Church of England Bans Anti-Zionist Vicar From Speaking, Writing on Middle East Issues
In an encouraging sign that the Anglican Church is starting to recognize the intimate relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, a rabidly anti-Israel Church of England vicar has been ordered to stop speaking and writing about the Middle East or risk losing his job.
Dr. Stephen Sizer, the vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, located in the affluent southern region of Surrey, has a long track record of offensive, often antisemitic statements about Israel. As recently as last October, Sizer traveled to Iran for a conference that brought together Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists from around the world. While in Tehran, Sizer ominously declared, “Those who criticize this kind of conference must think very carefully of the consequences of their words for Jews and Christians in countries like Iran.”
Because of these and similar statements, Sizer signed a reconciliation agreement in 2012 with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in which he undertook to have his online activism moderated. But last month, Sizer took to Facebook to promote an article entitled “9/11: Israel did it” and reportedly wrote: “Is this antisemitic? It raises so many questions.”
As a direct consequence, Sizer’s immediate superior, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, announced today that he had given the vicar an ultimatum: stop your activism over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or lose your parish.
“Having now met Stephen, in my brand new role as Bishop of Guildford, I do not believe that his motives are anti-Semitic,” Watson said in a statement. “But I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic.”
Watson continued: “Having consulted closely with my colleagues here in the Diocese, though, it is my view that Stephen’s strong but increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda has become a liability to his own ministry and that of the wider church.” He then concluded: “It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest. In order for Stephen to remain in parish ministry, I have therefore asked for – and received from him – a solemn undertaking, in writing, that he is to refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any theme that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop.”
Watson made special mention of the sensitivities of the Jewish community, noting that Sizer’s latest violation of his undertaking took place just prior to Holocaust Memorial Day. “I am hugely sorry for the hurt which has been caused to members of the Jewish Community, and I hope and pray that the storms of the past two weeks will ultimately serve to deepen and strengthen our relationship, one with another,” he said.
Responding to Watson’s statement, Sizer said that he regretted “the distress I have caused to the Jewish community,” promising that should he break this latest undertaking, “I…will offer you my resignation.”