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Monthly Archives: September 2011

W.W.E.D.? – What Will Evangelicals Do?

Dear Sir,

We are writing to express our deep concern about recent actions and statements by Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, a large evangelical Anglican church in Surrey. Rev Sizer is also an IVP-published author and a frequent guest speaker in churches and theological colleges. We write with sadness, after carefully assessing the evidence, and having noted Don Carson’s recent advice in the journal Themelios, on when it is appropriate to criticise fellow believers publicly.

Our letter makes strong claims. They are substantiated, with internet links to primary sources, at https://wwedletter.wordpress.com/.

This June, Rev. Sizer spoke at a conference run by Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM). We consider VPM to be an extremist group, on the basis that Matthias Chang, an activist given a leadership role within the organisation, has sought to justify the Holocaust, arguing, ‘Germany … had the right to defend herself against the Zionists’ agenda to annihilate Germany and her citizens.’ (He was speaking at a 2006 Iranian Holocaust denial conference, described by Tony Blair as ‘shocking beyond belief.’) Judging by Rev. Sizer’s own blog, he did nothing to oppose or correct such views while the guest of VPM. Rather, he seems only to have confirmed his hosts in their extremism. In an interview with The Star newspaper he said of the US Congress, ‘The Israel lobby buys every single politician.’ This untrue statement is unworthy of any Christian, let alone a Christian leader. In another interview, on Malaysian TV, he repeated that false claim and also stated, ‘The Far Right in Britain is forming an alliance with Zionists because their common enemy are the Muslims … the EDL for example are now working with the Zionists against the Muslims because they view them as a threat.’ Needless to say, every pro-Israel group in Britain has distanced itself from the English Defence League. What was Rev. Sizer seeking to achieve by making this false claim about British Zionist hostility towards Muslims, in a TV interview in a Muslim country? In a separate video interview, he agreed with a VPM activist’s call for a boycott of McDonalds, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal and Nestlé, on the extraordinary basis that they ‘channel their profits to the Zionist agenda.’ These are all publicly listed companies, open to any investor, which pay their profits to shareholders through dividends. We cannot imagine any other evangelical pastor endorsing this allegation or promoting this boycott. We invite readers to evaluate Rev. Sizer’s conduct in Malaysia in the light of Titus 2:7-8: ‘In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.’

Sadly, Rev. Sizer’s activity in Malaysia was in keeping with his track record. Also on his blog are thirty-one photographs of Israeli soldiers, including individuals in close-up, each titled, ‘Herod’s soldiers operating in Bethlehem today.’ To grasp how inflammatory this is, imagine a Northern Irish clergyman making a similar comment about British troops during the Troubles. Should such a clergyman have been allowed to continue in church leadership? When Rev. Sizer was interviewed on Iranian TV, he argued that as a result of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, ‘the Holocaust has been perpetuated over the past forty or fifty years.’ During the Holocaust, the Nazis systematically murdered every Jewish person within their reach. We cannot imagine any other evangelical pastor claiming that Israel is acting in a comparable way towards the Palestinians. Again, what was Rev. Sizer seeking to achieve by making such a claim about Israel on Iranian TV? In Titus 3:1-2, Paul says, ‘Remind the people … to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate and to show true humility towards all men.’ We consider the above statements by Rev. Sizer to be slander of the most serious kind.

Rev. Sizer has visited Iran as the guest of Zahra Mostafavi, the daughter of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Dr Mostafavi supports the proscribed terrorist organisation Hezbollah, and has publicly paid tribute to Palestinian women and girls who have carried out suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians. Of course, Dr Mostafavi and other supporters of terrorism need to hear the gospel. Perhaps Rev. Sizer accepted her invitation to Iran with that motivation. But it’s not hard to imagine how ordinary Israelis would react when a church leader who has accused them of a five-decade holocaust fraternises with an advocate of suicide bombers sent to murder their people. Someone with a record like Rev. Sizer’s cannot work alongside someone like Dr Mostafavi without bringing discredit on the name of Jesus and our evangelical community. There are surely other ways in which Zahra Mostafavi might hear the gospel. Serious questions have already been raised about Rev. Sizer by secular observers and by the British Jewish community. It cannot be a good testimony to either group that British evangelicals are leaving his conduct and statements unchallenged. Unless our community takes action, the reputation of British evangelicalism will be damaged. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3, ‘the overseer must be above reproach … he must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace’ (3:2,7).

