Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Stephen Sizer, the Council of Christians and Jews and Bishop Nigel McCulloch

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Following accusations levelled against Revd Stephen Sizer of anti-Semitism, which I blogged about here, the Council of Christians and Jews have issued a press statement.

The following is a cross-post written by Revd Doug Chaplin commenting on recent developments:

When it comes to Israel and Palestine (even to using those names together), most people are either biased or confused, or in some measure both. Most sites which discuss the topic tend to be partisan on one side or another. Looking especially at the comments on such sites, it is easy to accuse them of either anti-semitism or Islamophobia (or simply anti-Arab sentiment).

One prominent Christian activist who regularly gets accused of anti-Semitism is Stephen Sizer, an evangelical priest in Guildford Diocese. Certainly he is outspokenly pro-Palestinian, and to say the least, he has a record of keeping very dubious company. Nonetheless many of the attacks on him come from Zionist sympathisers and sites whose commenters are rabidly anti-Palestinian. That makes it easier for Sizer’s supporters to dismiss them, whatever the strength or weakness of their case.

However yesterday, the moderate and mainstream Council of Christians and Jews issued an unusual press statement, following criticism in the Jewish Chronicle and elsewhere, which effectively called for Stephen Sizer to be disciplined for posting a Facebook link to an unquestionably anti-semitic site.

What makes it so unusual is that the Bishop of Manchester (the Chair of CCJ) implicitly criticises the inaction of his fellow Bishop of Guildford. Nigel McCulloch of Manchester calls Sizer’s behaviour conduct “unbecoming a clergyman”, and the CCJ’s press release finishes by saying they have referred the incident to Surrey police as a hate crime.

Until recently I would have said Sizer was not anti-Semitic, and it is important to point out that he repudiates the accusation. I further note that only last autumn, I heard the CEO of the Board of Deputies of British Jews saying that he didn’t think Sizer was anti-Semitic, although he certainly kept anti-Semitic company because of his pro-Palestinian campaigning. (He is obviously not a Sizer supporter!)

Sizer does have some theological questions to put to the Christian Zionism more common in his conservative evangelical circles that ought to be considered – as Christian theology. It is an inescapable part of recognising that the New Testament and the Mishnah largely grew out of a contest between two visions for the future of Judaism, and that both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were the squabbling children of Second Temple Judaism. I don’t agree with many of the ways Sizer answers those questions, but they need to be faced.

In my view, however, his voice has moved so far to an uncritical support for Palestinians that it has also become an unthinking criticism of Israel. An awful lot of criticism of (as well as an awful lot of support for) Israel is uncritical. However, Sizer has seemed to align himself more and more not only with the unthinking, but with the racist and prejudiced rhetoric of some of Israel’s most vociferous enemies.

He may not have used it himself, but he links to it without criticism. He may not say it himself, but he seems willing to appear on platforms where other speakers indulge in it, and he does not seem to distance himself from it or them. I think that passes the point where it looks like guilt by association and looks more like guilt by complicity.

There may or may not be a case against him. If Surrey police think there is, his bishop can act. If they don’t then, given the labyrinthine law of the Church of England, and its protections for political and theological dissent, his bishop probably has no action available to him. It is not irrelevant also that Sizer’s church is at best semi-detached from the Church of England and wealthy enough to show the bishop two fingers.

Nonetheless, this will remain a story worth watching, for a very particular exploration of when anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian support is held to tip over into anti-Semitism. The CCJ thinks Sizer has crossed that line. I fear they may be right.

(Note: in the interests of transparency I should state that I am a member of CCJ, and that I also once (some 25 years ago) occasionally attended the church where Sizer was curate. His theology was too conservatively evangelical for me.)

Messianic Jews and Christ at the Checkpoint

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The following is a cross-post written by Dr Calvin L Smith, Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School:

Earlier this week Messianic leaders issued a joint statement responding to the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference. The statement is available here. (I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post), while the Messianic RPP site commented on it here. Later this week the organisers of Christ at the Checkpoint issued a response to the Messianic statement, which can be found here.

I have not really commented on this blog about Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC). However, in light of the public Messianic statement and the CatC response, now seems an appropriate time to do so, especially given the nature of this view expressed by CatC about the Messianic statement:

Your statement has undermined all these reconciliation efforts, given the wrong impression concerning our relationship with the Messianic body, and done harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land.

