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Statement on the Revd Stephen Sizer by the Bishop of Guildford

Date: 09 February 2015
In a Press Conference in Guildford on Monday morning, The Bishop of Guildford, the Right Revd Andrew Watson said: 

"The Diocese of Guildford has taken extremely seriously the reports and complaints regarding Stephen Sizer over the past two weeks. Concerns surrounding Stephen were raised both in response to allegedly offensive materials linked from his Facebook account, and to comments he made to the Jewish News and the Daily Telegraph thereafter.

"Commenting on this matter, the Council of Christians and Jews has helpfully highlighted that:

 

‘It is perfectly possible to criticize Israeli policies without such criticism being anti-Semitic, and Christians and others should feel free to do so.  However, such legitimate criticism must not be used as a cloak for anti-Semitism, nor can anti-Semitism itself ever be disguised as mere political comment’. (see CCJ website)

 

"Having now met Stephen, in my brand new role as Bishop of Guildford, I do not believe that his motives are anti-Semitic; but I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic.

"By associating with or promoting subject matter, which is either ambiguous in its motivation, or (worse still) openly racist, he has crossed a serious line. I regard these actions as indefensible. 

"I have welcomed Stephen’s apology, his recognition of the deep hurt caused by his actions, his acknowledgement of the gross insensitivity of their timing just prior to Holocaust Memorial Day, and his retraction of the ridiculous suggestion that Israel may have been complicit in the events of 9/11. I have also recognized that much of Stephen’s ministry in other areas and at other times has been good, wise and wholesome.

"Having consulted closely with my colleagues here in the Diocese, though, it is my view that Stephen’s strong but increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda has become a liability to his own ministry and that of the wider church. Many who more moderately support the Palestinian cause, and share his critique of a particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, themselves find Stephen’s actions to be increasingly unhelpful and counter-productive, a fact he himself now recognizes.

"It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest.

"In order for Stephen to remain in parish ministry, I have therefore asked for - and received from him - a solemn undertaking, in writing, that he is to refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any theme that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop."

(see below for Stephen Sizer's letter)

"He has promised to refrain, with no exceptions, from attendance at or participation in any conferences which promote or are linked to this agenda; from all writing, tweeting, blogging, emailing, preaching and teaching on these themes, whether formally or informally – a prohibition which of course includes posting links to other sites; and from all background work in this area which may resource others to act as spokespeople in Stephen’s stead.

"Should Stephen be deemed by the Diocese to have broken this agreement, in letter or in spirit, he has pledged to offer me his immediate resignation, which I will duly accept. He has also agreed to desist from the use of social media entirely for the next six months, after which he and I will review that prohibition.

It is fair to say that Stephen seems relieved to be working within this clear new framework, and would now like to redirect his energies into his work as a parish priest. 

"The Diocese of Guildford has been in contact with the Board of Deputies of British Jews throughout this matter. I have made them aware of Stephen’s undertaking, and am grateful for the positive and constructive nature of our conversations. 

"I would also like to thank all those who have taken the time to contact me and my colleagues in the aftermath of these events, and for everything we have learnt from your various perspectives.

"Most importantly of all, I am hugely sorry for the hurt which has been caused to members of the Jewish Community, and I hope and pray that the storms of the past two weeks will ultimately serve to deepen and strengthen our relationship, one with another. This is a time when I would urge all Christian people to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters in countering the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents being reported, not least here in the UK. This is also a time for people of faith, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, to work together in that open, robust partnership that will help to promote peace and justice in our communities, our nation and the wider world."

ENDS

Further information

Stephen Sizer's written undertaking - PDF

Audio version of the statement - Soundcloud

Media Contact:

The Communications team

01483 790355 / 07500 042769 / comms@cofeguildford.org.uk 

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Contributed by the Revd Sarah Hutton, Spiritual Growth Facilitator for the diocese

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

Isaiah 55:1

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