The Board of Deputies of British Jews has demanded the Church of England investigate the participation of a Surrey rector, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, in an anti-Israel conference in Tehran.
Sponsored by the Iranian government, the New Horizon conference has been denounced by Jewish leaders as an “anti-Semitic hate-fest”. A participant in the last two GAFCON meetings, Dr. Sizer is a prominent Evangelical opponent of Christian Zionism and has clashed with Jewish leaders in the past who claim his criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic.
Jonathan Arkush, Vice President of the Board of Deputies released a statement last week charging that Dr. Sizer’s “appearance at a conference sponsored by a regime that actively persecutes Christians and other minorities is inexplicable.
“The Iranian Government denies the Holocaust and openly calls for the destruction of Israel, which is tantamount to bringing about another Holocaust.
“Rev Sizer’s participation might be seen as lending pseudo credence to an event whose premise is clear from its programme: to lay blame on Israel and Jews for the world’s ills, including, it would seem, 9/11.
“The Church of England should investigate why one of its ministers deemed it appropriate to take part in an anti-Semitic hate-fest,” wrote Mr. Arkush.
Complaints of misconduct have been filed by Jewish activists with the Diocese of Guilford over Dr. Sizer’s past statements. In 2013 the diocese, Dr. Sizer and the Board of Deputies settled a dispute over his blog posts. A diocesan spokesman said they were aware of the Board’s latest complaint and would investigate.
However, Dr. Sizer has defended his participation in the meeting, saying a Christian presence at the gathering was necessary. In a statement given to Anglican Ink, he wrote:
Heartened by the recent historic meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the United Nations, signaling a long-overdue thawing of Anglo-Iranian relations, I was delighted to attend the New Horizons interfaith conference in Tehran last week, as a member of a UK delegation.
I was invited to contribute to the opening ceremony and present a biblical perspective on Jihad and in particular, a Christian refutation of the Islamic State (IS). Later in the conference I was asked to present a paper on the impact of the Israel Lobby in the UK, especially in parliament and in the media, ahead of the publication of my new book on the subject.
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Ambassadors, of necessity serve in foreign countries, where perspectives may be different and at times even hostile to one’s own. But given the dire consequences of any breakdown in relations between countries, dialogue and diplomacy are always to be preferred over war and strife.
In the journal Diplomat, Michael Binyon asks,
“Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight to Nigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property…
Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.”
A walk through the deserted US embassy in Tehran last week was a poignant reminder of how a failure to pursue diplomacy has fueled not only decades of missed opportunities but also perpetuated misunderstanding and animosity between our countries.
Ironically, the leaders in Jesus day, tried to dictate whom he could and could not meet with, criticizing him for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. Clearly they considered his actions “conduct unbecoming” a rabbi. Thankfully for us he did not listen to them.
Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran.
They would be better served following the examples set by our Prime Minister, the Pope and the Archbishop who are walking the path of peace and reconciliation.
7th October 2014