You Know What it Means So Why Are You Bullshitting?

The Gerasites

By David Paxton

Did you just say something along the lines of this?

How can it be antisemitic when Palestinians are Semites?

or,

Saying one group of Semites is treating another group of Semites appallingly is not Antisemitism.

In short, have you used the ‘semite’ part of ‘Antisemitism’ to refer to all Semites and therefore discredit the word ‘antisemitism’ as normally understood and the accusation behind its use?

If so you have done something which you might believe to be insightful and clever but is, in fact, facile and ignorant. Here is why:

It was coined over 130 years ago in Germany by people specifically discussing Judenhass. In these discussions  ‘Jew’ and ‘Semite’ were considered synonyms. It quickly became understood to mean only that and is widely accepted in common parlance to mean the hatred of Jews and nobody else.

Therefore ‘antisemitism’ is a misnomer, that’s no big deal. Greenland isn’t…

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Dodgy data and fiddled figures in the Church Society report by Lee Gatiss

kateeandreyev.com

In the document written about my husband and me by Lee Gatiss for Church Society, the (now resigned) Churchwardens ‘report’ that during my husband’s time as vicar here, the electoral roll and church attendance shrank massively. However, the electoral roll and attendance figures quoted in the Church Society report are highly misleading.

As Lee Gatiss and the other anglican clergy on the Church Society Council are well aware (Church Society being a Church of England patronage society), Church of England parish electoral roll figures are a notoriously unreliable indicator of a church’s health or even its actual attendance. Some incumbents encourage as many people as possible to sign up, whereas others encourage only those who attend regularly to be on the electoral roll. Lee Gatiss and the other senior leaders of Church Society will also realise that many people reading the widely circulated report are simply unaware of the…

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A True Story

kateeandreyev.com

This is a true story. A woman moved from a different part of the country and started attending a local church and then its bible study. At first she was friendly and empathetic towards the vicar and his wife – and friendly to others.

This woman encouraged the vicar’s wife to confide in her, but the vicar’s wife felt uneasy about this, so remained friendly, whilst not confiding in the woman. The woman also had another woman read the bible with her.

When people disagreed with the vicar, the woman encouraged people to speak to her and empathised with them, rather than encouraging people to sort things out with the vicar. The woman appeared to be a regular member of church and claimed to be a Christian.

When this woman realised that she could not gain the vicar’s wife’s “ear” and trust, she started to encourage others to distrust the…

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Church Society and the Andreyevs: the elephant in the room

Church Society director Lee Gatiss has recently written what might kindly be described as a character assassination of the ministry couple, Mike and Kate Andreyev. You can read the full version here and the executive summary here. The bit that particularly interests me, and which should make any fair-minded observer question its credibility, is as follows.

On pp 39-40 of the full report, Church Society explains why it decided not to commission an independent review into the Andreyevs’ grievance against the organisation, but instead to respond to it publicly point by point:

Church Society says it made this decision in response to a letter in the April 2021 edition of Evangelicals Now (EN) from Kate Andreyev and “two others”. That letter is reproduced below. The “two others” mentioned are myself and Nick Howard, who have a separate, longstanding grievance against Church Society.

The grievance which Nick and I have against Church Society centres on this: that Lee Gatiss spoke dishonestly about his knowledge of the Stephen Sizer antisemitism scandal, to shield himself from censure for failing to do anything about it. We set out our case here in November 2020.

Now look at the April 2021 letter to EN again. It was not only Kate Andreyev, but also Nick Howard and I, who called for Church Society to address our respective grievances publicly on a point-by-point basis.

Since then, Lee Gatiss has evidently spent many weeks compiling a point-by-point response to the Andreyevs. However, he has yet to respond point-by-point to me and Nick Howard. Given that our own case against him is considerably shorter than that of the Andreyevs, it would take him much less time to do so.

This leaves a rather obvious elephant in the room.

Nick and I have set out evidence that Lee Gatiss spoke dishonestly about his knowledge of the Sizer scandal. This clearly weakens his credibility to comment on other matters – including, of course, on the situation of the Andreyevs. One might therefore think it imperative for Lee to respond point-by-point to me and Nick, before responding point-by-point to the Andreyevs. The fact that he has still not done so, over nine months after we published our case against him, suggests that he cannot do so, because our case against him is unanswerable. And this in turn means that what he says about the Andreyevs (Lee acting as self-appointed investigator, prosecutor, witness, judge, jury, court reporter & executioner) should be taken with an extremely large pinch of salt. 

