Church Society and Antisemitism: A failure of leadership

Nick Howard
19 min readNov 12, 2020


A year ago, on 8th November, 2019, the Jewish Chronicle — the world’s oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper — had an unusual front cover. With its eyes on the upcoming UK general election, the Chronicle’s cover article was ‘addressed not to our usual readers but to those who would not normally read the Jewish Chronicle. In other words, to non-Jews.’ The Chronicle began by highlighting the results of a poll that found that 47 percent of British Jews said they would seriously consider emigrating if Labour won the election, because (according to the same poll) 87 percent considered Jeremy Corbyn to be an antisemite. The article then explained why Jewish people took that view of Corbyn, beginning with the following sentence: ‘Throughout his career, he has allied with and supported antisemites such as Paul Eisen, Stephen Sizer and Raed Salah.’ The second person on that list, Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, is a former trustee of Church Society. And until 28th July 2020 (and then only under duress), Church Society had never uttered a word of criticism against its former trustee.

Stephen Sizer enjoyed a prominent, IVP-published career at the centre of conservative evangelical Anglicanism while simultaneously gaining a reputation for antisemitism — indeed, such unambiguous antisemitism that Jeremy Corbyn’s willingness to support him was evidence of Corbyn’s own antisemitism. The widespread failure of conservative evangelical organisations and their leaders to take a stand against Dr Sizer has been documented elsewhere. This article focuses more narrowly on Church Society and its current director, Rev Dr Lee Gatiss. Our intention in writing is to analyse Church Society’s failure to take action against antisemitism, in the hope that meaningful steps might at last be taken by Church Society’s council.


In January 2015, Dr Sizer shared a link on his Facebook page to a conspiracy theory blaming Israel for the 9/11 terror attacks. Dr Sizer has a PhD for his work on Christian Zionism, which means he has doctoral-level experience in weighing sources for accuracy and objectivity. But the article he promoted had no academic or investigative merit. Its source was the antisemitic conspiracy theory website Wikispooks, which not only blames 9/11 on Israel, but also disseminates material that supposedly disproves what it terms the ‘Official Narrative of the Holocaust’.

Dr Sizer’s 9/11 post was the latest in a string of similar actions. By that time he had already been publicly accused of antisemitism by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Community Security Trust.

The UK media immediately recognised that Dr Sizer’s 9/11 post was a story worthy of national attention. It was covered in The Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Mirror, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail. (By way of comparison, the only national newspapers to cover the abuse perpetrated by Rev Jonathan Fletcher were the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.)

Not surprisingly, that national publicity led to a discussion about Dr Sizer in the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference (JAEC) Facebook group. This 395-member group is run by Church Society, and Rev Dr Lee Gatiss exerts personal control over it via his position as the group’s most senior moderator. In an age when many people turn to social media as their main news source, the JAEC group is a highly influential forum for young evangelical Anglicans. As with all such groups, any contribution from the senior moderator can guide the whole drift of opinion on a topic.

How, then, did Dr Gatiss seek to steer the members of the JAEC group on the subject of Stephen Sizer? He signalled his view of the controversy by ‘liking’ a comment that defended Dr Sizer’s dissemination of antisemitic material on free speech grounds. The comment also excused Dr Sizer for posting links to racist websites on the basis that this was only ‘second degree association’. By ‘liking’ that extraordinary comment, Dr Gatiss communicated to the hundreds of future evangelical Anglican leaders in the JAEC group that — in his view — Stephen Sizer’s activity didn’t warrant a severe punitive response.

Church Society exists, according to its website, ‘to reform and renew the Church of England in biblical faith.’ Given the Bible’s emphasis on maintaining a good reputation among outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7), it would have been entirely appropriate for Church Society to have made a public statement in 2015 criticising Dr Sizer and expressing sympathy and support for British Jews. Church Society could also have built a coalition of interested parties with the aim of persuading the congregation and lay leaders of Christ Church Virginia Water that their vicar should no longer receive their backing. But there was no Church Society statement or coalition-building. Instead Church Society demonstrated a total lack of concern about the impact of Dr Sizer’s antisemitism on Jewish people and the inevitable unravelling of evangelical–Jewish relations. Church Society’s apathy is one of the reasons why Dr Sizer was allowed to continue unhindered by his fellow conservative evangelical Anglicans.

