Last weekend the Revd Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water appeared at an anti-Israel meeting with an Islamist called Ismail Patel. Patel has not only accused Israel of ‘genocide’ and ‘war crimes’ but considers Disney to be a Jewish plot and supports Hamas, Iran and Syria.
Sizer is a virulent opponent of Christian Zionism and of Israel, which he has said he hopes will disappear just as did the apartheid regime in South Africa. He has also applauded Iranian President Ahmadinejad for having ‘looked forward to the day when Zionism ceased to exist’. Nevertheless, the appearance of an Anglican churchman on a pro-Islamist platform in Britain is a new and significant development. The Church of England recently banned its clergy from joining the BNP; should it not equally ban them from siding with the forces of Islamofascism?
Sizer’s participation, however, must be seen in the context of a disturbing realignment in the services of the forces of darkness against the free world: the emergence of an axis between a body of evangelicals, the hard left, the Islamists — and the far right.
Last July, a discreet meeting was held by a group of influential Anglican evangelicals to co-ordinate a new church approach towards Islam. The meeting was convened by Bryan Knell, head of the missionary organisation Global Connections, and others from a group calling itself Christian Responses to Islam in Britain. The 22 participants, who met at All Nations Christian College in Ware, Hertfordshire, were sworn to secrecy. The aim of the meeting was to develop the ‘grace approach to Islam’, which ‘tries to let Muslims interpret Islam rather than telling them what their religion teaches’. The meeting had in its sights those ‘aggressive’ Christians who were ‘increasing the level of fear’ in many others by talking about the threat posed by radical Islam.
The aim was thus to discredit and stifle those Christians who warn against the Islamisation of Britain and Islam’s threat to the church. Those who do so include the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, the Africa specialist Baroness Cox, the Islam expert Dr Patrick Sookhdeo and the Maranatha Ministry. A few weeks ago, Dr Sookhdeo became a spectacular victim of precisely such a discrediting process. Dr Sookhdeo, an Anglican canon, a Muslim convert and one of this country’s premier authorities on Islam, runs the Barnabas Fund, an aid agency helping persecuted Christians. He has written many books about Islam of which the latest is Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam.
In January the website of Fulcrum, an evangelical group, carried a review of Global Jihad by Ben White, a frequent contributor to the Guardian. His review rubbished Sookhdeo’s scholarship on the grounds that he had identified a theological problem with Islam when Islamic aggression was rooted instead in global grievances, particularly the existence and behaviour of Israel. To cap a farrago of ignorance and historical illiteracy, White tried to damn Sookhdeo by association, citing ‘hard-line conservatives and pro-Israel right-wingers’ who endorsed his work as proof that Sookhdeo was beyond the pale.
White then drew his review to the attention of a blogger, Islamist and Muslim convert called Indigo Jo. On his website, Indigo Jo anathematised Sookhdeo as the ‘Sookhdevil’. This attack was reproduced on various other Islamist websites and Sookhdeo has received a death threat as a result.
So why should Christians betray another Christian to radical Islamists? Fulcrum have denied any connection to the Indigo Jo site along with any intention to discredit Sookhdeo. They say they merely wanted to ‘provide a forum’ to discuss the issues raised by his book. But why use Ben White, who clearly knows little about Islam, to review a book by an Islam scholar? A recurring thread of White’s writing is his hatred of Israel. He justifies Palestinian terrorism against Israel as legitimate self-defence to bring about the ‘decolonisation and liberation from occupation and Zionist apartheid’. He says he can ‘understand’ why some people are unpleasant towards Jews because of Israel’s ‘ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians’ and also ‘the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media’.
Enter at this point the non-evangelical, secular Left in the shape of Andrew Brown, who joined White’s onslaught against Sookhdeo on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website. Brown claimed of Sookhdeo’s supporters that they constructed ‘a closed mirror-world of hatred to stand against the Islamist one’.
Brown’s article, too, seemed to be driven by hostility to anyone who supported Israel. His objection to Sookhdeo was principally that ‘in practice the Sookhdeo view of Islam is always coupled with a stance in favour of the greater Israel’ — which enabled Brown to make a witty crack insinuating that the Jews were ‘people who are instructed by their religion to be violent, treacherous and imperialist’.
