How the Church of England profits from the arms trade

Pope Francis last week attacked the “duplicity” of those who profit from the arms trade but “call themselves Christian”. Meanwhile, St Paul’s Cathedral in London has adopted a policy of refusing to host events sponsored by arms companies. Guildford Cathedral took up a similar policy some time ago, cancelling a booking at short notice when they realised that it was for an arms industry event.

It seems that none of this has made any impact on Church House, the administrative headquarters of the Church of England, which is next to Westminster Abbey. This week it will again host a conference sponsored by arms companies – and profit from their business.

The ‘Land Warfare Conference‘ will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday (30 June and 1 July). Its sponsors include Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s biggest arms companies. Lockheed arms one some of the world’s most oppressive regimes, including Bahrain and Egypt. The company makes Trident missiles for the US (and loaned by the UK government). Lockheed also provides the Israeli government with F-16 aircraft and Hellfire missiles, used in attacks on civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For the last two and a half years, Church House has been dismissing objections to its arms industry conferences, despite protests from within the Church of England and beyond.

Their first line of defence was to claim that the Church House Conference Centre was separate from Church House. Along with other campaigners, I have looked into this claim in some detail. It turns out that the Conference Centre is a wholly owned subsidiary business of the Church House Corporation, whose directors include the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The separation is a legal technicality.

Church House are now trying to rely on the argument that the booking for the conference is not made by an arms company but by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a military thinktank. This is disingenuous. RUSI’s website makes clear that these conferences are sponsored by arms companies. Alongside Lockheed Martin, sponsors of this week’s event include MBDA Missile Systems (whose weapons were used on all sides in the Libyan civil war) and L3, owners of MPRI a “private military and security company” (or mercenaries, as they’re usually known).

Chris Palmer, secretary of the Church House Corporation recently claimed that:

“The conferences held at Church House by the Royal United Services Institute, an academic body respected throughout the world for its consideration and debate of defence and security issues, are perfectly legitimate and certainly do not breach any ethical stance taken by the Church of England.”

Whether or not RUSI is respected, it is certainly not unbiased. It lobbies for high military spending and promotes the arms industry. If you want to glimpse of the reality of RUSI, have a glance at the front page of the RUSI website, currently featuring a picture of them giving an award to the war criminal Henry Kissinger. Another picture features a celebration of the Duke of Wellington, who backed the use of troops to crush peaceful demonstrations.

But whatever we think of RUSI, Chris Palmer clearly finds it easier to focus on RUSI than on arms companies themselves. His comment deliberately ignores the fact that the conference is sponsored by arms dealers, whoever it is who made the booking.

In contrast, St Paul’s Cathedral has the wisdom to rule out “bookings, or sponsorship of bookings” from any company making more than ten percent of its money from the arms trade.

This is in line with the Church of England’s own ethical investment policy. The Church of England would not buy shares in Lockheed Martin, so why will it profit from it in other ways?

Chris Palmer said that the body that manages the Church’s investments has no connection to Church House and that therefore, “I cannot comment on its ethical stance”. He cannot, it seems, comment on why it has a higher ethical stance than Church House.

Chris Palmer’s comments were made in a letter to Richard Bickle, chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), who had written to him to raise objections to hosting arms dealers’ conferences. FoR is a long-standing Christian pacifist network. It is not only pacifists who object to these events at Church House. Others oppose them because they do not want to support companies that arm dictators and they do not want the Church to be making profit from the business of such companies.

As Christians, we do not hate arms dealers. We seek to love and forgive them. I for one know that I am just as sinful as an arms dealer, and that I need God’s forgiveness. I do not object to an arms dealer entering a church building. I would not have a problem with Church House hosting a debate on the arms trade (as long as it was not sponsored by arms companies), in which arms dealers were challenged and allowed to challenge others.

But this is not what is happening at Church House this week. This is about making money from the arms trade and giving it moral legitimacy.

FoR has been joined by groups including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Pax Christi and Christians for Economic Justice to call on Church House to adopt an ethical lettings policy and throw out the arms industry. Hundreds if not thousands of Christians, including Church of England clergy, have written to Church House to raise their objections.