This seems to be the main point that the CatC organisers seek to make (this sentence is highlighted in bold on the blog of CatC programme director Stephen Sizer, though not on the CatC website which must be a formatting error). It is a serious charge which, together with another point the CatC statement raises, merits some comment.

Whether intended or not, the appeal to Matthew 18 in the CatC statement gives an impression of the organisers seeking to silence those who publicly disagree with them. After all, Matthew 18 is referring to taking a brother to task when he sins against you personally as an individual. It has nothing to do with doctrinal disagreements within the Church (often dealt with publicly in the New Testament). Besides, CatC has publicised far and wide its views, aims and activities, so it cannot reasonably expect fellow believers to remain silent about issues they disagree with so profoundly. Neither can CatC expect their critics not to go public yet actively promote and publicise endorsements of the event. This is a double standard.

Related to this is the serious claim that the Messianic statement has somehow done immense harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land. Leaving aside how a lack of Messianic support for the event suggests this statement is somewhat hyperbolised, I struggle to reconcile CatC’s claim in its statement to have the right to express itself as it sees fit yet with an expectation that Messianic leaders may only express their concerns in private. Again, it merely reinforces the impression of seeking to silence critics. Moreover, such a statement looks like nothing less than spiritual one-upmanship, an attempt to claim the high moral ground.

Finally, concerning the claim that the Messianic statement has contributed to a wrong impression of CatC’s relationship with the wider Messianic community, the lack of Messianic participation in the forthcoming CatC conference strongly suggests very little of a relationship with the Messianic movement in the first place. And here, I believe, is where the heart of the problem lies. The nature of much of what came out of the first conference, inflammatory rhetoric from some individuals involved with CatC since, involvement of strongly anti-Israel speakers, and indeed even some of the comments on the CatC Facebook page, all contribute to an impression of CatC as an Israel-bashing, anti-Zionist fest. Thus, while I believe there are sincere people involved with CatC who seek genuine reconciliation, it is hardly surprising that some of the voices and noises emanating from CatC make the Messianic movement deeply suspicious and involvement by Jewish believers minimal. Neither is the view that Christian Zionists are somehow heretics who follow another gospel the language of reconciliation, nor will it further the involvement of many on the other side of the debate. And that is precisely the point: for some of us in the middle or who lean towards the other side of the debate, the trenchant and inflammatory views of some of those closely involved with CatC leaves us unconvinced of the reconciliation value of the conference.

There is nothing more many of us would long to see than sincere, genuine and longlasting reconciliation between believing Jew and believing Arab in the land. I believe that if and when it happens at the hierarchical level (it already exists between many believing Arabs and Jews at the grassroots level, whatever some would have us believe), some of the genuine and sincere people involved in CatC will play a key role in such reconciliation. And when it comes I cannot help but think it will initially be reached in private, out of reach of the glare of public scrutiny as both parties seek to build trust towards each other. Unfortunately, too much inflammatory rhetoric contributing to an unnecessarily pejorative and divisive debate by some involved with CatC has affected how the whole event is perceived by many, as the Messianic statement demonstrates. Such unchecked rhetoric is either the result of ill-discipline, or else absolutely no desire for any kind of meaningful dialogue or true reconciliation. This was certainly my own personal experience of one of the CatC speakers some time ago who made clear that dialogue was pointless, that he would never permit it to change or modify his views. Clearly he was only interested in dialogue which led to agreement with his own extreme viewpoint.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Friday, January 27th, 2012


First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Niemoeller, in prison and concentration camp for eight and a half years


Let us pray for God’s ancient people, the Jews, the first to hear his word – for greater understanding between Christian and Jew for the removal of our blindness and bitterness of heart that God will grant us grace to be faithful to his covenant and to grow in the love of his name.

Let us surround our worship and our community with stillness, stillness to remember all those who died in the Holocaust; those before or since whose lives were brought to an end by genocide, and those still suffering or dying. Amen

A few good links

Monday, January 9th, 2012

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

CIFwatch – Was Moses a colonizer? The Guardian’s Nicholas Lezard uncovers why us Jews are kleptomaniacs

pmphillips’s posterous – The Way of Death is paved with…

Left Foot Forward – 2012 – the year the world must wake up to Christian persecution

NewScientist – The hard way: Our odd desire to do it ourselves

Trinitarian Dance – Dealing with personal sin is like extracting an ingrown toenail.