Five years later, on 28 July 2020, Dr Gatiss revisited the subject of Stephen Sizer in a blogpost defending Church Society for its inaction. He refused to apologise for that inaction and also failed to communicate any sympathy for British Jews for the ceaseless goading they had experienced at the hands of Dr Sizer — a former Church Society trustee. (This contrasts with the Bishop of Guildford, who had the decency to say, when he disciplined Dr Sizer, ‘I am hugely sorry for the hurt which has been caused to members of the Jewish Community.’) Worst of all, Dr Gatiss’s post didn’t even clearly identify Dr Sizer’s conduct as antisemitic. Instead he described Dr Sizer’s actions as ‘offensive and sometimes ridiculous.’ How will conservative evangelical Anglicans ever learn to take antisemitism seriously when its leaders remain solidly apathetic in the face of arguably the worst case of Christian antisemitism in Britain for decades?


We are mindful of the call in Colossians 3:12 to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Yet we are also conscious of the fierce anger demonstrated by Jesus and his apostles when it was warranted. Jesus did not shy away from pointing out hypocrisy when he encountered it (e.g. Matthew 6:2, 5; 23:13).

In this case, the charge of hypocrisy is based on comments made by Dr Gatiss in a Church Society podcast about racism that he himself mentions in his July 2020 blogpost about Dr Sizer. During the podcast, Dr Gatiss said, ‘I think we need to do a lot more listening than we tend to do on this subject. … We need to listen a lot more to the experience and history of Black and minority ethnic people. … We need to know and understand where people are coming from.’ Dr Gatiss’s colleague, Dr Ros Clarke, similarly said, ‘[We] absolutely want to be listening to some of those [Black and minority ethnic] voices.’

It is staggering to think that within two months of making those comments, Dr Gatiss had an opportunity to do the very things he had said needed to be done, and yet he didn’t do them. An article had accused Church Society of culpability in the Stephen Sizer antisemitism scandal through its failure to take any action. That article had named several British Jewish groups that had spoken out against Dr Sizer. Yet there is no indication that Dr Gatiss listened to any of them to hear what their experience had been, or to seek greater understanding of the antisemitic nature of Dr Sizer’s conduct. Why didn’t Dr Gatiss put his own words into practice and arrange a video call with a representative from the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities or the Jewish Leadership Council or the Community Security Trust?

We do not know how often Church Society is publicly accused of complicity in an ongoing case of racism, but we assume it happens rarely. Surely it cannot have escaped Dr Gatiss’s attention that less than two months after he had personally emphasized the importance of listening to ethnic minorities, ‘so that we know and understand where people are coming from’, he was in the middle of a situation where those words could and should be put into action? Why, then, didn’t he do what he had himself so recently prescribed? The gap between his words and his actions is worthy of the term hypocrisy.

Dr Gatiss will no doubt point to the Autumn 2020 edition of Church Society’s magazine Crossway, which addressed the subject of racism, as evidence that Church Society takes the problem seriously. We are glad the articles in that edition of Crossway were written and published. But it is easy and pleasant to commission articles from people who are already friendly to Church Society. It is much less gratifying to engage with an ethnic minority that has been on the receiving end of a former Church Society trustee’s racist conduct. In publishing a Crossway issue on racism, Church Society did something good but easy, while failing to do the hard work of listening — work that Dr Gatiss had himself identified as necessary.


Apathy and hypocrisy, as serious as they are, can be addressed and put right. This third accusation — that Dr Gatiss deliberately lied about his own knowledge of the Sizer scandal — is much more serious. We are conscious that, if proven (as we believe it can be), it is a disqualifying sin that would make it impossible for Dr Gatiss to continue in leadership of Church Society. It is no accident that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira is placed so prominently in the record of the earliest days of the Church (Acts 5:1–11). To lie to the Church is, in Peter’s words, ‘to lie to the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 5:3).

