How many excuses can you find for hosting arms dealers? Church House Conference Centre rely on the same three, repeated in various ways to anyone who challenges them – if they reply at all.
Generals, arms dealers and officials from the Ministry of “Defence” will gather for their annual Land Warfare Conference on Tuesday 27th and Wednesday 28th June. They will be hosted in Church House, which includes many of the administrative offices for the Church of England along with the meeting rooms that make up the Church House Conference Centre – or “Church House Westminster”, as it has recently been renamed.
But it wasn’t the name that needed changing. It was the tendency to host conferences sponsored by arms dealers.
Protests against these militarist conferences at Church House have taken place every year since 2012. Church House have ignored letters, declined requests for meetings and even responded to the Fellowship of Reconciliation – a Christian pacifist network – by blocking them on Twitter.
Militarist conferences are repugnant wherever they happen. I am particularly sad that a prominent Christian-run centre agree to host an event totally at odds with the active nonviolence exemplified by Jesus.
Church House have run out of excuses. They keep repeating the same discredited lines:
1. “Church House Conference Centre is independent of Church House”
This is a legal technicality. The Conference Centre (or “Church House Westminster” as it now calls itself) is a wholly owned subsidiary business of the Church House Corporation, whose president is the Archbishop of Canterbury. They sometimes vary this excuse by saying that Church House Conference Centre is “not a church”. Are Christian organisations expected to have lower ethical standards for some of their buildings than others?
2. “We can’t be expected to investigate the ethics of every company that wants to book a room”
This is a disturbing comment from an organisation supposedly rooted in Christian principles. It is not difficult to find out the ethics of the companies involved. For the last five years, we have been standing outside Church House with banners that draw attention to them.
3. “The bookings are not made by arms companies”
The conference is organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Church House tell us that RUSI is a “respected thinktank”. Respected by militarists, perhaps. RUSI promote the arms industry, the armed forces and military responses to global problems. Furthermore, these conferences are themselves sponsored by arms companies, often complicit in the supply of arms to some of the world’s most repressive and tyrannical regimes. In previous years, these have included BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. This year’s sponsors include Airbus and L3.
Sometimes, supporters of the Church House position have made arguments in favour of the arms industry. While I beileve passionately that they are wrong, this response at least has an honesty to it that the others do not. Church House themselves won’t make this argument, but given the feableness of their excuses, we can only conclude that they support the arms trade or at least don’t object to it.
There have been protests, vigils and acts of worship on the steps of Church House in resistance to every RUSI conference there since 2012. This time, with several groups involved, watch out for news of more. One of the biggest protests will be online: we’ll be mass tweeting Church House on Tuesday (27th June). You can reach them at @Churchhouseconf. You can also phone Church House to ask politely but firmly for an explanation, on 020 7390 1590.
For news of any protests that appear during the event, follow the Fellowship of Reconciliation at @forpeacemaker, or me at @SymonHill.
This article originally appeared (in a slightly shorter form) on the blog of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) on 22nd June 2017. Many thanks to CAAT for hosting it.