then Principal of Oak Hill College. As early as July 2012, Dr Ovey recognised the validity of the concerns regarding Dr Sizer — ‘if a member of my Faculty had made these links [to antisemitic websites], I would have had no course, nor inclination, but to dismiss them’ — and he offered meaningful practical support following the above-mentioned use of intimidation by the SEGP chairman.
(8) The Silence Must End
Writing recently on the subject of race relations, Rev. Richard Coekin (a board member of the London Gospel Partnership, which is a sub-region within the SEGP) said, ‘Let us pray for courage in presidents, and in civic, community and church leaders, to speak and act for change.’ It is indeed time for British evangelicals to speak and act for change with regard to their own handling of racism in their midst.
Not a single British evangelical organisation has ever spoken out against Dr Sizer’s antisemitism: not the SEGP; nor Christianity Explored; nor Evangelicals Now; nor Dr Sizer’s own former church, Christ Church Virginia Water. None of those organisations has apologised to the Jewish community for failing to take timely action against Dr Sizer.
As things stand, evangelical silence itself amounts to a form of antisemitism. To use a simple analogy, a boy who calls Jewish pupils ‘Yiddos’ on the school playground is guilty of antisemitism, but so is the headteacher who has been told about the boy’s taunting and yet refuses to take action. In Dr Sizer’s case, the best-respected organisations in the UK Jewish community publicly spoke out against his activity: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Community Security Trust, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities. Evangelical organisations and leaders were made aware of the substance of those complaints on numerous occasions. Their failure to speak out or take timely action demonstrates the same kind of antisemitism as the headteacher in the analogy.
It would not be hard for the evangelical organisations mentioned in this post to admit that they got it wrong, and to apologise to the British Jewish community. We warmly invite them to do so. It must be remembered that British Jews are not an abstract debating point but human beings who would be grateful for an apology from those who have been silent for too long. Until that apology comes, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that resisting racism isn’t so important to British evangelicals after all, and — as long as that remains the case — current evangelical cries against racism will ring hollow.
(9) Postscript — Summer 2020
Before publishing this article we contacted representatives of all the evangelical organisations discussed above: Evangelicals Now, the South East Gospel Partnership, Christianity Explored Ministries, and Christ Church Virginia Water, showing them what we proposed to say and inviting them to apologise to the British Jewish community for their failure to take timely action against Dr Sizer and their public silence about his antisemitic behaviour. Our approach was respectful: we stressed that our desire was not to score points at their expense but instead to persuade them to apologise to British Jews. However, not one of those evangelical organisations expressed any willingness to issue an apology to the Jewish community for past failings regarding Dr Sizer. What’s more, unless we’re mistaken, not one of the evangelical organisations mentioned above has ever reached out to any UK Jewish community group even simply to listen to what they think about Dr Sizer and the support he received from his fellow evangelical Christians. We find this painfully disappointing, and we think the following analogy may help explain our disappointment:
Imagine that an evangelical Anglican minister writes a theological critique of the Black Lives Matter movement. In itself, that would be defensible: no movement or organisation is beyond criticism. Some evangelicals, indeed, have already started to do just that. But imagine this minister then becomes increasingly strident in his opposition to BLM. He links to a number of explicitly racist websites and, when challenged, gives implausible explanations for doing so. Imagine he compares BLM to the slave traders of old. Imagine that he speaks about BLM at a conference organised by the National Front. Imagine he — twice — insinuates BLM complicity in a terrorist atrocity it had nothing to do with. Imagine he champions, without any qualification, the cause of a white supremacist who is notorious for making a horrific and widely-publicised speech against Black people. Imagine he makes distasteful and irrelevant allusions to a BAME celebrity’s ethnicity. Imagine he captions photographs of BLM activists with a racist title; and, using an image he knows will be inflammatory, claims that ‘BLM are aping the tactics of Marxist guerrilla movements’. Imagine if, when challenged, he says that he is not being racist, but ‘simply criticising the Black Lives Matter movement’. Imagine that he accuses his detractors of acting in bad faith, in order to silence him.
It is unthinkable that evangelical organisations would fail to act against this minister. They would listen carefully to concerns expressed by BAME Christians. They would make the effort to understand why the minister was not simply criticising BLM, but also being racist. They would swiftly, and publicly, distance themselves from this minister. They would find ways to take action against him — regardless of, and in addition to, any action taken by his diocese. They would be unimpressed by his defence that he was ‘merely criticising the Black Lives Matter movement’.
The above is, of course, an exact parallel of Stephen Sizer’s statements and activity. And yet the inevitable response of evangelicals to the imaginary case above has been completely lacking in the parallel case that actually happened in real life.