In the only section of Dr Gatiss’s July 2020 blogpost that addressed his own knowledge of the Sizer scandal, Dr Gatiss said,

‘I personally find many of the things now pointed out in [Stephen Sizer’s] social media and other engagements to be offensive and sometimes ridiculous. I don’t follow him on social media so had not seen these before, or had them pointed out to me as far as I can recall.’

Dr Gatiss’s words gave the impression that he hadn’t known about the Sizer scandal before reading the article to which he was responding—an article that told the story of the scandal and drew attention to the organisations that had failed to take action. Alternatively, his words could mean that he’d been vaguely aware of the scandal without knowing its details. In either case, it would be difficult to blame him for taking no action. Dr Gatiss’s claim of ignorance was therefore an attempt to sweep the scandal away from his desk. Yet evidence shows that Dr Gatiss certainly did know the main detail of the scandal—namely, that Dr Sizer spread antisemitic propaganda alleging Israeli involvement in the 9/11 attacks—and the idea that he might have forgotten that central detail is not credible.

Before we examine that evidence further, it’s important to note Dr Gatiss’s misleading suggestion that Dr Sizer’s activity was unknown beyond his circle of social media followers. That suggestion served Dr Gatiss’s purposes. If he had conceded that Dr Sizer was from 2012–2017 the most controversial conservative evangelical minister in the Church of England, he couldn’t then have said that he’d personally never known the details of Dr Sizer’s activity. Dr Gatiss’s job requires him to know what’s happening in the small world of conservative evangelicalism in the Church of England. In reality, Dr Sizer’s antisemitic activity was covered not only in The Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian, the Mirror, the Evening Standard, and the Daily Mail, but also in the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper; in The Spectator and Standpoint; and on the BBC website, the ITV News website, and the widely-read ‘Archbishop Cranmer’ blog. The coverage of Dr Sizer was so widespread that there is an issue of the Church of England Newspaper that includes both an article by Dr Gatiss and an article about the Sizer controversy; and an issue of the Church Times with a letter by Dr Gatiss and an article stating that Dr Sizer had been accused of antisemitic conduct! The nationwide coverage of the Sizer scandal was highlighted in the article to which Dr Gatiss was responding. But Dr Gatiss had to pretend the scandal was just a social media affair to make his claim of ignorance plausible. In doing so, he dishonestly minimised an antisemitism scandal that has severely damaged evangelical–Jewish relations.

Given such widespread coverage, it’s very reasonable to assume that Dr Gatiss was well aware of the scandal and knew some of its main details. That assumption is confirmed by the evidence showing that Dr Gatiss took part in the JAEC Facebook group’s debate about Stephen Sizer on 30 January 2015. As we have already mentioned, Dr Gatiss ‘liked’ a comment defending Dr Sizer. The comment discussed not only Dr Sizer’s 9/11 propaganda but also another detail of the scandal: Dr Sizer’s habit of posting links to antisemitic websites.

While it’s common for a person to take part in a Facebook discussion and then forget about what was discussed, we’ll now set out four reasons why the forgetfulness defence is not credible in this case.

(1) Dr Gatiss’s personal knowledge of Dr Sizer dates back to at least 2008; what Dr Gatiss learned about him in 2015 would have modified his existing knowledge of Dr Sizer in a highly memorable way.

On 1 October, 2008, Dr Gatiss and Dr Sizer were both among the speakers at an event co-hosted by Reform London and the London Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship. Dr Gatiss was the leader of Reform London at that time, and so he would have taken a close interest in the line-up of speakers at the event (he may even have chosen and invited the speakers himself). Dr Gatiss would have learned at that time, if he didn’t already know, that Dr Sizer was the leader of Christ Church Virginia Water, a prominent conservative evangelical Anglican church. (Christ Church has a large congregation and a long-standing conservative evangelical identity; it’s a financially-secure church, with a staff team and thriving ministries, and it’s situated near a university. All of those features make Christ Church stand out.) So when Dr Gatiss took part in the 2015 JAEC Facebook discussion, he was already personally acquainted with Dr Sizer. He knew that Dr Sizer held a notable position within the small world of conservative evangelical Anglicanism, which meant Dr Sizer had ongoing relevance for Church Society. When Dr Gatiss learned that Dr Sizer was attracting national publicity for spreading antisemitic propaganda about 9/11, his existing knowledge of Dr Sizer would have been lastingly modified by that volcanic information. One does not simply forget that an acquaintance has become infamous for spreading antisemitic propaganda.