There has long been a notable crossover between the Left and the Islamists, who bury their considerable differences because of their all-consuming hatred of Israel and the West — and in which they find an echo in neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. But what’s new in this explosive mix is the presence of Christian evangelicals. What is extraordinary, moreover, is the targeting by Christian missionaries such as Brian Knell of Sookhdeo, a principal campaigner to end the death sentence for Muslim converts to Christianity. So why are such evangelicals trying to destroy people who are defending Christianity against Islamist aggression?
The answer lies in a profound split amongst evangelicals: between Christian Zionists who love Israel and want to defend the church against the predations of radical Islam, and those who want Israel to be destroyed and radical Islam appeased. Brian Knell, for example, blames Israel’s ‘institutionalised terrorism’ for the radicalisation of Muslims worldwide. He thus ignores Islamist statements about the innate perfidy of the secular West, the cosmic evil of the Jews throughout history and the need to impose doctrinal purity upon other Muslims in the face of Western modernity.
The warped obsession with Israel is fundamental to these evangelicals’ desire to accommodate radical Islamism. Another participant at the All Nations meeting was Colin Chapman, the father of the UK movement against Christian Zionism — and whose animosity is rooted in a theological prejudice against the Jews. Chapman’s hugely influential book, Whose Promised Land, resurrects the ancient Christian canard of ‘supercessionism’ — the belief that because the Jews denied the divinity of Christ, God transferred His favours to the Christians while the Jews were cast out as the party of the Devil. This doctrine lay behind centuries of Christian anti-Jewish hatred until the Holocaust drove it underground.
In his book, Chapman writes that violence has always been implicit in Zionism and that Jewish self-determination is somehow racist. He also subscribes to the canard of sinister Jewish power. He has written: ‘Six million Jews in the USA have an influence that is out of all proportion to their numbers in the total population of 281 million… It is widely recognised, for example, that no one could ever win the presidential race without the votes and the financial support of substantial sections of the Jewish community.’
It is a sobering fact that such a subscriber to anti-Jewish prejudice should
be so influential in the church. And such thinking has many followers, including Stephen Sizer. ‘The covenant between Jews and God,’ he has written, ‘was conditional on their respect for human rights. The reason they were expelled from the land was that they were more interested in money and power and treated the poor and aliens with contempt’. And he has denied validity to Judaism itself saying: ‘to suggest …that the Jewish people continue to have a special relationship with God, apart from faith in Jesus …is, in the words of [the leading Anglican evangelical] John Stott, “biblically anathema”.’
And now look at other groups with which Sizer is making common cause in his hatred of Israel and the Jews. He has given interviews to, endorsed or forwarded material from American white supremacists and Holocaust deniers. Last year, he sent an article printed in the Palestine Chronicle about the alleged influence of ‘Israel in Washington’ through ‘powerful overtly Jewish Washington organisations and, increasingly, through Christian Zionist organisations’ to an appreciative Martin Webster, the former leader of the neo-Nazi National Front.
Many will be deeply shocked that the Church of England harbours individuals with such attitudes. But the church hierarchy is unlikely to act against them. Extreme hostility towards Israel is the default position among bishops and archbishops; while the establishment line is to reach out towards Islam in an attempt to accommodate and appease it. With Christians around the world suffering forced conversion, ethnic cleansing and murder at Islamist hands, the church utters not a word of protest. Instead, inter-faith dialogue is the order of the day, with Canon Graham Kings — the theological secretary of Fulcrum, no less — a key player in Anglican inter-faith work. And now Israel’s war against Hamas has had a pivotal effect. There is now a widespread sense that Israel must finally be defeated once and for all — and then the Islamists will calm down.
It is horrifying that so many in the church should be preaching against the victims of Jew-hatred and Islamist violence and seeking to accommodate those who stand for the persecution of Christians, the destruction of western and Christian values and the genocide of the Jews. It is horrifying that the church is providing a platform for the dissemination of lies about Israel and ancient theological bigotry against the Jews. And it is horrifying that it contains people who are not just virulently hostile towards Israel but also towards anyone who supports it.
Given the common but no less odious view that British Jews who support Israel are guilty of ‘dual loyalty’, it would seem that the church is truly supping with the devil and setting the stage for a repeat of an ancient tragedy.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated March 7, 2009