Angela Winter

When Jew-haters call themselves Christian

The Church of England has banned the Israel-hating vicar Stephen Sizer from Anglican ministry for 12 years. It took them long enough (the Board of Deputies of British Jews filed their complaints back in 2018), and I don’t think the ban goes far enough, but I applaud Canterbury’s decision.

I note that the British Jewish community has graciously thanked the Church of England for taking action. Can the rest of us pause now, and ask how it came about that the British Jews were the ones who made the formal complaint—why wasn’t it the British Christians and other Anglican clergy who expressed alarm about Sizer’s Israel-bashing, his excuses for hanging out with Holocaust deniers, his endorsement of conspiracy theories that blame Jews for 9/11?  (Perhaps they did, but not loud enough that the Church had to pay attention?)

I have more questions:

Will Christians who support anti-Israel conferences like Christ at the Checkpoint (BDS-supported gatherings where frequently Sizer has been a speaker) now determine whether Sizer’s beliefs are antisemitic, and how that should impact evangelical support for Christ at the Checkpoint events going forward? Will influential Christian universities like evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois (which has hosted Sizer in the past) now inform their students of Sizer’s suspension and the reasons for it?  And what about Sizer’s anti-Zionist books on the shelves of libraries in mainline Episcopal churches and colleges in the United States—will there be any acknowledgement that they are there, that they are controversial? 

I suspect not. With the notable exception of Protestant dispensationalists and a handful of Calvinists, most American Protestants, including most Anglicans, don’t leap to the defense of Jewish people. Nor is concern for Jews particularly high on the radar of many Catholics who, despite the Church’s official renunciation of the deicide charge, continue to think of Jews as the people who killed Christ. The remnant of this ancient anti-Judaism has never engendered the warm fuzzies for Jews within the hearts of average Christians. Now, thanks to a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestiniain conflict within many Protestant churches and most universities in the US and Britain, the younger generation is inclined to think of the Jews as the Evil Oppressors. 

I am acquainted with some brilliant and devout English Anglicans, and the reflexive anti-Jewish stance beneath their polite exteriors still dismays me. But it shouldn’t. I read the British newspapers; I’m aware that antisemitism is a growing problem in the UK (as it is everywhere else these days), including among the British upper classes, where it seems to be a permanent fixture.

Years ago, I read Stephen Sizer’s books while I was researching a thesis about evangelical responses to the Holocaust. At the time, I never wrote a letter or made a phone call to make my objections known. I seethed in private. To my knowledge—and shame—British churches were not then bombarding Canterbury with objections to Sizer’s entire oeuvre. 

It’s long past time for Christians of good will and moral conscience to start paying attention to antisemitism. We Jesus-followers need to respond loudly whenever we encounter an openly Jew-hating anti-Zionist within our fold. As Deborah Lipstadt recently wrote: “We must condemn all antisemites as dangerous, and also call out those who do not. In the face of evil, there is no neutrality.” Christians love to quote theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act.” (It appears Bonhoeffer didn’t actually say this, but he did, eventually, both speak and act, and was executed by the Nazi regime for following his conscience.)

We, too, have been called to hone our consciences. Even though we may we hesitate to accuse other Christians—especially our clergy—of wrongdoing, we must speak. The tribal desire to protect one’s own runs deep, as does the sense that the Jewish “other” has little to do with us. Nevertheless, we must resist our natural reticence. Because sometimes public accountability is the only helpful or honest response, and surely the increasing societal acceptance of antisemitism and violence against Jews makes a case for public accountability now. As followers of a Jewish Messiah, Christians are called to bring light, to educate ourselves about the realities of antisemitism, and to love our Jewish neighbors. More critically, we are called to bring hate into the light, to denounce that hatred in public. We must do this especially when Jew-haters call themselves Christian.

About the Author
Angela Winter is a former features reporter with The Baltimore Sun who teaches classes in churches about the history of Christian antisemitism. She writes about Jewish-Christian relations, Protestant Christian theology, and the Holocaust.
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