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Inter-Varsity Press withdraw Stephen Sizer’s books

This is a guest post by John Bevan.

In these challenging times, here is some positive news: Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), one of Britain’s largest Christian publishers, has withdrawn Stephen Sizer’s books from sale and no longer lists them on its website.

How has this come about? Well, a few weeks ago, a friend of mine wrote to IVP, forwarding them a link to this blog post, which argues that IVP were taking a different approach to Sizer than they had taken to other disgraced or discredited authors:

IVP withdrew Roy Clements’ books because of his personal conduct [i.e. leaving his wife for a relationship with a male congregant].They withdrew Peter O’Brien’s books because of concerns about academic standards [i.e. findings of plagiarism]. In Rev Sizer’s case, there are concerns about both [see here if you need an introduction]. 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.”

IVP replied to my friend as follows:

“The Stephen Sizer books have been in print for over 10 years and we understand and are very mindful of the sensitivities around this subject and author. We have decided to remove these titles from our list and the rights have reverted back to the author. Our website no longer lists these titles, though book retailers may well still be carrying stock and online retailers will continue to list these books for unsold and second-hand copies.”

Something stronger than “very mindful of the sensitivities around this subject and author” would have been better, as would a clear public statement on IVP’s website, comparable to the recent one about Peter O’Brien. And, though it may seem churlish, questions can surely be asked about IVP’s initial role in editing Sizer’s books, particularly Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (2004). How was it that they missed the following things?

– On pp. 21-22 of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? Rev Sizer approvingly cites the late Dale Crowley, who was strongly linked to Holocaust denial and the American far right. Rev Sizer refers to him simply as a “religious broadcaster” and omits any reference to his unsavoury connections.

– On p. 234, Rev Sizer claims that, in the 1930s, various Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis. This is similar to Ken Livingstone’s notorious claim that Hitler was “supporting Zionism” in 1932 – a statement for which Ken Livingstone remains suspended from the Labour Party. Interestingly, both Ken Livingstone and Rev Sizer rely on the same “source”, Lenni Brenner. The claim and the source are demolished here (briefly) and here (at greater length).

– Footnote 170 on p. 251 insinuates that Israel was complicit in 9/11.

– Rev Sizer has an unfortunate tendency to misrepresent other Christian writers, notably Zhava Glaser and Walter Riggans.

Whilst some of those things might not be immediately obvious to those unfamiliar with the American far-right or the nature of contemporary anti-Zionism/antisemitism, they can be uncovered with just a little research. On the other hand, the misrepresentations of Zhava Glaser and Walter Riggans should have been easy to spot. (In fairness, perhaps, to IVP, the book is an edited version of Rev Sizer’s PhD thesis, which was awarded by Oak Hill Theological College, an associate college of Middlesex University, in 2004. Some of these calumnies date back to that thesis: Dale Crowley is cited on pp.16-17; Walter Riggans is misrepresented as encouraging Christians to support Israeli policies on pp. 14-15; Zhava Glaser is misrepresented on pp. 215. Surely Sizer’s PhD supervisors should have picked these things up?)

Nevertheless, IVP’s recent decision to withdraw Sizer’s titles remains encouraging: it suggests that they are concerned about antisemitism masquerading as theological anti-Zionism, and that they wish to disassociate themselves from it. Some, no doubt, will spin this as a triumph of “Zionist censorship” over “Christian freedom of expression”. As the rights in the books have reverted to Sizer, however, this claim fails, for Sizer will surely be free to republish the book himself, or to approach a different publisher. IVP have not withdrawn unsold copies from booksellers. (More worryingly, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? can be downloaded for free from this White Supremacist site, while another Sizer text is available at this equally unsavoury site.) IVP have simply followed their own lead: they have withdrawn the titles of an author who has long since been discredited by virtue of both his personal conduct and his academic work. IVP have therefore set a standard for other Christian – and secular – organisations to follow. For that, IVP should be commended, and we may surely be thankful.

PS For some reason, the American publisher InterVarsity Press has not yet followed IVP (UK)’s lead. If you’re based in the US, why not contact them?

Update: according to this blog post, InterVarsity Press in the USA has now taken the same decision.

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