Christian leaders be careful what you link to
The extraordinary case of an English Christian vicar using social media in Holocaust Memorial week to highlight conspiracy theories that Israel perpetrated the 9/11 attacks shows how casual and unyielding hatred of the Jewish state has become in mainstream Britain
The pleasant and rather up-market town of Virginia Water in South-West London must have wondered what was going on this week as it was invaded by live-broadcast satellite TV vans and their accompanying film crews and reporters.
As random worthy citizens of Virginia Water were interviewed it came to light that it was their vicar, Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, who had brought this invasion upon them.
Stephen Sizer is an evangelical clergyman of long standing, who besides pastoring his congregation somehow manages to cause dismay and concern over speeches, writings and Facebook posts concerning Israel. In fact, it would not take too deep a reading of his material to encourage one to label him as firmly anti-Israel in both his politics and theology.
Sizer repeatedly claims that he cares “…passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders". For someone making such an apparently balanced statement, Sizer’s writings and activities betray an attitude towards the conflict that is anything but balanced.
His personal website, after listing his (compared to mine) impressive academic achievements and laudable involvement in unarguably evangelical Christian ministry, goes on to list “other external commitments”. All ten involvements listed are with organisations linked to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that are decidedly anti-Israel; mostly aggressively so.
I have to confess that in many ways Stephen Sizer and I are alike. I too am an evangelical minister (albeit not Anglican). I too am, or have been, involved one way or another with good solid evangelical organisations. I too am a keen photographer and have to admit that Stephen’s photography is better than mine.
Were it not for our divergent views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict we would probably get on very well together. Sadly, in my opinion, Mr Sizer has taken on board the warped narrative of Palestinian leaders who are not really interested in peace with Israel; they want rid of Israel!
True Christians long to see the justice and compassion that God shows us worked out in their lives and in the world as a whole. History reveals a vast number of Christians down the ages who have fought and died for social justice and on behalf of the poor and oppressed. In some parts of the world, they still do die for sticking up for the poor and oppressed in the name of Jesus.
In the Israel-Palestinian conflict, justice too often seems a million miles away and immeasurably far into the future. But justice and peace are not served by refusing to listen to or dialogue with those of opposing views.
There are many ways in which public figures like Rev Sizer could involve themselves in promoting peace and harmony between Israelis and Palestinians. We Christians may not be able to mediate a peace settlement at national level but we can be part of helping individuals on both sides of the conflict to understand each other and learn to live together. The opportunities are there, Christian leaders.
Regrettably, massive blunders in social media and unyielding negative attitudes towards Israel do not enhance the reputation of Christianity in the public eye, nor do they encourage anyone to take our views seriously.
We should emulate those such as Canon Andrew White, a giant among Middle Eastern Christian leaders, who boldly stands between Jews, Christians and Muslims; not attacking any of them but patiently building bridges and repairing broken ones.
The huge respect he is held in by all sides and all three faiths is a testament to what genuine Christian understanding and compassion can bring to the table.
Stephen Sizer has been in trouble before over remarks and social media links that have provoked outrage from Britain’s Jewish community. Only within the last year, a long-running dispute was settled through mediation after the British Board of Deputies lodged an official complaint to the Church of England about him.
It is quite possible that, as a statement after this news broke says, that he did not mean to cause offence but simply to invite debate. All well and good, but three days after Holocaust Memorial Day? Not a good idea.
As he says on his website, “From time to time this website may also include links to other websites. These links are provided for your convenience to provide further information. They do not signify that we endorse the website(s). We have no responsibility for the content of the linked website(s)”.
Maybe not, but when the link is to such a laughably offensive and anti-semitic conspiracy theory article as “9/11 - Israel Did It”, one wonders why link to it at all.
Stephen Sizer has obviously received a big slap on the wrist from his superiors. In a statement a few hours after the national media got hold of the story, he said (statement in full)…
"I very much regret and apologise for the distress caused by the reposting on Facebook of a link to an article about 9/11 from Wikispooks. It was particularly insensitive in that last week coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day. I removed the link as soon as I received adverse feedback, and realised that offence had been caused.
"I have never believed Israel or any other country was complicit in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, and my sharing of this material was ill-considered and misguided. At the request of the Diocese, I will be suspending my use of all social media and blogs with immediate effect and until further notice.”
I just hope and pray that when he is released back into the blogosphere he is able to advocate a more balanced and compassionate view of both sides of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick, who is a regular contributor to The Commentator, blogs at cmewonline.com
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