Posts Tagged ‘IVP’

IVP: three writers, double standards?

October 14, 2016

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 IVP recognise that Dr O’Brien did not intentionally commit plagiarism, but have nevertheless withdrawn the offending books, pulped the stock, and placed them out of print.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.

 

 

Does Stephen Sizer misrepresent Walter Riggans?

October 14, 2016

In this post, I will attempt to show that Stephen Sizer has misrepresented Scottish theologian Walter Riggans. He does this by claiming that Riggans says Christians should support both the existence and the policies of the state of Israel. Riggans does indeed say that Christians should support the sovereignty (i.e. the right to exist) of the state of Israel, but says that Christians should support Israeli policies only in accordance with biblical criteria, and not unconditionally. The post is divided into three parts:

Part A: what Stephen Sizer says Walter Riggans says

Part B: what Walter Riggans actually says

Part C: Conclusions

Direct quotes from Stephen Sizer are in blue. Direct quotes from Walter Riggans are in red. Emphasis is mine throughout.

Part A: what Stephen Sizer says Walter Riggans says

(i) On pp.19-20 of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (IVP: 2004), Stephen Sizer writes the following:

Walter Riggans, for example, elaborates on the relationship between theology and politics in Zionism:

A biblical Zionism, which is surely the desire of every Christian, will be fundamentally about God and his purposes. Thus Zionism, when seen in a proper Christian perspective, will be understood as a branch of theology, not of politics… The state of Israel is only the beginning of what God is doing for and through the Jewish people.

Sizer’s footnote states that this quote comes from pp. 91 & 93 of Riggans’ book The Covenant with the Jews (Tunbridge Wells: Monarch, 1992). The first two sentences quoted are from p.91; the third from p.93.

(ii) Sizer then writes the following:

[Riggans] goes on to suggest that Christians should not only support the idea of a Jewish State, but also support its policies: ‘…in the most modest of ways, I would suggest that Christians… must give support in principle to the State of Israel as a sign of God’s mercy and faithfulness, and as a biblical mark that God is very much at work in the world.’

Sizer’s footnote indicates that this quote comes from p. 21 of Riggans’ 1988 booklet Israel and Zionism (London: Handsell Press, 1988). This is incorrect – it is actually from p. 31 (no doubt a typo on the part of Sizer and/or his publisher).

Note that Sizer claims that Riggans suggests Christians should support Israeli policies; but then quotes an extract that says nothing about support for Israeli policies. Note, also, that Sizer is duplicating what he wrote at pp. 14-15 of this own PhD thesis. Part B, however, will show that Riggans nowhere says that Christians should support Israeli policies, but should be free to disagree about them and judge them on biblical criteria. 

Part B: what Walter Riggans actually says

(i) This is what Walter Riggans says on p. 91 of The Covenant with the Jews.

What we need to do is to find a mediating way between rejection of Israel and the full-blooded ‘Christian Zionism’, so-called, of those who see Israel as the key to all of God’s work in the world today. Modern political Zionism is secular, it is not centred on the desire to seek the will of God. A biblical Zionism, which is surely the desire of every Christian, will be fundamentally about God and His purposes. Thus Zionism, when seen in a proper Christian perspective, will be understood as a branch of theology, not of politics. This does not mean that there will be no political implications or applications, but support for any given decision or action in Israel will have to be judged in accordance with the full range of biblical principles, and not in some unconditional manner. In the same way there should be no such thing as unconditional support for every decision or action taken by the churches or any ‘Christian country.

The highlighted text, which clearly states that Christians should not give unconditional support to Israeli policies, is omitted by Rev Sizer (see Part A(i) above).

(ii) On p. 93 of The Covenant with the Jews, three paragraphs before the extract quoted by Rev Sizer (see Part A(i) above)), Walter Riggans writes this:

it is our responsibility and privilege as Christians: (a) to support the sovereignty of the State of Israel, even though we must be free to disagree with one another on the proper borders, government policies, etc….

Here, again, Riggans does not say that Christians are obliged to support the policies of the Israeli government. Stephen Sizer omits this clear statement. This omission is worse because Riggans is actually repeating a statement he makes previously, on p. 75 of The Covenant with the Jews.

(iii) On p. 31 (not p. 21) of Israel and Zionism, Walter Riggans writes this:

each Christian is free to make their own judgement about the decisions and performance of any Israeli government or agency… in the most modest of ways I would suggest that Christians… must give support in principle to the state of Israel as a sign of God’s mercy and faithfulness, and as a biblical mark that God is very much at work in the world.

The highlighted text makes Riggans’ view clear, that there is no obligation on Christians to support Israeli policies. It is omitted by Rev Sizer, even though it is on the same page as the extract he actually quotes (see Part A(ii)).

Part C: Conclusions

Walter Riggans repeatedly says that Christians are free to disagree about particular Israeli policies, that they should not support those policies unconditionally, but should weigh them in accordance with biblical principles. Rev Sizer, however, says that Riggans says Christians “should not only support the idea of a Jewish State, but also support its policies”. He is only able to do this by quoting selectively from Walter Riggans and ignoring those statements of Riggans that state the clear opposite. It is submitted that such a methodology falls far short of IVP’s stated commitment to “the highest possible standards of academic writing.”