Unless and until Lee Gatiss is able to refute what Nick Howard and I wrote about him – publicly and point-by-point – the elephant in the room will remain.

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The Parable of the Good Liberal

On one occasion, a highly respected British conservative evangelical leader stood up to test Jesus.

“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

In reply, Jesus said: “An ancient people were once exiled from their homeland and scattered among the nations. Whilst among the nations, they fell among bandits, were robbed of their dignity, threatened, abused, reviled, slandered, terrorised, and left battered and bleeding. A South East Gospel Partnership Steering Committee member read about this in the newspaper, but he was busy preparing his sermon on Romans 11, and so did nothing. So too, an Evangelicals Now board member, heard about this on the news, but was too busy preparing a Christianity Explored course for his local church, and so also did nothing. But a liberal Anglican bishop, who had dodgy views about both the authority of Scripture and the meaning of the cross, also heard about these people, and took pity upon them. He started reading about how they had been persecuted historically, and how their oppression manifested itself today. He contacted their communal organisations and asked how he could learn more. He donated money to the charity that kept their schools and places of worship safe. He signed petitions, wrote to newspapers and spoke out on this people’s behalf in the media – and continued to do so, even when he himself was reviled as a result. Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the people who fell among bandits?”

The highly respected British conservative evangelical leader replied, “The one who had mercy on them.”

Jesus told him. “Go and do likewise.”

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W.W.E.D.? – What Will Evangelicals Do?

What Will Evangelicals Do?

Dear Sir,

We are writing to express our deep concern about recent actions and statements by Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water, a large evangelical Anglican church in Surrey. Rev Sizer is also an IVP-published author and a frequent guest speaker in churches and theological colleges. We write with sadness, after carefully assessing the evidence, and having noted Don Carson’s recent advice in the journal Themelios, on when it is appropriate to criticise fellow believers publicly.

Our letter makes strong claims. They are substantiated, with internet links to primary sources, at http://wwedletter.wordpress.com/.

This June, Rev. Sizer spoke at a conference run by Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM). We consider VPM to be an extremist group, on the basis that Matthias Chang, an activist given a leadership role within the organisation, has sought to justify the Holocaust, arguing, ‘Germany … had the right to defend…

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Church Society and Jonathan Fletcher: Unanswered Questions

Last year, I co-wrote two Medium posts about the response of British conservative evangelicals to Stephen Sizer’s antisemitism. Both mentioned Church Society. The first mentioned Church Society as one of many conservative evangelical organisations which had failed to respond appropriately. The second focused on Church Society itself – in particular, on the apparent dishonesty of its Director, Rev Dr Lee Gatiss. At the time of writing, Church Society has not responded publicly to the second post.

If you’re someone whose eyes just glazed over at the word “antisemitism”, the next few sentences are for you. We’re not talking about the kind of antisemitism which comes with swastikas and straight-armed salutes. We’re talking about the left-wing version – the kind seen in the Labour Party in recent years. You can read more about that in the books of Dave Rich and David Hirsh. (Alternatively – although he takes a somewhat different tack – get hold of David Baddiel’s new book.) 

This blog post, however, is not about antisemitism. It’s about something more basic: truth. And it revolves in particular around Church Society’s connection to a very different scandal: that involving Jonathan Fletcher. 

On 1 July 2019, Church Society announced that it had removed Jonathan Fletcher from a role with the linked Church Society Trust. The full announcement can be read here. The key part for our purposes is the first paragraph, which is reproduced below – in particular, the two bits which I have numbered and underlined. These beg two questions: (1) What was Jonathan Fletcher’s role with the Church Society Trust? and (2) When did Church Society’s council become aware of the allegations about him?

  1. What was Jonathan Fletcher’s role with the Church Society Trust?

Church Society’s statement simply says that Fletcher was “previously involved in the Church Society Trust, though not as a Director”. No further information is given. However, in November 2020, current Church Society council member Tom Woolford stated that Fletcher had been “a trustee of the Church Society Trust at the time the scandal broke.”

