See photos taken at the Lambeth Palace book launch here
Heartened by the recent historic meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the United Nations, signaling a long-overdue thawing of Anglo-Iranian relations, I was delighted to attend the New Horizons interfaith conference in Tehran last week, as a member of a UK delegation.
The conference addressed issues where faith and politics intersect in the Middle East such as Israel’s war on Gaza, Islamophobia in the West as well as the rise of ISIS and those sponsoring extremism.
“There is no teleology in western society, no guiding morality, only an obsession with materialism,” argued organizer Arash Darya-Bandari. “We believe it is necessary to control the negative tendencies in culture, such as pornography, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, to strive towards a more moral and justice society.”
One of the contributors, Eric Walberg wrote, “Contrary to the shrill cries in the western media that the conference was anti-Semitic, it was unique in my experience in addressing Zionism and US imperialism forthrightly and intelligently, without a hint of racism. The issue of anti-Semitism was addressed and dismissed, as “There is no issue with Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” explained Darya-Bandari, “but rather with Zionism, that secular distortion of Judaism that itself is racist, and has been used as a pretext to dispossess and kill Palestinians.”
He went on to report, “The conference issued a resolution condemning ISIS, Zionism, US unconditional support of Israel, Islamophobia, and calling for activism locally to boycott Israeli goods and to promote understanding between the West and the Muslim world, and to fight sectarianism. “This was a great opportunity to meet anti-imperialist activists from around the world, to bring Russians, Poles, western Europeans, North Americans together with Iranians and other Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, in a forum without sectarianism, truly supporting peace and understanding,” said delegate Mateusz Piskorski, director of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw and former MP in the Polish Sejm.”
I was invited to contribute to the opening ceremony and present a biblical perspective on Jihad and in particular, a Christian refutation of the Islamic State (IS). Later in the conference I was asked to present a paper on the impact of the Israel Lobby in the UK, especially in parliament and in the media, ahead of the publication of my new book on the subject.
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Ambassadors, of necessity serve in foreign countries, where perspectives may be different and at times even hostile to one’s own. But given the dire consequences of any breakdown in relations between countries, dialogue and diplomacy are always to be preferred over war and strife.
In the journal Diplomat, Michael Binyon asks,
“Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight to Nigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property…
Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.”
A walk through the deserted US embassy in Tehran last week was a poignant reminder of how a failure to pursue diplomacy has fueled not only decades of missed opportunities but also perpetuated misunderstanding and animosity between our countries.
Ironically, the leaders in Jesus day, tried to dictate whom he could and could not meet with, criticizing him for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. Clearly they considered his actions “conduct unbecoming” a rabbi. Thankfully for us he did not listen to them.
Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran.
They would be better served following the examples set by our Prime Minister, the Pope and the Archbishop who, as true ambassadors, are working for peace and reconciliation.
“Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque – a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’” was the ominous headline in the Independent newspaper, 27th February 2014.
Ben Lynfield writes, “The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there. 500 metres by 300 metres, the Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif as it is called in Arabic, is probably the most disputed plot of land on earth. Hal Lindsey claims, ‘I believe the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.’
Many Christians share the belief that the Islamic shrines must be destroyed and that a Jewish Temple must and will be rebuilt – very soon. But this won’t be a museum replica of the one king Solomon built or be just another attraction for pilgrims to the Holy Land. No, this Temple will be built for one purpose and one purpose only – for bloody animal sacrifices, and lots of them.
What is the case for rebuilding the Jewish Temple? Does the Bible predict such an event? If so, where and how it might be built? What does the New Testament say on the subject? What are the implications for Christians should the Jewish Temple be rebuilt? Continue reading
The film, “The Stones Cry Out” is being shown at Christ Church, Virginia Water, on Saturday 8th February at 7:30pm. Refreshments will be served from 7:00pm.
Yasmine Perni, the producer, will be with us and answer questions after the film is shown and Troubedor, singer and song writer, Garth Hewitt will be singing songs of Palestine.
The Stones Cry Out gives a detailed account of the historical, cultural, and political place occupied by Christians in the recent history of the Palestinian nation, and in its struggle against colonialism.
Covering a broad sweep of history, from 1948 to the present day, Yasmine’s documentary includes interviews with preeminent leaders, scholars, and activists, and conveys some of the very specific challenges faced by Christians living in Palestine today.
Watch the trailer with Archbishop Elias Chacour here
There is no charge or tickets, but a retiring collection will be taken to help cover Yasmine’s travel expenses.
The Israeli government and a variety of Zionist organisations have long been pouring huge resources into “hasbara,” meaning “advocacy” or “propaganda” in Hebrew. This involves both promoting a positive image of Israel and hounding and intimidating those they say are guilty of the “new anti-Semitism,” which amounts in practice to any criticism of Israeli policies and actions.
The bodies involved in this hasbara campaign range from the immensely powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to internet-based organisations such as Honest Reporting, BBC Watch and the Jewish Internet Defence Force, and poisonous personal blogs.
