I doubt anyone in the Church of England who knows Rev. Stephen Sizer was surprised that he would attend a conference critical of Israel. Sizer, the Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, is an outspoken critic of what he calls Christian Zionism, that is, Christian support for the nation-state of Israel on theological grounds.
What is surprising is that a vicar of the Church of England would attend a conference in Iran to speak to a group of anti-Semites on the subject of the Zionist lobby in England. Other attendees of the New Horizon conference in Tehran include a long list of Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers. The conference included a panel discussion called “Mossad’s Role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat” with the subheading “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public Myths.’”
Another attendee, American journalist Gareth Porter, apologized for his participation in the conference. He realized only after arriving that the conference gave a prominent platform to known anti-Semites. Mr. Porter wrote, “Had I known about the roles to be of given to people whose views I oppose quite strongly, I would not have agreed to participate.”
Yet Rev. Sizer has defended his participation in the conference, calling himself an “ambassador of reconciliation.” This is a curious role for him to play since he has already once faced formal charges of anti-Semitic behavior brought against him by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In defending himself against those charges, Rev. Sizer wrote on his blog, “I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”
Certainly, ministers should be allowed to hold political views and to speak about them. But the Church of England needs to give careful thought to the kind of moral hazards that can arise from behavior like Sizer’s. A moral hazard is a risk taken by someone who will not have to bear the consequences of that risk. Humanitarian aid organizations have to weigh moral hazards all the time when dealing with the relief of suffering. Should doctors treat child soldiers who have engaged in civil war? Does treating them contribute to the length of the conflict and additional loss of life? Should we provide food to the starving citizens of a corrupt regime?
The Rev. Sizer, the Diocese of Guildford, and Lambeth Palace should stop and ask whether Rev. Sizer’s participation in a conference alongside known anti-Semites might actually give credence to the accusation that those who politically oppose the nation-state of Israel are inseparable from those who hate Jews. They should ask whether uniting with Iranians over a common distaste for Israel will help or hinder the plight of Christians in Iran. In fact, Rev. Sizer made a cryptic reference to a possible backlash in a statement to The Telegraph, saying, “Those who criticise this kind of conference must think very carefully of the consequences of their words for Jews and Christians in countries like Iran.” I would in turn ask whether the Church of England is carefully considering the consequences for Middle Eastern Christians and Jews of not criticizing a conference like the one the Vicar of Christ Church attended in Tehran.