(2) There is an unmissable allusion to the Sizer scandal right at the start of a pair of papers by Mike Ovey; Dr Gatiss demonstrably paid close attention to those papers.

The Sizer scandal was taken seriously by at least one member of Dr Gatiss’s circle: the late Rev Dr Mike Ovey, who was a member of Church Society’s council. In 2015, Dr Ovey wrote two papers on the subject of church leadership, and in the first of these papers he alluded to the Sizer scandal. Dr Gatiss paid careful attention to Dr Ovey’s papers, as demonstrated by his use since 2015 of the term ‘monarchical presbyters’. (This was a description, coined by Dr Ovey and used in the first of his papers, of overly-dominant Anglican church leaders.) Dr Gatiss also quoted from the second of Dr Ovey’s papers in a talk given at a Church Society conference in March 2020. Here is the opening paragraph of the first of Dr Ovey’s papers:

As I write this a senior evangelical church leader has been accused of anti-semitism. Guildford diocese is investigating. One evangelical leader has asked on the web whether UK conservative evangelicalism will put its house in order on this one, a request he has made before with respect to this particular leader over just this issue of anti-semitism. This raises rather neatly some of the many dimensions of our problems over oversight.

The only senior evangelical church leader accused of antisemitism in Guildford Diocese was Stephen Sizer. Dr Gatiss would have immediately connected Dr Ovey’s words with the details he had already encountered that same year via the JAEC Facebook group.

Dr Ovey held up this antisemitism case as emblematic of UK conservative evangelicalism’s difficulties with overseeing itself. Therefore, when Dr Gatiss read the paragraph quoted above, he couldn’t have dismissed it as someone else’s problem. He has himself said, ‘We must do better as a constituency at leading and governing ourselves.’

The significance of the Ovey papers is that they underline the relevance of the Sizer scandal to Dr Gatiss in his position as Church Society Director. On reading Dr Ovey’s words, Dr Gatiss would have considered the Sizer scandal in a professional capacity. He would have weighed up the pros and cons of taking a side. All of this would have further cemented Dr Sizer’s conduct in Dr Gatiss’s memory.

(3) One of Dr Gatiss’s closest ministry allies succeeded Dr Sizer at Christ Church Virginia Water in 2017.

When Dr Sizer retired in 2017, he was succeeded as vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water by Rev Dr Simon Vibert. Dr Vibert is one of five contributors to The Effective Anglican, a book edited by Dr Gatiss. Dr Vibert has also served on Church Society’s Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference Committee, a five-person committee chaired by Dr Gatiss. Dr Vibert was invited by Church Society to speak at the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference in 2014, 2017, and 2018. According to Dr Vibert’s personal website, he was until recently the Chairman of the Fellowship of Word and Spirit, and he is still listed as a trustee. The Fellowship of Word and Spirit holds an annual conference in partnership with Church Society, and it merged with Church Society in 2018. In brief, Dr Vibert is one of Dr Gatiss’s closest ministry allies.

Dr Gatiss would have been keenly aware of Dr Vibert’s departure from an influential post at Wycliffe Hall to become vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water. Both Dr Gatiss and Dr Vibert were among the speakers at the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference in 2017, the year in which Dr Vibert moved from Wycliffe Hall to Christ Church. Dr Gatiss would have been conscious that Dr Vibert’s arrival at Christ Church offered hope that a major evangelical parish church might be restored to normality following Dr Sizer’s troubled incumbency. (During Dr Sizer’s final months he had been banned by his bishop from all preaching, teaching, and service-leading.) Dr Gatiss and Dr Vibert would have spoken about these things, and they would have made Dr Gatiss’s existing knowledge of the Sizer scandal still harder for him to forget.