Christian churches, having by definition a special interest in the Holy Land and what is happening there, are increasingly coming under fire from such sources for noting and deploring Israel’s policies of oppression and dispossession, which affect Christians and Muslims alike.
Methodists in the US and the UK have for years been outspoken in their concern over the plight of the Palestinian people. The report Justice for Palestine and Israel, presented to the 2010 Methodist conference, was harshly criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbi and the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ).
My book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church has been published in Korean by Christian Literature Crusade (CLC).
You can download a PDF copy of Seven Biblical Answers (Korean).
And you can buy the book from Christian Literature Crusade (CLC) in Seoul.
My dear Bishop Christopher,
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
I am encouraged to write and share my heart with you because I know your graciousness, fairness and great pastoral heart so I am writing to you in support of my friend Revd Dr Stephen Sizer to express my concern that the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) complaint brought against him has not yet been resolved. I understand that this complaint, brought by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has been hanging over Stephen for almost a year. This has undoubtedly caused him considerable stress, especially given the serious nature of the complaint, and he has also been obliged to cover legal fees running to several thousands of pounds. Justice would surely demand that this complaint is dealt with speedily and is not allowed to drag on any longer. Stephen shared with me that you have been pastorally very supportive of him.
I met Stephen in Egypt on several occasions. When I have heard him talk or translated for him on the subject of Christian Zionism he has always spoken with great Biblical insight and sensitivity on this important but controversial topic. Indeed, we are pleased to have been able to publish his books in Arabic through our Anglican Publishing House and make them more widely available in the Middle East.
I am quite clear in my own mind that Stephen is not anti-Semitic, nor has he said or written anything that could possibly be construed to be anti-Semitic. Thus the central thrust of the Board of Deputies’ complaint – that Stephen has made anti-Semitic statements and/or republished the anti-Semitic sentiment of others –simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
I would appeal to you to dismiss the CDM complaint, which from my perspective – and indeed the perspective of many others – has no basis whatsoever. This will allow Stephen to concentrate on his ministry in Virginia Water, where he is a much-loved pastor, and on his wider ministry, including his prophetic writings and balanced teaching on Christian Zionism and the biblical call to justice, peace and reconciliation, which we all work for in the Anglican Communion.
Please know that this letter comes with my heartfelt prayers that you will act wisely and choose the course of justice.
May the Lord bless you!
+ Mouneer Egypt
The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis
Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
President Bishop of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East
nb. This letter was written before the conciliation process was concluded and permission for its publication was given by both + Mouneer Anis and + Christopher Hill.
I am very happy to announce that following meetings with conciliators appointed by the Bishop of Guildford, the complaint brought against me by the Board of Deputies of British Jews has been resolved on terms set out in the Conciliation Agreement.
Whilst pleased that this matter is now concluded, I am saddened that it has taken so long to reach this stage. Towards the end of 2011, concerns were raised about an article on my Facebook page which linked to a website named “the Ugly Truth.” In recognition of those concerns, I offered to meet leaders of the Jewish community but this offer was never taken up. Instead, in October 2012, Mr Arkush on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made a formal complaint against me alleging “a clear and consistent pattern” of misconduct “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office a work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.
The Board of Deputies also took the unprecedented step of publishing it in full on their website. I refrained from publishing my formal Response until the complaint was resolved. I am therefore doing so today.
The complaint alleged that I had made anti-Semitic statements and had deliberately introduced my readers to anti-Semitic websites. I have always maintained that these allegations were untrue and am confident that I would have been vindicated had I been forced to contest them at a clergy disciplinary tribunal. That said, I am pleased that these issues have sensibly been resolved.
As many will be aware, I have long been an enthusiastic user of new media. 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 with such material. It is for this reason that I have undertaken to take greater care over links in the future. In addition, my blog now contains a disclaimer identical to that which appears on the Board of Deputies’ Fair Play website.
It is my sincere wish that disputes such as this will be avoided in the future. The conciliation agreement includes a number of principles that we agree those engaged in political debate should follow. They emphasize that free speech does not cease to be legitimate simply because it might cause offence to some, whilst at the same time affirming that care and sensitivity should be employed in the use of language. As someone who has been virulently attacked in the past for my political and theological views, I will do my best to abide by these principles, but my hope is that my critics will do so too.
I care passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders. I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial as well as Islamophobia and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination and will continue to do so.
Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers and to fulfil a ministry of reconciliation. The New Testament reinforces the mandate of the Jewish prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Revd Dr Stephen Sizer
Christ Church, Virginia Water
23rd October 2013
Jeremy Moodey of Embrace the Middle East writes “Stephen … has an outstanding legal bill of almost £4,000 as he has sought to respond to the BoD’s bullying. The defence fund is in my name, audited by Steve Leah. Please give what you can to support the right of free speech.”
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