Stephen Sizer: is this behaviour befitting the leader of an evangelical church?
Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer is the vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, a Church of England church in the Diocese of Guildford. Since July 2011 he's posted links on his blog or Facebook page to four openly anti-Semitic websites: the Palestine Telegraph, The Ugly Truth, Veterans Today, and Window into Palestine. In November he received a warning from his bishop, Christopher Hill, about his link to The Ugly Truth, but he didn't remove it until 4th January 2012, after being put under pressure by the Jewish Chronicle.
That looks bad. What's his side of the story?
When the Council of Christians and Jews released a statement condemning Dr Sizer, both for posting a link to The Ugly Truth, and then for the delay in removing it, the Diocese of Guildford issued the following rebuttal: 'The allegation, as the Bishop understands it, is that Mr Sizer did not withdraw his reference swiftly enough once the nature of the website had been pointed out to him. The Bishop was informed by Mr Sizer that he had taken earlier steps to withdraw the reference, but that these had not effectively removed it, until January of this year.'
Sounds a bit unlikely - it's not hard to remove a link. But I suppose it could be true couldn't it?
Well, people must have told Dr Sizer they thought it was unlikely, because he decided to change his story completely. He put this statement on his blog: 'On 4 October 2011, I posted a link to a ... website which I now know contained scurrilous and offensive material. I was made aware of this on 3 January 2012 as a result of an enquiry by the Jewish Chronicle. I could not find the link and assumed, wrongly, that I had removed it. I found it on 4 January 2012 and removed it immediately ... I have explained here how and when the link came to my attention. It did not come to my attention before then.'
So which of those stories is true, the first one where he tries and fails to remove the link after the November warning from his bishop, or the second one where he only hears he's linked to a racist site on 3rd January, the day before he removes the link?
Well we know for certain that the second story isn't true because Rev. Mark Heather from the Diocese of Guildford has confirmed that in November 2011 (i.e. six weeks before the link was removed) Dr Sizer sent an email acknowledging receipt of Bp Christopher Hill's warning about his link to The Ugly Truth.
OK, so he's publicised four different racist websites, failed to remove one of those links for six weeks after being warned about it by his bishop, and then told at least one outright lie to try to get out of trouble - why is he still a Church of England vicar?
Good question. Ask the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership: Rev. William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev. Trevor Archer of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, Rev. Iain Broomfield of Christ Church Bromley, Rev. Richard Coekin of the Co-Mission network of churches, Rev. Charles Dobbie of Holy Trinity Lyonsdown, Nick McQuaker of Christ Church Haywards Heath, Brian O’Donoghue of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev John Ross of Farnham Baptist Church, and Rev. Simon Smallwood of St George’s Dagenham. If they excluded Dr Sizer's church from their organisation it's hard to imagine the congregation of Christ Church Virginia Water continuing to stand by their man. But according to the SEGP Committee, there are 'no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen.'
Shame on them. They wouldn't have defended him if he'd linked to Ku Klux Klan or BNP websites. Anti-Semitism must be less important to them. How about the Church of England itself - has it issued a statement?