(4) Dr Gatiss had just read an article that would have refreshed his existing knowledge of the scandal.

The July 2020 blogpost in which Dr Gatiss claimed ignorance of the Sizer scandal was written in reply to an article about the scandal. Therefore Dr Gatiss was saying that even after reading that article, with its recap of the whole scandal, he couldn’t remember previously encountering any of the details of the scandal. Nothing in the article jogged his memory; nothing in the article rang a bell. That absurd claim is an insult to the people affected by the scandal: the British Jewish community.

Despite those four reasons why the forgetfulness defence is not credible, some might say Dr Gatiss should still be given the benefit of the doubt on the basis of his closing qualification, ‘as far as I can recall’. But it surely can’t be right to allow Christian leaders to deceive with impunity simply because they add the magic words ‘as far as I can recall’ at the end of their deception.

If it still seems difficult to imagine that a conservative evangelical leader would shamelessly break the ninth commandment to try to avoid scrutiny and accountability, consider the following pair of quotes about the Sizer scandal from Rev John Telford, a member of Church Society’s Council in 2015, when the scandal was at its height. The first is what he said about the scandal in July 2020 in another Facebook group that, like the JAEC group, serves as a forum for Church Society members. Rev Telford was eager to exonerate Church Society by pleading ignorance of the Stephen Sizer controversy:

When it was reported to us that a [Church Society] member was a white supremacist we acted as swiftly as we could whilst giving that chap a fair hearing. He was chucked out. Of course, we’d have had no idea about his views unless someone had tipped us off, which thankfully they did.

Had someone tipped us off about SS and helped us draw the lines between what he’d said and antisemitism then we’d have likewise called an extraordinary council meeting to investigate. Nobody tipped us off and so we weren’t aware. Neither he nor his work crossed our radar. Perhaps it would have done? I don’t know. But it didn’t and nobody wrote to us [or] emailed us at the time to tip us off.

‘We weren’t aware,’ John Telford says of Dr Sizer in July 2020. ‘Neither he nor his work crossed our radar.’ But now look at what John Telford said to Church Society’s JAEC Facebook group back in January 2015. No commentary is needed to explain the incompatibility between the preceding quote and the quote that follows (the end of the first sentence is removed because it contains some personal information):

I’ve been forced to follow media references to Stephen Sizer by some who, from time to time, ask me what I think … I think he obviously feels very strongly about the dangers of Christian Zionism. I mostly agree with him on this. However he gives the impression of being rather obsessed with it, which he’s probably not. I don’t think he’s anti-Semitic at all, but I do think he might have posted unwisely. The issue is that there are a number of fanatical Christian supporters of Israel who have systematically tried to out him in the media as anti-Semitic. They have linked to equally dubious websites, but nobody can out them as anything because it would be seen as anti-Semitic to do so. It’s a real mess and very sad because Stephen Sizer and his detractors would mostly describe themselves as evangelical Christians.

Facebook, for many people, is just a place for posting occasional family photos, and so it needs to be stressed that closed Facebook groups can act as highly influential discussion forums. The many Church Society members who read Rev Telford’s ‘nobody tipped us off’ Facebook comment would have concluded that Church Society council members had been wholly unaware of Dr Sizer’s antisemitic activity. That understanding of the Sizer scandal changes it from a scandal incorporating Church Society to a scandal that Church Society couldn’t possibly have addressed. Rev Telford’s comment therefore had real-world consequences: illegitimately absolving Church Society of responsibility. The truth is that both Dr Gatiss and Rev Telford knew about the Sizer scandal in 2015—‘I’ve been forced to follow media references to Stephen Sizer’—and yet Church Society’s council did nothing about it.

Let us remember that Stephen Sizer was himself at one time a trustee of Church Society, and he often resorted to dishonesty to avoid censure; that John Telford is a former member of Church Society’s council; and that Dr Gatiss is the current Church Society Director. When will Church Society’s council put a stop to this unending flow of Sizer-related deceit from former and current Church Society leaders? Or does truth-telling no longer matter to Church Society’s council?

