The Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, minister of the Church of England and Vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water in the Diocese of Guildford, has demonstrated a readiness to issue apologies. It might be instructive to examine a few of these apologies to see what we can learn from them.
In October 2011, Dr. Sizer apologized for calling Israeli Christians who support their nation “an abomination.” The event was called Jerusalem Under Threat, and Dr. Sizer’s exact words were “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” (video here). Dr. Sizer issued this apology:
I spoke at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign event in Hammersmith. In answer to a question about the attitude of churches to the occupation, I was criticised for implying that I regard the Messianic churches as an abomination. I do not believe this. . . . I apologise unreservedly. I spoke under duress and did not think through the implications of how my sentence would be interpreted, especially by critics. I withdraw the statement.
The same month, Dr. Sizer posted a link on Facebook to an anti-Semitic website called The Ugly Truth. He apologized in an email to his bishop in which he said
I am embarrassed and sorry that I have caused you this concern. I will be more careful in what I allow to be posted on my Facebook. I normally take great care to avoid material that promotes racism or violence and have in the past “unfriended” people who abuse my trust.
By the following May, Dr. Sizer had posted a link to another anti-Semitic website called Veterans Today. He issued a public apology for his use of social media, quoted in an article in the Church Times:
Having consulted a number of Jewish friends, I now keep a small list of websites to avoid in future. I will be more careful about the origin of material I post on my blog and Facebook, and welcome opportunities for discussion with members of the Jewish community to move forwards in a spirit of mutual respect.
Just one month later, in June 2012, Dr. Sizer apologized for posting a link to the anti-Semitic website Window into Palestine. The site refers to the Holocaust as the “Hollow Cause” and includes ads for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His apology, which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle, announced that he had removed the link but pleaded the justification that it is “not always possible to run background checks on every website before linking to materials.”
In October 2013, Dr. Sizer reached a conciliation agreement with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, following its charge of anti-Semitism related to Sizer’s use of social media and other activities. Dr. Sizer posted an apology on his website:
The internet allows us to communicate with a mass audience at the press of a button, but with it comes the risk that we might publish our thoughts without adequately reflecting on our choice of words or how they might be interpreted. I will do all I can to guard against this risk in the future. Whilst the web is a rich source of reference, it also contains a great deal of material with which one would not wish to be associated. It is important that those using new media to conduct political debate ensure that they do not inadvertently associate them [sic] with such material. It is for this reason that I have undertaken to take greater care over links in the future.
This January, Stephen Sizer posted a link to an article from a website called Wikispooks. The article with the headline “9/11, Israel did it” outlined a conspiracy theory laying the responsibility for the September 11 terrorist attacks on Jews. Dr. Sizer included the comment, “Is this anti-Semitic? It raises so many questions.” When contacted by Jewish News Online, Sizer removed the link, but said that he would welcome evidence refuting the allegations. The Church of England put out a statement that Dr. Sizer’s conduct was unacceptable and promised an investigation into the matter. Only then did Dr. Sizer apologize for this his most egregious Facebook link yet, writing on his website:
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.
What can be learned from all these episodes? While Stephen Sizer has shown himself ready to apologize, he has been unwilling to alter his behavior. It is past time for his church to stop allowing him to plead carelessness as his excuse. His continual posting of anti-Semitic content, as well as his disingenuous apologies, brings dishonor to the name of Jesus and the body of Christ.