Church Society Trust is both a charity and a company. This means that the same people act as both its trustees and directors, owing overlapping responsibilities under both charities and companies legislation. According to a search of the organisation’s directors on the Companies House website, Jonathan Fletcher was never a director, which must also mean that he was never a trustee. Tom Woolford’s claim therefore contradicts Church Society’s claim of 1 July 2019. 

The question therefore remains. What was Jonathan Fletcher’s precise role with the Church Society Trust? In particular: was it a role in which he was able to pursue his harmful activities? 

  1. When did Church Society become aware of the allegations regarding Jonathan Fletcher?

Church Society’s statement of 1 July 2019 says that Jonathan Fletcher was removed from his (unspecified) role “after we saw this letter” – by which they mean the letter of 1 April 2019, which is reproduced in full below. 

Once again, Church Society’s statement obscures more than it reveals. Firstly, Church Society do not tell us exactly when they saw that letter. Secondly, “He was removed from this role after we saw this letter” is not the same as, “He was removed from this role as soon as we became aware of the allegations against him”. The two are not necessarily synonymous.   If we look at the letter of 1 April 2019, some troubling questions arise, because three of the signatories had a connection with Church Society, and – by their own words – knew about Fletcher’s abusive activities sooner. 

The first signatory, Rt Revd Rod Thomas, Bishop of Maidstone, became Church Society’s President when it merged with Reform and the Fellowship of Word and Spirit in May 2018. He has recently stated that he first became aware of Jonathan Fletcher’s abusive activities in September 2018

The second signatory, Revd Robin Weekes, Minister of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, has been a member of Church Society’s Council since May 2018. By this time, he was already aware of allegations regarding Jonathan Fletcher made in early 2017. According to the 31:8 Independent Lessons Learned Review, he had also been informed of the removal of Fletcher’s Permission To Officiate in November 2017. A further disclosure was made to him in September 2018.

The third signatory, Revd William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London, was a member of Church Society’s Council between July 2018 and October 2020. He has said that he first became aware of Fletcher’s abusive activities in February 2019.

In summary, all three men had a Church Society connection; and all three knew about Fletcher’s abusive activities some time before the letter of 1 April 2019. This raises an obvious question: why, then, was Jonathan Fletcher removed from his (unspecified) role with Church Society Trust only after Church Society’s Council saw that letter, and not earlier? 

To this question there can only be two possible answers. 

The first is that none of the three shared their knowledge with Church Society’s Council. If so, why didn’t they tell the Council? Their silence allowed Jonathan Fletcher to continue to receive and accept ministry invitations. 

The second possible answer is that at least one did mention it, but the Council nonetheless did nothing about it before seeing the letter of 1 April 2019, and then did not announce it until 1 July 2019 (the date of Church Society’s statement). If so, why did the Council remain silent?

Only the members of Church Society’s Council know which of those two possible answers is correct. Based on this recent blog post on Church Society’s website, they should be keen to volunteer the truth. Sadly, however, based on their conduct in relation to the Stephen Sizer scandal, they are unlikely to do so any time soon. 

Update 1: 

Church Society have updated their statement of 1 July 2019 with an addendum dated 1 April 2021, which is reproduced in full below (emphasis added). The addendum leaves unanswered the question as to why, given that its President and two Council members knew of the Fletcher abuse before 1 April 2019, Church Society did not act sooner. Additionally – assuming I have deduced correctly (and I am happy to be corrected) – the part I have emphasised would seem to suggest that Fletcher was re-appointed as a Church Society Trust member by a meeting of Church Society’s Council in the summer of 2018, despite at least one Council member, Robin Weekes being aware that he had already lost his PTO. Fletcher was not removed from that position until a year later.

Addendum

Various questions of detail have been raised about Church Society and Jonathan Fletcher since this blogpost. So this is just to clarify our previous statement about this from 1st July 2019 (above).

Like Church Society itself, the Church Society Trust has both members and trustees (also sometimes called directors). Jonathan Fletcher was previously a member of both, but not a trustee or director.

Directors of the Church Society Trust are the ones responsible for exercising the patronage duties of the Society. Those who are members of the Trust can assist the Directors if they have local knowledge or contacts relevant to a particular post. Occasionally they are able to deputise for Directors in certain circumstances, at meetings or presentations.