The Stephen Sizer Scandal

We have no doubt that in years to come the Stephen Sizer scandal will be spoken of in the same breath as the John Smyth scandal and the Jonathan Fletcher scandal. The Sizer scandal may not have inflicted the same intensity of suffering on particular individuals. But the Jew-hating stirred up by Dr Sizer on the internet and through his speaking tours in places such as Iran and Malaysia has the potential to cause great harm to Jewish people. Terrorist organisations are funded by people whose convictions are reinforced at antisemitic conferences such as the Iranian Second New Horizon Conference, which Dr Sizer validated by his presence as one of the speakers. What’s more, Dr Sizer’s conduct destroyed for a generation any hope that British evangelicals might regain the trust of Jewish people after centuries of Christian antisemitism. Stephen Sizer is mentioned in no fewer than fifty-eight articles in the Jewish Chronicle.

In view of the equivalent seriousness of the Sizer scandal to the Smyth and Fletcher scandals, we ask British conservative evangelical Anglicans reading this article to consider how they would react to the following imagined scenario. A conservative evangelical Anglican leader claims never to have heard the details of the Jonathan Fletcher scandal until they were brought to his attention by an article criticising his organisation in connection with the scandal. Yet evidence proves that this leader is personally acquainted with Jonathan Fletcher, and, five years beforehand, he took part in a detailed Facebook debate about the Fletcher scandal. He also has an ongoing ministry partnership with Jonathan Fletcher’s successor at Emmanuel Wimbledon. Evidence also shows that this leader had closely engaged with a pair of papers written by a colleague in his own organisation, and those papers began by highlighting an abuse case that could instantly be identified as the Fletcher scandal. Would anyone believe that leader when he later defensively claimed not to have known the details of the Fletcher scandal? We do not think he would be believed for a moment. Nor should Dr Gatiss’s precisely equivalent claim be believed.

We invite the Church Society Council to respond to this article, and to keep in mind Dr Gatiss’s admirable plea to Church Society members in a talk given in March 2020 to resist the temptation ‘to denigrate the authority of those who … censure you … to cover up and hide, or … attack the people who could find us out.’

We note with great thankfulness the recent steps taken by the Labour Party to put an end to antisemitism in its midst, and we look forward with hope to the day when British evangelicals learn from that secular political party’s example. That day will not come until evangelical leaders fully acknowledge their failure to take action against Stephen Sizer despite all the warnings they received; it will not come until the evangelical organisations responsible for ignoring the Sizer scandal issue a formal apology to the Jewish community; and it will not come until Christ Church Virginia Water — which is closely tied to many evangelical churches via the South East Gospel Partnership — formally renounces the antisemitic activity of its previous leader. (The fact that Christ Church Virginia Water has not yet done so is both astonishing and sickening.)

We agree with D. A. Carson that ‘the sin described in the context of Matthew 18:15–17 takes place on the small scale of what transpires in a local church’, and therefore the steps outlined in those verses cannot be applied directly to this situation. Nevertheless, one of us engaged in private correspondence with Dr Gatiss in order to avoid, if possible, publicly criticising him and Church Society. Sadly, that correspondence ended with many unanswered questions after an email sent on 10 July to Dr Gatiss, and copied to Dr Ros Clarke, received no reply.

Rev Bernard Nicholas Howard Pastor, Good Shepherd Anglican Church NYC

James Mendelsohn Senior Lecturer, UWE Bristol Law School

A Note on Confidentiality

We have shared comments from two private Facebook groups in this article. We respect the importance of confidentiality rules. However, we do not think they should offer a cloak for sin. In July 2020, Christianity Today reproduced hundreds of comments made in a private Christian Facebook group on the basis that their ungodliness was worthy of public attention. We believe that was the right thing to do, and in this article we have sought to follow that precedent.



Nick Howard

🇬🇧➡️🇺🇸 in 2012 | Jewish believer in Jesus as Messiah | Married to Betsy Childs Howard | Dad to Solly and Abel | Pastor of