On Thursday morning (1st November), Christians around the world will celebrate All Saints’ Day. Meanwhile, Church House – the administrative headquarters of the Church of England – will host a conference for arms dealers. They will discuss “future air power”, which is likely to involve a focus on remote-controlled drones.
The news has shocked, saddened and angered many Christians, both within the Church of England and beyond. The issue has been covered by the Independent, Church Times and Premier Christian Radio.
Act of witness
A group of Christians will gather outside Church House (in Westminster, London) from 7.45am. They will begin an act of prayer and witness at around 8.00am. It will last about half an hour, and take place while many of the arms dealers and other participants are entering the building. There are more details on Facebook.
The act of witness is backed by Christianity Uncut, Pax Christi, the Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Christian CND. It is open to all. The prayer will take an Anglican form, but Christians from other traditions, as well as non-Christians, are equally welcome.
There have been a number of inaccurate claims about the conference.
It has been claimed that the Church House Conference Centre is independent of Church House, and thus of the Church of England. We have investigated this and it is clear that it is a legal technicality. The conference centre is a wholly owned subsidiary company of Church House Corporation, whose president is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England’s spokesperson has now largely given up on this line of argument.
It has also been claimed that this is not really an arms dealers’ conference, as it has been booked by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) rather than by an arms company. However, RUSI is a very right-wing thinktank that lobbies in favour of the arms trade and high military spending.
The conference webpage lists several multinational arms companies as sponsors, many of which arm oppressive regimes that have turned weapons on their own people. They are all involved in the manufacture of drones.
Church House is relying on a distinction between a conference booked by an arms company and a conference of arms dealers booked by a pro-arms lobby group. This distinction is at best naive and at worst misleading.
Prayer and resistance
If you can’t join us on Thursday morning, please pray about the issues wherever you are. You can also phone or email the Church House Conference Centre and email the Archbishop of Canterbury as president of Church House Corporation. We encourage everyone to communicate nonviolently in a spirit of peaceful persuasion rather than personal abuse.
We applaud the Church of England for rejecting most investments in arms companies. Now they need to live up to the same values in the use of their buildings.
Chris Howson, a Church of England priest from Sunderland and member of Christianity Uncut, is among those to have criticised the conference. He says:
“The Church of England should endeavour to make a stand against all forms of warfare, especially those that dish out death and destruction from thousands of miles away. It should instead seek to offer nonviolent, faithful responses to global issues based of Christian teaching. When Jesus asked us to ‘love our enemies’ we can assume that he did not mean ‘drop bombs on gatherings of people that might contain some enemies’.
“If we as a church expect credibility and respect, then we must not associate ourselves with, or profit from, agents of death and destruction.”
Al Barrett, a Church of England priest in Birmingham, is another to have expressed his shock. He said:
“I find it utterly staggering and shameful that my denominational headquarters should be providing space to an event, sponsored by weapons manufacturers, promoting armed conflict. The fact that this is being done as a commercial relationship makes it no less offensive. If the Church has learnt anything from the past few years, it should surely be that Jesus is calling us to take sides, in our words, in our actions, in our business dealings: with the poor, with the peace-makers, with those who hunger and thirst for justice, and emphatically not with the rich, the powerful, and those who create and deploy weapons of mass destruction.
“If the Church wants to model the hospitality of Jesus, it should invite the conference delegates in, without accepting any payment, to sit and eat with those people of the poorest countries of our world who have been maimed, widowed and orphaned by the weapons these delegates have manufactured, traded and deployed.”