In the autumn of 2013, Dick Farr (Chairman of Church Society Trust) had a conversation with Jonathan Fletcher about the CST parish of St Mary’s Summerstown where Mr Fletcher was attending since his retirement, as the vicar of St Mary’s was also considering retirement. That same autumn, Mr Farr couldn’t make a meeting to do with the CST parish of St Peter’s Woking and it was decided at the CST Directors’ meeting that if Mark Burkill (another CST Director) couldn’t go either, they could ask Mr Fletcher as a member of Church Society Trust “to attend on our behalf.” He was then involved in that appointment. At the Church Society Trust meeting on 21st April 2015 we also noted that he had been appointed, but not by us, as Associate Minister at Summerstown, and would therefore look after the interregnum there. The last reference we have in our records to this ongoing situation is from a meeting Dick Farr had with the Archdeacon there in February 2017.

From a letter dated 1st April 2019 by Rod Thomas, William Taylor, Robin Weekes, and Vaughan Roberts which said that Jonathan Fletcher no longer had Permission to Officiate in the Church of England, it became clear to us that it was inappropriate for him to be in a position to possibly act on our behalf in such a situation again. Consequently, at the next Church Society Council meeting on 13th June 2019, Mr Fletcher ceased being a member of Church Society Trust (the members of which are simply appointed by the Council at this meeting annually).

There was very little detail in that 1st April 2019 letter. However, some further allegations about Mr Fletcher’s behaviour were released at the EMA conference on 27th June 2019 and in Church Times on 28th June 2019. We made people aware in this blogpost of 1st July 2019 (above) that we had removed him from Church Society Trust membership, and pointed people to various places they could go for help and support and further thinking about this.

As details continued to emerge, the Chairman of Church Society, Andrew Towner, then wrote to Jonathan Fletcher informing him that we were taking steps towards the removal of his CS membership in accordance with our Articles of Association, on 5th August. He wrote back, in a letter dated 7th August 2019, to resign from Church Society, with the effect that we no longer needed to convene a special meeting to hear and remove him.

I note there have been other questions about Mr Fletcher’s donations to Church Society from a charitable trust. These were his membership fee (paid by all members of the Society) and the price of attendance at our annual AGM (£10).

This evening we prayed again for all the victims of Jonathan Fletcher, and for the church in Wimbledon, in our weekly online prayer meeting. Our main concern, as in the original blogpost above, is for them.

Lee Gatiss

1st April 2021

Update 2:

In the comments below this blog post, Church Society Council member Tom Woolford (aka ptolemytortoise) has shed more light on the situation. He also states that Church Society will make a further update next week (w/c 6 April 2021). This blog post will be updated, as and when that happens.

Update 3:

I have been told that Robin Weekes is no longer on Church Society’s Council, though this is not yet reflected on the websites of Companies House, the Charity Commission or Church Society itself.

Update 4:

Church Society have circulated a news update, dated 5 April 2021. This states, “There is no suggestion that Jonathan’s connection with Church Society was linked with or enabled the abusive behaviours documented in the 31:8 review. However, we recognise the call for reflection throughout the conservative evangelical constituency and leadership as entirely appropriate and absolutely vital. We have called a special Council meeting to begin to consider the recommendations in detail and will keep our members informed as further action is taken.”

At the very least, Church Society will need to explain clearly why it was that two Council members and their President knew something of Fletcher’s abuse some time before 1 April 2019, but Church Society’s Council said nothing about Fletcher’s abuse until 1 July 2019.

Update 5:

As of 6 April 2021, Robin Weekes is no longer listed as a member of Church Society’s Council.

Update 6:

In this post of 7 April 2021, Church Society sets out a response to the 31:8 Review.

Update 7:

Nick Howard and I have written this post (dated 8 April 2021), which identifies the conduct of Church Society’s Chairman, Andrew Towner, as an example of the manipulative behaviour highlighted by the 31:8 Review.

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Mike Ovey, Lee Gatiss & Stephen Sizer

In early 2015, the late Rev Dr Mike Ovey, who was a member of Church Society’s council wrote two papers in 2015 exploring the conservative evangelical Anglican view of bishops, and he circulated these papers among his fellow leaders. One of those papers, titled simply, “We want our own bishops”, is available here.

(Note: the paper was originally marked “Confidential”. It was nonetheless widely circulated – it is the “widely circulated paper” referred to here.)

