A VICAR in Surrey, the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer, who was linked to
an online article suggesting that Israel was responsible for the
9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, has been forbidden from speaking or
writing about the Middle East again, or risk losing his job.
Dr Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, in Surrey,
last month posted a link on his Facebook page to an article, "9/11:
Israel did it" (News, 6
February), thus breaking an undertaking he had made last year
to have his online activism moderated. On Monday, the Bishop of
Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, announced that he had given
Dr Sizer an ultimatum: stop your activism over the Israel-Palestine
conflict, or lose your parish.
In a statement, he said: "I do not believe that [Dr Sizer's]
motives are anti-Semitic; but I have concluded that, at the very
least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgement. 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
Bishop Watson said that Dr Sizer had apologised and retracted
the suggestion that Israel was involved in 9/11. "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," he said.
In a letter to Bishop Watson, Dr Sizer apologised for the
"distress" he had caused to the Jewish community and the Church.
"As a minister of the gospel it is not my role to create
controversy but to seek to maintain unity between the faith
communities," he wrote. He declined to comment further when
contacted on Monday.
Dr Sizer has promised Bishop Watson in writing that he would not
speak or write about anything connected to the conflict in the
Middle East, nor would he attend or promote conferences about the
issue. If he breaches this agreement, he has agreed to tender his
resignation to Bishop Watson. He has also agreed to stop using all
social media for the next six months.
Interviewed on Monday, Bishop Watson said that the diocese had
considered proceeding against Dr Sizer under the Clergy Discipline
Measure. They chose an informal agreement because of the need for a
Bishop Watson said it was preferable, "particularly with
anti-Semitic attacks on the rise in the UK", to find a resolution
that would satisfy the "natural outcry from the Jewish community"
without having to begin legal proceedings, which would have been
long, given that Dr Sizer has the freehold of his benefice.
The agreement has real "teeth" in it, Bishop Watson said, and
the publicity surrounding it would ensure that Dr Sizer kept his
"I think he was very pleased with the suggestion it was either
his parish ministry or his pro-Palestine [activism]," Bishop Watson
said. "He could have stepped down from being a parish priest, but
he was very clear he wanted to continue his ministry.
"He is certainly hugely remorseful, and embarrassed and ashamed
by it. He has been shocked by his own stupidity."
Dr Sizer has been in trouble in the past. In 2013, the Board of
Deputies of British Jews made a formal complaint against him,
accusing him of linking to anti-Semitic websites (News, 25 October
2013). The complaint was resolved through conciliation, part of
which involved Dr Sizer's committing to having three people monitor
his online activity and any websites he links to.
The previous year he was investigated by Surrey Police after
posting allegedly anti-Semitic content online. The Crown
Prosecution Service decided, however, that he had not committed any
criminal offence (News, 16 March 2013).
Bishop Watson also said in his statement that he was "hugely
sorry" for the hurt caused to the Jewish community by Dr Sizer's
actions. "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," he said.
The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) said in a statement
that it welcomed Bishop Watson's decision, as Dr Sizer's activities
had been a "source of grave concern".
"We are grateful for the seriousness and clarity with which the
diocese of Guildford has addressed this case, since this sends a
clear message that Christians have a duty to identify and challenge
anti-Semitism in all its forms," the CCJ's director, Jane Clements,