Church House’s leadership, however, are not even engaging with the issues. As we can see from Chris Palmer’s quote above, they talk of the formal booking and ignore the issue of sponsorship. They have dismissed polite letters, ignored criticism in the media and refused to acknowledge that there is anything to talk about. Last year, security staff at Westminster Abbey tried to stop us from peacefully singing hymns as we held a vigil outside one of Church House’s arms dealers’ conferences. I cannot believe that everyone working for Church House shares these high-handed attitudes, but our polite appeals to reason are being met with rudeness and arrogance.

At 8am tomorrow (Tuesday 30 June), Christians and others will gather outside Church House for a nonviolent vigil and act of worship. A Church of England priest will lead us in Holy Communion. This is entirely appropriate. Communion is a memorial and a celebration of Jesus, who was tortured to death by the oppressive Roman Empire after his nonviolent activism. As a Christian, I have faith that Jesus rose again, heralding the eventual defeat of the unjust powers of this world.

Perhaps the Church House authorities expect our campaign to fade out, or to continue only as a minor irritant. If they do think this, they won’t be thinking it for long.

Don’t keep calm. Don’t carry on.

As I write, it is unclear whether the Conservatives will have an overall majority. If not, I suspect they will try to rule as a minority government, although they may try some sort of deal. In the latter case, they could well be defeated in Parliament on at least some issues. In the former, they will still be vulnerable to rebellion from their own fractious backbenchers.

Either way, let us remember that politics is about far, far more than parties, elections and polling days. We need to resist the plans for a massive extra £12bn in welfare cuts, the privatisation of the National Health Service, the ongoing attacks on education and the welfare state, the fuelling of climate change, the sale of arms to tyrants and the plans to throw £100 bn into a new generation of weapons of mass destruction.

It is tempting to run away and hide. So I’m trying to remind myself that we can resist such policies in Parliament, through fresh ideas, in the media, on the streets, in our workplaces, in our communities and faith groups and places of education, through strikes, through protests, through nonviolent direct action and in our daily lives.

Politics is about people. It belongs to us, not to politicians. The election circus is nearly over, but real politics continues well beyond #GE2015.

Blogging through the night – follow Ekklesia’s rolling election blog

Tonight, I’ll be tweeting and blogging throughout the night as the general election results come in.

Rather than blogging on this site, I’ll be contributing to the rolling election blog run by Ekklesia, the Christian political thinktank. The blog is already rolling, with frequent brief insights and observations on election developments. I’m honoured to be blogging alongside an impressive team of progressive Christian contributors.

Ekklesia has been exploring the role of values and beliefs in the election, emphasising that an election is only one event in democracy, exploring innovative approaches to politics and encouraging people to “Vote for what you believe in”.

Although it’s not always possible to add comments on Ekklesia blogs, please feel free to respond to me by commenting on here, tweeting me at @SymonHill or emailing me at symonhill@gmail.com. If you’re on Twitter, please use the hashtag #Votebelief to refer to Ekklesia’s election coverage or rolling blog.

You can also make a donation to Ekklesia and help us to keep awake!

Predictions about the Green Party

I’m often cautious about making election forecasts, but when it comes to the Green Party, I’m unusually confident about my predictions.

Firstly, the Green Party of England and Wales (particularly in England) will achieve better results than it has ever done in a General Election. The Greens are likely to hold Brighton Pavilion. Even if they gain no other seats, they will come second in a fair few. Their percentage of the national vote will be higher than ever before. They are, to be honest, starting from a pretty low point. Given their rise in the last year or so, it would take a heavy setback for them not to achieve their best result.

Secondly, the Green Party will not do as well as the hype has suggested. From the way that some talk, you’d think the Greens were expecting to storm into Parliament with a whole gang of MPs. In reality, even the most optimistic Greens do not expect the party to win more than three seats at the very most.

Thirdly, much of the media will focus on the second point and not the first. Headlines saying “Greens fail to live up to the hype” and “Disappointment for Greens” are pretty likely, as the right-wing press overlooks the reality that the party has achieved its best ever result.

Given the media’s obsession with personalities, and the tendency to equate leaders with parties, some will then go on to write stories along the lines of “Bennet’s leadership questioned as Greens lick their wounds”. So let’s remember: read the figures, not the headlines.

15 UKIP candidates and two Tories accidentally pledge to oppose Trident

Fifteen UKIP candidates and two Conservatives have signed a statement that commits them to opposing the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. Unfortunately, they appear to have done so by accident.

Indeed, those who produced the statement seem to have overlooked the meaning of what they have written. The Christian Party has produced a so-called “Declaration of British Values”, which they have asked candidates of all parties to sign.