USAToday – The God effect: ambition drops with temptation

Linen on the Hedgerow – Be Gay friendly – or go to jail!

Science and Religion Today – How Can You Tell How Humble Someone Is?

Cranmer – The quest for the elusive ‘Conservative Particle’ in the Coalition Collider

Christian medical Comment – Lessons from Stephen Hawking and Kathryn Higham about assisted suicide

A few good links

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

A few links I found interesting for one reason or another:

Accepting Abundance – On Dissent – Proud to be right?

Vatican Insider – Jews alarmed by Messianic movement boom

Cranmer – Alcohol price-fixing will not solve binge-drinking

iBenedictines – Holy Innocents

Ugley Vicar – Our Christmas Carol Sermon

Outside the Assylum – Who cares about religious apathy?

Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion – Nick Broomfield and Sarah Palin’s Religion

Rev Nick Howard Publicly Accuses Rev Stephen Sizer of Anti-Semitism

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

To be honest with you, I tussled over posting this. Anti-Semitism is a grave accusation indeed and that is exactly what Rev Nick Howard accuses Rev Stephen Sizer of today over on Harry’s Place.

Although it goes without saying that Sizer is an anti-Zionist, I don’t believe I have seen the open accusation of anti-Semitism before.

I’m blogging this because it’s no trifling matter. The Rev Nick Howard is a well known Anglican cleric, being the son of former Conservative leader Michael Howard and the platform used to make these allegations is an internationally prominent political blog.

In view of the seriousness of the accusations, I’m simply offering the link for your information, with no comment on my part:

Harry’s Place – Rev Nick Howard: The Church of England must take action against Rev Stephen Sizer

Archbishops Christmas homilies poorly received and rightly so, but there was one good one

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

It would seem that the Christmas homilies of both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Catholic Archbishop have been used as an opportunity for political attack and this has not been well received.

Firstly the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams caught some flak for this comment:

The most pressing question we now face, we might well say, is who and where we are as a society. Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost. Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today’s financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark.

This was condemned for attacking bankers and equating them with the rioters. The sentiment this aroused is probably best encapsulated by Tory MP Gary Streeter:

“He would be wise to leave the politics to the politicians and focus on giving much needed spiritual leadership.”

More disturbing however was Archbishop Nichols’ address, in which he attacked Israel:

That shadow falls particularly heavily on the town of Bethlehem tonight. At this moment the people of the parish of Beit Jala prepare for their legal battle to protect their land and homes from further expropriation by Israel. Over 50 families face losing their land and their homes as action is taken to complete the separation/security wall across the territory of the district of Bethlehem. We pray for them tonight.

CIFWatch responded:

As we typically see in the rabidly anti-Israeli Guardian, the Archbishop used Christmas and Bethlehem to direct an attack on Israel. Do we even know if there are 50 families, or do they exist only on the anti-Israeli websites? Do they need the Archbishop’s prayers when appealing to one of the world’s most respected judiciaries which has repeatedly ruled in favor of Palestinians on land issues?

After all, anyone with any real knowledge of the issues on the West Bank knows how complicated they can be, and how simplistic reports by interested parties can hide the complexity of what really happens there. For example, this report from Agence France-Press in August 2010 – “In gesture of peace progress, Israel demolishes massive concrete barrier” - tells a very different story and includes some context that explains why the security barrier was needed near Beit Jala:

Israeli troops on Sunday began demolishing a huge concrete wall erected nine years ago to prevent shooting attacks towards Gilo, a Jewish neighbourhood in occupied east Jerusalem


But more startling in this context, if he wishes to turn his attention to world affairs, was Nichols’ avoidance of any mention of the repeated attacks carried out against Christians almost throughout the Islamic world.

As Robin Shepherd commented more generally:

Every atrocity perpetrated against Christians in the name of Islam, by contrast, seems all too quickly to be brushed under the carpet.

While lamenting the pending “legal battle”, Nichols is oblivious to the way Christians have been forced out of Gaza and Bethlehem by Islamists, without any “legal battle”.

If the “50 families” do exist, is the prospect of waging a “legal battle” which they will win if their claim is justified in any way a greater matter than Christians being blown up in Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq, beaten and burnt to death in Egypt, thrown out of Gaza, or having their lands stolen by Moslems in the West Bank?