One feature of racism is the experience by an ethnic group of damaging inconsistency in the way it is treated in comparison with other ethnic groups. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that British evangelicals do not view Jewish people’s concerns with the same seriousness as the concerns of other ethnic minorities such as the Black community. For years, the evangelical organisations to which Dr Sizer belonged permitted him — through their inaction — to behave in a racist way towards Jewish people. We simply cannot imagine the same evangelical organisations freely permitting a white evangelical to behave in an equivalently offensive way towards Black people. This inconsistency reveals a disdainfulness on the part of British evangelicals towards Jewish people, a sense that they and their concerns are somehow ‘other’ and not worthy of close consideration or attention. Jewish concerns are instead perceived as a distraction and a nuisance. We were not expecting that to be the case when we began drawing attention to Stephen Sizer, and it was the very last thing we wanted to discover, but over the years it has become impossible to ignore. The current refusal of the relevant evangelical organisations to apologise to the British Jewish community provides still further evidence in support of this analysis.
In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to stand down as Labour leader, all four candidates for the leadership of the party apologised to Jewish Labour members for the party’s handling of antisemitism. One of Labour’s main failings during the Corbyn years was the lack of effective action taken against its members for antisemitic behaviour. We do not consider Labour’s recent apologies to be ‘ritualistic’ or insincere. The apologies were understandably received with intense relief and gratitude by the British Jewish community. It’s distressing, from our perspective, to see the contrast between on the one hand the softness of heart towards the Jewish people shown by the post-Corbyn Labour Party, and on the other hand the current hardness of heart shown by the leading organisations of British conservative evangelicalism. Another way to put the point is to say that British evangelicals are currently in the Jeremy Corbyn phase of their relationship with British Jews, and they need to enter into the Keir Starmer phase.
In recent months the song The Blessing has been embraced by Christians around the world — a British recording of the song has received 3.5 million views on YouTube. The song’s beautiful words are taken straight from Numbers 6:22–26. They were faithfully preserved by the Jewish people throughout salvation history. They are a Jewish bequest to Gentile Christians. Is it right or loving for Gentile Christians to receive good things such as the Aaronic blessing from the Jews — and so much more besides! — and yet react with utter silence, and therefore apparent indifference, when Jewish people have a thoroughly justified complaint against a Gentile Christian leader?
We urge the evangelical organisations mentioned in this article to send a joint apology to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to publish it in Evangelicals Now, and to invite the Jewish Chronicle to publish it too.
We also urge Rev Dr Simon Vibert, the current vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, to set up a meeting with the Board of Deputies of British Jews to discuss how Christ Church should best renounce the legacy of its predecessor.
Finally, we urge the South East Gospel Partnership to require Christ Church Virginia Water to distance itself publicly from its former vicar as a condition of ongoing membership of the partnership. Racism and the gospel cannot be allowed to coexist. The best-respected Jewish community organisations in Britain have accused Christ Church’s former vicar of racism, and rather than meeting with those organisations to listen and learn from them, Christ Church has ostentatiously displayed its continuing support for Dr Sizer. If British evangelicals mean what they have said following the death of George Floyd, this situation cannot continue.
When first published, our article included references to Church Society (CS) as an example of an evangelical organisation that had failed to take action against Dr Sizer. CS’s mission statement is ‘to reform and renew the Church of England in biblical faith.’ Dr Sizer was a director of CS during his early years as vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, appears to have attended a conference co-organised by CS in 2017, and was described by the Institute on Religion & Democracy as a member of CS as recently as October 2018. It was therefore reasonable to think that he was a member of CS throughout his years of notoriety.
We had corresponded with CS prior to publication, in order to give CS the opportunity to defend itself. We said nothing in the article that wasn’t stated very clearly in those emails (the last of which did not receive the courtesy of a reply from CS), and so we were surprised when CS only chose to reveal after publication that Dr Sizer had not in fact been a member during the most relevant timeframe. No reason for the delay in providing this information has been shared with us (it cannot have been because of privacy legislation, because the information was eventually given to us).
Although the article as first published said nothing inaccurate about CS (because we did not specify the duration of Dr Sizer’s membership), it may have led to confusion about the extent of CS’s culpability. We regret this, and have therefore removed the references to CS.
We warmly welcome the fact that, in response to our article, Rev Dr Lee Gatiss, CS Director, quoted the following words from the Bishop of Guildford about Dr Sizer: ‘By associating with, or promoting, subject matter which is either ambiguous in its motivation, or (worse still) openly racist, he has crossed a serious line’; Dr Gatiss then expressed his agreement with the bishop’s verdict: ‘I regard these actions as indefensible.’ This raises a question: does Rev William Taylor, a member of the CS Council, agree with Dr Gatiss that Dr Sizer’s actions were ‘indefensible’? Since 2012, Rev Taylor has consistently said, on behalf of the South East Gospel Partnership, that he sees ‘no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.’ We sincerely wish to know whether the CS Council is speaking with one voice on this very serious matter.
James Mendelsohn, Senior Lecturer, UWE Bristol Law School
Rev. Bernard Nicholas Howard, Pastor, Good Shepherd Anglican Church NYC