On page 8 of that paper, Dr Ovey used the phrase “monarchical presbyter” to describe a particular model of church governance. This appears to have been a novel phrase coined by Dr Ovey himself:

Rev Dr Lee Gatiss, Church Society Director, subsequently used the same phrase in precisely the same way – for example, in this blog post of February 2020:

Lee Gatiss also used the phrase, in precisely the same way, in his own article, ‘The Anglican Doctrine of the Visible Church’, which was published in The Evangelical Quarterly in January 2020: 

Why is this significant? 

This is significant because it strongly suggests that Dr Gatiss was familiar with Dr Ovey’s paper. (It would in any case be very, very strange if Dr Ovey’s “widely circulated” paper did not cross the desk or inbox of Dr Gatiss, who clearly had a close relationship with Dr Ovey and who wrote a moving eulogy following the latter’s untimely death.)

This, in turn, is significant, because Dr Ovey’s paper opened with the following very obvious allusion to Stephen Sizer: 

And this, in turn, is significant, because it lends the lie to Lee Gatiss’s claim that, prior to July 2020, he had been unaware of Stephen Sizer’s antisemitic activity:

“I personally find many of the things now pointed out in his 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.”

This claim would require us to believe either that a scholar as careful and thorough as Dr Gatiss was unfamiliar with Dr Ovey’s words; or that he was familiar with them, but thought it unimportant to find out any more details about the “senior evangelical church leader… accused of anti-semitism”. Either such explanation is preposterous. 

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John Telford, the 2015 JAEC Facebook page, and Stephen Sizer

Rev John Telford was a member of the board of Church Society between 2012 and 2018

In 2020, Rev Telford sought to excuse Church Society’s silence regarding Stephen Sizer’s antisemitism on the grounds that “Neither he nor his work crossed our radar”

However, John Telford had participated, at least twice, in a Facebook discussion about Stephen Sizer in the Facebook group of the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference in January 2015, as shown below. (Some personal information at the end of the first sentence of the first image has been redacted.)

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Lee Gatiss, the 2015 JAEC Facebook page, and Stephen Sizer

In July 2020, in a Church Society blog post, Church Society Director Lee Gatiss wrote this regarding his knowledge of Stephen Sizer’s antisemitic conduct:

“I personally find many of the things now pointed out in his 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.”

In fact, Lee Gatiss knew about Stephen Sizer’s antisemitic conduct earlier, as this post will demonstrate. 

On 30 January 2015, when Stephen Sizer was in the headlines for (not for the first time) making the antisemitic suggestion that Israel had been complicit in the 9/11 terror attacks, the following was posted in the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference Facebook group. 

The following comment was posted below it on the same date. Lee Gatiss “liked” it, as shown by the two screenshots below, which show his “like” in different formats: 

The full comment is below: it is posted in two “chunks”, side by side, owing to the difficulty of fitting it all into a single screenshot.

The full text of the comment that Lee Gatiss “liked” is as follows:

What is clear from that Cranmer blog is that Sizer has a history of linking to things that are on the edge of what is acceptable and a number of times he has been called to account and has accepted that he has (apparently unwittingly linked to things on websites that are associated with racism. It is not that he has linked directly to racist material as far as I can see, merely that the same websites also contained racist material – a second degree association. Furthermore, it should be noted that his FB post is set to ‘Friends’ not ‘Public’. 

My biggest issue is that Cranmer’s penultimate paragraph is completely wrong: “The Church of England no longer tolerates membership of the racist BNP. If an ordained minister had linked to BNP websites, musing that they raise legitimate questions of truth and contending that he is “encouraging research and debate on all aspects” of immigration, he would swiftly forfeit his Licence to Preach.”

I can accept synod’s decision that membership of BNP is conduct unbecoming of a minister, but highlighting a webpage is not. That is not what synod agreed and I would be very disappointed if bishops started extending what synod agreed.

Whilst I think Sizer was foolish and wrong to suggest that Israel were linked with 9/11, I stand by his right as both a citizen and a minister to ask these questions and make these suggestions. Would we all be acting differently if it was Iran rather than Israel? Yes the timing is deeply insensitive, but I deeply dislike the curtailment of feedom of speech and Twitter mob justice that is spreading across the society at the moment. 

Or am I totally missing the point?

(Disclaimer: like a number in this group, I am friends with Nick Howard who was quoted by Cranmer. I did not feel able to support his complaint at the time.)

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