Christians in Britain are furious that a conference of arms dealers is being held in Church House, London, home of the administrative headquarters of the Church of England.
An “act of prayer and witness” was held today as delegates entered the two-day event.
The think tank Ekklesia says: “The Church House conference centre is owned by the Church House Corporation, the president of which is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Rowan Williams has often expressed his opposition to the arms trade in the past, and Christians who oppose the conference are encouraging concerned people of all religions and none to email him about the event.”
And Ekklesia is pointing its website readers to sign a letter from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).
The letter, addressed to Williams and headed “Air Power Conference 2012”, says: “I am deeply concerned that Church House Conference Centre is hosting an event sponsored by some of the world’s largest arms companies. This is inconsistent with the strong moral position set out in the Church of England Defence Investments Policy, 2010.
“The conference focus suggests that it will be used to promote continued high military spending and the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly known as drones), which Right Revd Clive Gregory, Bishop of Wolverhampton, says ‘reduce death to the level of a computer game’.
“As President of the Corporation of the Church House, I [sic] ask for your assurance that the conference centre will never again host events which support and legitimise the arms industry.”
(The confusingly worded sentence means that Williams, not individual senders of the letter, is president of the corporation.)
Symon Hill, associate director of Ekklesia, writes:
Every time that I think I can no longer be surprised by the behaviour of church institutions, I am proved wrong. Like many other Christians who campaign against cuts and war, I often find myself in conflict with church authorities as well as corporations and governments. I’ve been dragged from the steps of a church while praying, misled by the authorities of St Paul’s Cathedral, struggled with outright lies from homophobic Christian lobby groups and spent enough time looking into various denomination’s investments to leave me (or so I thought) with no illusions about the practices that they can sometimes engage in.
He says church authorities have put forward “feeble excuses” for hosting the conference.
“First,” he writes, “they insisted that the conference centre was a separate entity from Church House. I have made some effort to look into this claim. The distinction is a legal technicality. The conference centre is a wholly owned subsidiary company of the Church House Corporation, whose president is the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
He then points out that the church authorities are using a “rather obtuse argument” that the booking was made by the Royal United Services Institute, which is described as an “independent think tank”.
“The Church of England’s head of communications told me Church House would ‘probably’ not have accepted a booking made directly by an arms dealer,” Hill writes.
Among the arms dealers present are BAE Systems, Raytheon and Finmeccanica.
As well as CAAT, Christianity Uncut, Pax Christi and Christian CND are also demonstrating their opposition to the conference.