We welcome debate on Arab-Israeli issues. However, we believe Rev. Sizer’s comments and actions cannot be regarded as acceptable contributions. We note his willingness, in other contexts, to make much more even-handed comments; sadly, we can only conclude that he says one thing to one audience and very different things to another. Both of the writers of this letter have corresponded with Rev. Sizer in the past, making similar points to those expressed above. As already stated, we are not alone. Yet he has continued in the same vein, and has shown a tendency to avoid answering specific objections.

British Evangelicals know how to react when a pastor denies the substitutionary nature of the atonement, embezzles church funds or commits adultery. We believe Rev. Sizer’s long track record of very harmful untruths and slander should be treated in the same way. The political context provides no excuse for such behaviour. On top of this, Rev. Sizer’s close working relationship with Zahra Mostafavi has plainly brought Jesus’ name into disrepute. Our view is that Rev. Sizer should step aside from his position as vicar of Christ Church to give his PCC the time and space to investigate these matters. We also call on evangelical leaders (particularly evangelical Anglicans) to galvanise this process, if Rev Sizer does not step aside of his own volition.

Yours sincerely

 

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Stephen Sizer says different things to different audiences

1) Rev. Sizer is one of the authors of the ‘Seven Affirmations’ of the conference ‘Christ at the Checkpoint 2012’. These include the following affirmation: ‘Messianic Jews are the brothers and sisters of all who follow Jesus or Yeshua. We are one family bound together in a fellowship of love. Although diversity in political opinions as well as theological emphasis inevitably exist, we refuse to allow these views to hinder our fellowship in Jesus.’

Yet on 6th October 2011 Rev. Sizer said this at a public meeting at Rivercourt Methodist Church:

‘There are certainly churches in Israel/Palestine that side with the occupation, that side with Zionism. One of my burdens is to challenge them theologically and show that they’ve repudiated Jesus, they’ve repudiated the Bible, and they are an abomination.’

‘Abomination’ is the strongest word in the Christian vocabulary (think of Matthew 24:15). The churches Rev. Sizer refers to are indigenous Israeli congregations made up of born again evangelicals who describe themselves as Messianic Jews. Most Christians would find it hard to imagine any circumstances in which they would describe a whole group of genuinely evangelical churches as ‘an abomination’, yet that is how Rev. Sizer refers to our brothers and sisters in Israel.

His comments were recorded on this video (they come about a minute and a half into the video):

Rev. Sizer has since issued an apology on his blog for his comments (see below, click to enlarge). He says by way of explanation, ‘The event was stressful not least because of the heckling from certain Zionists present.’ Yet in the video there is no sign of any interruption or stressful interaction. The comments are not made under pressure and give every appearance of careful consideration – who develops a ‘burden’ on the spur of the moment? More importantly still, Rev. Sizer only apologised ten days after the original comments were made, when heavy criticism of his words had begun to appear. It is therefore hard to believe that any apology would have been forthcoming if there had not been critical observers present at the meeting. This underlines the point that Stephen Sizer says different things to different audiences. As a result it is difficult to trust the integrity of the apology.

2) In an email to a Jewish supporter of Israel dated 8 December 2008, Stephen Sizer wrote, ‘I respect, accept and defend the right of Israel to exist. Period.’

However, in a blog post dated 14 October 2010, Rev Sizer commented ‘Bring it on’ in response to disgraced journalist Helen Thomas’s call for Israelis to ‘get the hell out of Palestine.’ The blog post is reproduced below – click on the screenshots to enlarge.

(NB By ‘Palestine’, Helen Thomas clearly means the whole of the land, not just the West Bank. This is clear from her reference to Poland and Germany, which were departure points for Holocaust survivors emigrating to the Middle East after World War II. Her call for Israelis to return to Poland and Germany would make no sense if she had in mind Jewish settlers in the West Bank – she would simply have told them to return within Israel’s borders.)

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized