Stephen Sizer engaged in 'conduct unbecoming' and antisemitic activity, Church tribunal rules

Rev Dr Stephen Sizer(Photo: YouTube/Stephen Sizer)

Prominent evangelical, Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, engaged in antisemitic activity and "conduct unbecoming" of an ordained minister, a Church of England tribunal has ruled.

Dr Sizer was brought before the disciplinary Tribunal after a complaint of antisemitism by Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made to the then Bishop of Winchester in 2018. 

The Tribunal's judgment was published on Tuesday following a hearing in May during which Dr Sizer denied that he had engaged in antisemitic activity or conducted himself in an unbecoming or inappropriate way.

A total of 11 allegations against Dr Sizer were considered. They included his involvement in events and conferences, social media posts, comments made on Australian radio, and a 2006 meeting with senior Hezbollah commander, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk.

Seven allegations were rejected but the Tribunal concluded that the meeting with the sheikh was conduct unbecoming and inappropriate.

"The Tribunal considers that the Respondent's meeting with Sheikh Kaouk is an example of where he did not take into account his role as a public representative of the Church, and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community. It showed an extraordinary lack of sensitivity to be photographed in clerical dress meeting Sheikh Kaouk," it said. 

Only one count was found by the Tribunal to be antisemitic activity - promoting the idea that Israel was behind the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 by posting a link in January 2015 to an article entitled "9-11/Israel did it"  which blamed Israel for the attacks.

The tribunal said that the article was "highly repellent" and "truly shocking" in its tone and content.

"In the Tribunal's opinion, [Dr Sizer] is someone who believes passionately in the rights of Christian Palestinians, and other Palestinians, sometimes to the exclusion of values that he knows or should have known that he is required to uphold as an ordained minister," the judgment reads.

"On occasions the Tribunal has concluded that he pushed the boundaries beyond what was acceptable conduct, and in January 2015, he engaged in antisemitic activity, when he knew, as the tribunal finds, that the article he was posting was virulently antisemitic."

It added, "[The Tribunal] does consider that there is regrettably a pattern of behaviour which falls short of the standard to which the Respondent should have aspired as an ordained minister."

A penalty will now be determined by the Tribunal. 

Dr Sizer said in a statement: "I am most grateful to the Tribunal for the careful way in which they approached the evidence and reached their conclusions.

"I accept those conclusions and the criticisms of my conduct, and apologise unreservedly for the hurt and offence caused.

"As I said at the time, I am particularly sorry that I posted a link on Facebook in January 2015 to an article blaming Israel for 9/11, and repeat my apology for the deep hurt that my conduct caused. 

"I do not propose to say any more at this juncture as I pray and reflect further."

Ms van der Zyl commended the Tribunal's decision.

"I am grateful to the Tribunal for accepting the evidence of the Board of Deputies. The Board will always act to defend and protect the Jewish community," she said. 

Responding to the judgment, the acting Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Debbie Sellin, said, "The Church of England, together with our partners in ecumenical and interfaith working, is committed to building cohesive communities and fostering strong interfaith relations built on trust and respect.

"As Archbishop Justin Welby said in 2018, in a joint letter with other Christian and Jewish leaders, antisemitism has no place in our society and those in positions of power and influence must listen to concerns about it."