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Response to a blogpost about Stephen Sizer

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 28 Jul 2020

Lee Gatiss responds to the mention of Church Society in a recent blogpost about Stephen Sizer

Racial harassment and abuse are offensive to God who made each one of us in his image, and to our Lord Jesus in whom (by grace alone through faith alone) “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Church Society has been mentioned in a blogpost concerning the Revd Stephen Sizer against whom various accusations of antisemitic racism have been levelled. Dr Sizer wrote two articles for Churchman published in 1999 and 2001, not singled out for any criticism as such, though as always pointed out in the journal, “the views expressed by authors of articles or reviews do not necessarily represent those of Church Society.” Since we publish a large range of material from diverse sources, clearly we do not endorse all the views of all our contributors, and it has never been necessary to be a member of Church Society (or even an Anglican) to contribute. Stephen Sizer was elected to be a member of Church Society Council in the late 1990s (until 1999). He left the Society for some time, but became a member again briefly as part of the merger with Reform in 2018. He is no longer a member.

We were sent an earlier draft of the blogpost about Mr Sizer, which was considered at our last Council meeting. The Council noted that a proper legal due process seemed to have been followed with regards to him. They were pleased to see that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had agreed its complaint about Dr Sizer’s behaviour was resolved (according to the agreed statement). A further investigation seems to have been undertaken after this too, under the Church of England’s clergy discipline procedure, according to reports. The Council did not consider it to be their place to re-investigate or second guess that complex and time-consuming official process. Ministers are accountable to their bishops.

It was publicly reported that the Bishop of Guildford concluded: “I do not believe that [Dr Sizer’s] motives are anti-Semitic; but I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgement. 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.” I would concur with the Bishop’s judgement in saying that “I regard these actions as indefensible.” I would also agree with The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) who said in a statement at the time that it welcomed Bishop Watson’s decision, as Mr Sizer’s activities had been a “source of grave concern.” I personally find many of the things now pointed out in his social media and other engagements to be offensive and sometimes ridiculous. I don’t follow him on social media so had not seen these before, or had them pointed out to me as far as I can recall.

Corporately, Church Society has never supported antisemitism (and indeed repudiates it), nor does it endorse all of the controversial views or blogs or tweets or actions of its individual members (or ex-members). That is not how supporting us as a charity works! Church Society does not share or promote the recent views detailed in the blogpost about Stephen Sizer, and has not given (and will not give) a platform to them. So the Council were not convinced when they considered this recently of the appropriateness of a corporate apology as such. It would certainly appear odd for them to suddenly denounce someone who was officially disciplined several years ago in a way that seems to have been publicly resolved, is no longer even a member of Church Society, and who no longer has Permission to Officiate in the Church of England (he recently retired but had official clearance in the Church of England until 2018).

With close attention being paid to the problem of racism, quite rightly, evangelicals should be open to criticism about our own behaviour in this area. Hence our recent podcast episode on this subject, for example. We are happy to follow in general the guidance in the Church of England’s official report God’s Unfailing Word: Theological and Practical Perspectives on Christian-Jewish Relations which came out a few months ago, though note that it discourages “ecclesial repentance” where that takes refuge only in vague generalities.

It is not the role of a charity as such to pro-actively scrutinise and police the behaviour and doctrines of its members; nor do our Articles of Association permit us to do so. As individuals, however, we do constantly repent of not loving our neighbours as ourselves and of our failures in thought and word and deed. It saddens me greatly, hurts us all, and is dishonouring to God when people calling themselves Christians or Anglicans or Evangelicals behave in a way that is not pleasing to the Lord Jesus. I reiterate, racism is unacceptable to us because it is unacceptable to God. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13) This is the only hope for us all.

The Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.

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