Board of Deputies of British Jews vs. Rev’d Dr Stephen Sizer
In October 2012 the Board of Deputies of British Jews filed a formal complaint with the Church of England against the Rev’d Dr Stephen Sizer, under the Clergy Discipline Measure. Almost a year on, there has still been no final ruling.
The Board summarised its complaint as follows:
The matters complained of disclose a clear and consistent pattern of activity on the part of Rev Sizer. The evidence indicates that he spends time trawling dark and extreme corners of the internet for material to add to his website. Rev Sizer re-publishes such items to support the target of his polemical writing, while at the same introducing his readers to the racist and antisemitic websites from where he draws his material. As the evidence demonstrates, there are five instances of this over the 11 month period from July 2011 to June 2012.
The Clergy Discipline Measure can lead to the loss of a minister’s licence. With that possibility looming, one might expect Dr Sizer to manifest a degree of heightened objectivity if not scrupulous fairness when writing further about Israel. Surely a Christian minister would be so concerned about the possibility of losing his licence to minister that he would avoid saying anything that could possibly be construed as anti-Semitic? He knows, by now, that Jewish people may well interpret slanderous demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state as an expressions of anti-Semitism. And yet it seems he just can’t help himself.
In an article published this month titled ‘Christian Zionism: The New Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace’, Dr Sizer writes of ‘Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda’ and ‘Israel’s racist and apartheid policies.’ Such statements might be excusable if they emanated from the mind of a secondary school politics student or a Liberal Democrat MP, but in Dr Sizer’s case we cannot assume that he is simply poorly informed because, as he says in the article, he has carried out ’10 years of postgraduate research’ in this area.
So there can be little doubt that he is fully aware that Arab citizens in Israel (20 per cent of the population) have the vote, and can be represented by Arab parties. He is fully aware that Israeli Arabs have freedom of movement and can do all the things alongside Israeli Jews that black people in South Africa were forbidden to do alongside the white – such as use public transport and public libraries; eat in restaurants; and visit cinemas, theatres, swimming pools and public beaches.
There is in fact no basis whatsoever to Dr Sizer’s ‘apartheid’ slander, as the CAMERA website patiently and meticulously demonstrates (and His Grace addressed some years ago). It would be perfectly understandable if Jewish observers suspected an anti-Semitic motive behind Dr Sizer’s promotion of a claim that he knows to be untrue. After all, in addition to the internet trawling identified by the Board of Deputies, he has in the past made anti-Semitic comments regarding Monica Lewinsky and Muammar Gaddafi. His one-sidedness is so extreme that he once called for the release of an anti-Semitic hate preacher and convicted Hamas fundraiser (held in Britain after passing through border control despite a ban on his entry), while simultaneously campaigning for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the democratically elected leader of the moderate opposition party in the Israeli Parliament (who was visiting Britain at the invitation of the UK government).
Perhaps worst of all, he once accused Israel of perpetuating the Holocaust by its treatment of the Palestinians, a statement for which he has never apologised. Where Jews are concerned, Dr Sizer’s heart is cauterised.
He leads an Evangelical church – Christ Church Virginia Water. The group that is best placed to show the Jewish community that such extremism has no place in Christianity is the South East Gospel Partnership, the Evangelical network to which Christ Church Virginia Water belongs. This group is chaired by Rev’d William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and its Committee is made up of Rev’d Iain Broomfield of Christ Church Bromley, Rev’d Richard Coekin of the Co-Mission network of churches, Rev’d Charles Dobbie of Holy Trinity Lyonsdown, Nick McQuaker of Christ Church Haywards Heath, Brian O’Donoghue of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev’d John Ross of Farnham Baptist Church, and Rev’d Simon Smallwood of St George’s Dagenham.
Everyone knows how quickly this group would have broken ties with a partner church which had begun to teach that gay sex was acceptable to God. But how have they reacted to Dr Sizer’s incessant slandering of the only Jewish state in the world? How have they responded to his anti-Semitic quips and conspiracy theories; to the extremism of his campaigning; to his trawling of anti-Semitic internet sites?
They have said that they see ‘no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen or Christ Church Virginia Water.’
In recent years there have been numerous cases of people in public life facing discipline for making precisely the same kind of comments as Dr Sizer: Liberal Democrat Baroness Jenny Tonge; the journalist Helen Thomas; Liberal Democrat David Ward MP; and a pro-Palestinian campaigner named Kenneth O’Keefe. A Greek athlete was even banned from the London 2012 Olympics for making a racist joke comparable to Dr Sizer’s remark about Monica Lewinsky. So the South East Gospel Partnership has taken a position toward anti-Semitism that is seemingly more lax than the world’s.
It’s true that sometimes the world can go into a McCarthyite moral overdrive. Someone might choose to argue that the same has happened in the area of anti-Semitism. But if that is why the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership is taking no action, the Jewish community deserves to hear that explanation. Otherwise the Committee’s unwillingness to act in accordance with widely-accepted precedents will be viewed as apathy toward the concerns of British Jews, or even as approval of what Dr Sizer has said and done.
It is not every day that an ethnic minority’s representative organisation seeks legal redress regarding an Evangelical vicar. The SEGP Committee needs to rise to the occasion.
When did Evangelicals forget Jesus’ warning in the Sermon on the Mount about false prophets? ‘Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them’. If readers and communicants will permit His Grace to quote himself: the Form and Manner of Ordering of Priests bids those admitted to the Order of Priesthood:
Forasmuch then as your office is both of so great excellency and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves, as well that ye may show yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord, who hath placed you in so high a dignity; as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be occasion that others offend.
How Stephen Sizer has trampled over that exhortation!
So why have Evangelical leaders done nothing – absolutely nothing – to rein in and rebuke one of their own?
Why? Whatever the answer is, it’s an excuse; and not a very good one. There is something very rotten at the heart of this situation, and everyone with any sense of objectivity and fairness knows what it is. I will leave it unsaid. Let the facts speak for themselves. Let brave souls like Archbishop Cranmer speak for those who do not accept the status quo.