When the Islamists force the Christians out, it is with stones, guns, and bombs, not “legal battles”, but Nichols cannot bring himself, as Shepherd says of the BBC, to say the “I word”.

But all is not lost.

I found a lovely Christmas homily by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin – Yes the very same Archbishop who recently urged ‘lapsed Catholics’ to hop it.

Here’s some of his homily, but I feel it’s all worth a read and certainly the best of the pretty woeful Christmas bunch:

Jesus appears in that concretely verifiable world but his birth cannot be identified with that world.  The census reminds us of the desire of the emperor to dominate and exploit; the design of God appears in a totally different and surprising manner.  God chose to reveal his plan of salvation not through the structures of geopolitical power and influence, but within the reality of a simple, lonely, anxious and disadvantaged family: Mary and Joseph. They travel alone to reach Bethlehem. Mary is expecting her child.  They are isolated, exposed and vulnerable.  They seek to understand. They have no armies or large business enterprises to protect them.  They have no place of outward human security.   Joseph provides the only shelter he can, that of his love and protective concern. 

The birth of Jesus takes place yes within the politics of human history; but the real truth of that birth can be understood only when we identify with the simple love and trust of Mary and Joseph.  Their extraordinary sense of responsibility to protect what is their precious gift lies far away from any sense of power or self-interest or the protection of possessions. Jesus who is the Lord of creation with his birth appears into our history in a manner in which our history is incapable of understanding, except by those whose faith was based on the simple humility which had marked the faithful believers who lived in expectation of the fulfilment of the promise, about which we heard in the first reading.

The loving kindness of God appeared in Jesus, but it was not understood and accepted.   In the Gospel reading of tomorrow morning’s Mass we will recall the words of Saint John:  Jesus was among his own yet he was rejected by those who were his very own.  When we reflect on the situation of the Church and the difficulties that the men and women of our generation encounter in believing, it is very easy to point the finger and say that it is all due to society or to culture or to secularization and even to hostility against faith and against the Church. We have always to remember that the first rejection that Jesus encountered was rejection by his very own.  Renewal in the Church must first come from conversion within the Church.  Conversion is not about fleeing from the realities of the world and society and culture and secularization, it is about understanding them in a different light.  Jesus is the light that enlightens but also the light that enables us to discern the realities of our life in a different way.

The loving kindness of God appears not in palaces, not in luxury hotels not even in the simplest village hostel, but in what was for the powerful an insignificant space.  Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn.  This was not an accident of over-booking.  It is not because accidentally there was no room; Jesus chooses to be born precisely into that space which belongs to those, at any time in history, for whom there is no room, those who are excluded from normal hospitality, those who live without security.  But it would be wrong to interpret that by saying that Jesus was born on the margins.  Jesus is born – and that is what we celebrate tonight – not on the margins of real life, but to parents who pilgrim looking for that space in which the love of God is truly at home.  That is the message of the birth of Jesus.  Our calling too is to journey discerning those spaces in our world, in our lives and in our hearts in which the love of God will be truly at home.

Quote of the Day

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

However, as I pointed out in a previous post, the ONLY place in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown since the end of WWII is Israel, and the flight of Christians from Palestinian controlled areas, such as Bethlehem, is primarily the result of persecution by the majority Muslim population.


A few good links

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

A few links I personally found interesting for one reason or another:

Society for Christian Psychology: Mediation: Moving from Unforgiveness to Forgiveness

Naming His Grace: Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 2

Melanie Phillips: From Red Toryism to Blue Labour, social renewal depends on Christian principles

Countercultural Father: Mindfulness…

Get Religion: Evolution and Islam

Vatican Insider: Year 2011: Less atheists, more believers

Assyrian International News Agency: Thousands of Muslims Attack Christians in Egypt, 2 Killed, Homes and Stores Torched

Significant Truths: When we walk in darkness – I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be depressed – I just haven’t taken them!

The painful history of Christianity and Judaism

Monday, November 14th, 2011

This post allows me to accomplish two purposes.

The first is to highlight a very thought provoking blog post on the historically fraught interaction between Christianity and Judaism, written by Doug Chaplin.

The second is to let you know that after a very short excursion into the world of Blogger, Doug has moved back to WordPress and his new address is:

If you’re not following Doug; you should.

Switch to our mobile site