IVP: three writers, double standards?

You’ve probably heard of Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), one of Britain’s best-respected Christian publishers. They have a long history of publishing lots of great Christian books.

Depending on your age, and how long you’ve been a Christian, you might remember Roy Clements, an influential pastor and author in the 80s and 90s. Many of his books were published by IVP.

In 1999, Clements resigned his ministry and left his wife, because of his relationship with another man.  IVP responded by withdrawing his books from the shelves, and they no longer sell them.  IVP now has a completely different management team, but it would be hard to imagine them responding differently today. They withdrew Clements’ books because of his personal conduct.

More recently, Australian theologian Peter O’Brien has hit the news. He’s written a number of books, some of which were, until recently, published by IVP in the UK.

Earlier this year, IVP investigated and upheld allegations of plagiarism which had been made against Dr O’Brien. As a result, IVP have released a couple of statements on their website, here and here. IVP recognise that Dr O’Brien did not intentionally commit plagiarism, but have nevertheless withdrawn the offending books, pulped the stock, and placed them out of print. In their own words, IVP rightly wish to “maintain the highest possible standards of academic writing and business practice.”

A third author, Stephen Sizer, is the vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water. He’s written two books on Christian Zionism (i.e. Christian support for Israel): Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (2004) and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (2007). Both books are published by IVP.

In October 2011, Rev Sizer posted a link, on Facebook, to a racist website called The Ugly TruthYou can tell it’s racist because it hosts images like these:

 

uglytruth3-stinkinguglytruth2-homerugly-truth-jig

To remove any doubt, The Ugly Truth charges Jews with “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The daily murder of Palestinian children “for sport”. Harvesting organs from Gentiles at gunpoint. Economic exploitation/ruination. De-moralizing entire swaths of civilization through unchallenged Jewish domination of the media. The complete corruption of every political office from the president to the town dog catcher.”

Following this, the Board of Deputies of British Jews formally complained about Rev Sizer. This complaint was resolved when Rev Sizer entered a “conciliation agreement”, agreeing to have his blog and website monitored by three observers.

In January 2015, Rev Sizer posted an article on Facebook blaming Israel for 9/11 – a claim more usually made on racist sites such as The Ugly Truth. Following an investigation by the Diocese of Guildford, Rev Sizer was banned from using social media for six months and agreed to refrain from commenting on Middle East issues. His bishop, Andrew Watson, said, “It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest.”

In short, Rev Sizer’s personal conduct was so troubling to the Church of England that it forced his total withdrawal from any involvement with or commentary on Middle Eastern current affairs.

Rev Sizer’s academic work is also problematic.

These few examples raise questions about the academic standards of Rev Sizer’s work.

A much fuller description of Rev Sizer’s various offences – both personal and academic – can be seen in this 2011 piece by Rev Nick Howard – a piece which, to my knowledge, has never been refuted. If you’re still unconvinced, please read the article on pp.39-48 of this journal. It was written by Mike Moore, then General Secretary of Christian Witness to Israel. Moore outlines Rev Sizer’s numerous misrepresentations and misinformation, as well as his use of unreliable sources, distortions of historical fact, inaccuracies and omissions, questionable alliances, and endorsements from the far right.

You can probably see where this is heading.

Earlier this year, I contacted IVP to ask them why, given their stance on Roy Clements and Peter O’Brien, they continue to publish Rev Sizer’s books. I received some initially promising responses. IVP even said they would remove the words “excellent and informative” from their description of Christian Zionism, as a sign of good faith. They told me it was likely that the rights in the books would be reassigned to Rev Sizer, so that he could develop his writing as he wished. Following this, however, I was later told that IVP would not enter into further discussions, for contractual reasons. Last week, IVP told me that they would be unlikely to release a statement. They continue to sell his books; the words “excellent and informative” have been restored to the description of Christian Zionism. IVP have given me no explanation for this decision.

This leads me to make the following, simple point:

IVP withdrew Roy Clements’ books because of his personal conduct. They withdrew Peter O’Brien’s books because of concerns about academic standards. In Rev Sizer’s case, there are concerns about both. It is therefore hard to understand why IVP continue to sell and market his books. IVP seem to be operating a double standard which, surely, is difficult to reconcile with their stated desire to “maintain the highest possible standards of academic writing and business practice.” This grieves me.

If you also wish for IVP to consistently uphold their own high standards, please send a polite email to IVP’s Publishing Director, Steve Mitchell, at IVP@IVPBooks.com. You’re welcome to link to this piece. If you disagree with me, or have any questions, please feel free to comment below and I’ll try my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

Update:

A Christian contact of mine, who has had work published by IVP, has said he won’t support my “censorship campaign” (his words).
His phrase is misleading, for the following reasons. In no particular order:
(1) If IVP stopped selling Rev Sizer’s books, they would still be available for purchase from Amazon etc (at least until stocks ran out).
(2) At one point, IVP were talking about reassigning the rights in the books back to Rev Sizer, which would presumably mean he would be free to market and sell them himself. Ergo, no censorship.
(3) There is a place for a thoughtful Christian critique of Christian Zionist theology and politics. I am not against that. However, there should be no place, within Christian discourse, for insinuations of Israeli complicity in 9/11, Nazi-Zionist collaboration, citations of writers linked to Holocaust Denial etc (all of which are staples of modern anti-Semitism, some of which are currently being manifested in the Labour Party). Some evangelical writers, such as Peter Walker and Steve Motyer, manage to critique CZ perfectly well, without feeling the need to use anti-Semitic sources and claims along the way. IVP could usefully commission a new study on CZ written by (say) one of those two.
(3) The issue is not one of censorship, it is simply asking why IVP have not taken the same approach to Stephen Sizer as they have to Roy Clements and Peter O’Brien. It is they themselves who say that they wish to “maintain the highest possible standards of academic writing and business practice.”
(4) Stephen Sizer is free to write and publish what he wants (within legal boundaries of course). That doesn’t mean IVP have to continue to promote it, particularly given the standards they set for themselves.
James Mendelsohn lives in Leeds, where he is a member of Grace Community Church. He teaches Law for a living.

 

 

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