The declaration includes the following sentence:

“I will not participate in nor facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally destroying innocent human beings.”

Forty-one candidates have signed the declaration, including two sitting Conservative MPs –
David Amess and Bob Blackman – and fifteen UKIP candidates (most of the others are from the Christian Party or Christian People’s Alliance).

All warfare involves taking innocent life, although supporters of wars insist that this is unintentional. Nuclear weapons, however, cannot be used without killing millions of innocent people. It is illogical to argue that they are “only a deterrent” – they will not deter anyone if it is not possible that they may be used.

Of course, the signatories will insist that they were thinking of abortion. Some who refuse to facilitate abortion are happy to facilitate the creation of weapons that would kill thousands of unborn children – and millions of others.

UKIP’s Christian group accuses gay people of ‘recruiting’ children

One of the nastiest accusations against gay people is the claim that they “recruit” children with the intention of turning them gay. In Britain, most groups that oppose LGBT rights, even the fairly extreme ones, tend to avoid making this claim explicitly. However, it has now turned up on a leaflet distributed by the group called Christian Soldiers of UKIP.

Christian Soldiers of UKIP is a group set up by Christians who belong to the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The UKIP leadership has described the group as “authorised but not official”.

Nigel Farage and his colleagues insist that they do not share the group’s views on sexuality.  Nonetheless, they are prepared to work with them. They have certainly not disowned the “Christian Soldiers”.

I wrote on the Huffington Post a few days ago about UKIP’s links with right-wing Christian lobby groups such as Christian Concern. Earlier this week, Nigel Farage launched UKIP’s “Christian Manifesto”, which offers to defend Britain’s “Christian heritage” and the “rights” of Christians who want to discriminate against gay and bisexual people.

The latest comments from UKIP’s Christian Soldiers shows further evidence of the party’s willingness to tolerate homophobia.

The leaflet in question is an attack on sex education in schools, which it claims is seeking to “normalise” same-sex relationships. The leaflet’s writers declare, “The state is allowing the sexual grooming of our Primary School children for same-sex attraction”.

This leaflet was distributed during at least one hustings event in East Anglia (without the organisers’ permission). I would be interested to hear from anyone who has seen it, or any similar leaflets, elsewhere.

In their leaflet, UKIP’s Christian Soldiers state:

“What the LGBT is achieving, of course, is a recruitment drive. As such people cannot reproduce their own kind, they must recruit among the young and this is best done among children in schools, the younger the better.”

Presumably the Christian Soldiers of UKIP believe that heterosexuals can “reproduce their own kind” by giving birth only to children who turn out straight.

The leaflet includes the lyrics of songs and dances for young children that imply a celebration of a same-sex marriage or unclear gender identity. On the grounds that the children change “partners” during the activity (as they surely do in lots of activities), the leaflet adds the note, “Multiple partners made to seen normal”.

The Christian Soldiers of UKIP state:

“Ideally, we should work towards the removal of all ‘sex education’ from state schools.”

They then go on to link increased sex education with a rise in teenage pregnancies and abortions. No evidence whatsoever is cited to back this up.

Marginalised and minority groups have always been accused of harming children. Most famously, European Jews were for centuries accused of kidnapping and crucifying Christian children (the blood libel, as it’s commonly called). However, early Christians were also accused of drinking children’s blood. Recently, child abuse in the UK has attracted more attention when the perpetrators have been Asian and the victims white, with racists linking the horrific abuse of children not to the people who committed it but to whole ethnic or religious groups.

At the same time, recent years have given ample evidence of how child abuse is often overlooked when the perpetrators are powerful or respected. Child abuse should be tackled regardless of the perpetrator, not used as a means to attack social minorities.

Christian Soldiers of UKIP, in their leaflet, quote Jesus’ comments about not harming children. This is outrageous. They want to deny children the chance to learn about life, to consider different ethical views for themselves and to grow up to form healthy, loving, consensual relationships free from prejudice and narrow gender roles.

I could call on UKIP to disassociate themselves from the Christian Soldiers, but I’m not going to bother. UKIP’s tolerance of homophobia is already clear. Christians, however, need to do a better job of rejecting it.

Let’s remember that some of those who have been handed this vicious leaflet may not have read or heard many other comment from Christians on sexuality. If we don’t do a better job of speaking up, it may be the only Christian perspective on sexuality that they encounter.