Stephen Sizer and when church discipline doesn’t seem possible

The Stephen Sizer tribunal reached its verdict a few weeks back and concluded that he had engaged in antisemitic behaviour on at least one occasion whilst also causing offense to Jewish people and that “the Respondent’s conduct was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”[1]

The Bishop of Winchester has now determined the penalty to be imposed on Stephen Sizer.  He has now been barred from serving as a Church of England clergyman for 12 years. Now, given the nature of the disciplinary measure, this is probably the only option available to the Church. However, it seems rather an ineffective, pointless even given that Sizer is now 69 years old and has retired from Church of England ministry. In fact, he was reportedly no longer attending a church of England parish and had joined an independent evangelical church.

It seems to me that there are two problems here. First, the timeliness of censure.  It has taken quite some time for these matters to be heard in a formal disciplinary manner, although there have been previous interventions by a bishop and censure.  One excusable reason for why this has taken so long is that Sizer had agreed to comply with previous measures but the problem seems to be that he had not fully done so. Action now seems rather after the event.

The other issue is this. Antisemitism is a form of racism and therefore, antisemitic behaviour is something that would be detrimental to the witness of the Gospel and a serious sin when committed by any church member. There may be a higher degree of responsibility placed on church leaders and it may be that a vicar has a higher profile than an ordinary church member but the seriousness of the sin remains the same whether you wear a dog collar or not. 

So, I believe that the problem here is that the Church of England simply does not grasp well enough what it means to be a member of the church including when and where Biblical church discipline should be used.  Clergy are treated differently to laity and whilst I understand it is technically possible to withhold communion from someone in sin, it is apparently dependent on a Bishop’s sanction which is difficult to obtain. 

Now, it might be argued that given Sizer has left the Church of England altogether that it would be too late even to discipline by removing membership (excommunication). Indeed, I believe he may well have resigned/withdrawn his membership at the independent church he was attending after they began to investigate the matter and propose steps that he needed to take.

I personally would still proceed with church discipline in this case, including if I were an elder at the independent church.  Although the member had resigned, I would still call together the church members and ask them to agree that he was removed as a member.  Here’s why.

  1. It makes clearer what church membership is about. This is not some social club where you can tear up your card when it doesn’t suit you.
  2. It shows that resigning/leaving was an attempt to avoid proper accountability within the life of the church.
  3. It shows to people looking in from the outside that the church does not endorse or enable the sin.
  4. It helps the church know what to do should the person attempt to re-join.
  5. It identifies to other churches that the person is under discipline and not in good standing so that they should respect that if the person should try to join them.

Whilst most local churches will not face exactly the same situation as this case, we may well be presented with situations where a member, even a church leader is found to be in serious, persistent and public sin including where it is harmful to others. Therefore, we need to have a clear idea of what we will do when church disciplinary is sadly necessary but when the person concerned seems intent on evading that process.  I hope that the suggestion above will help with those situations.

[1] Tribunal Determination (Sizer) 6 December 2022.pdf (

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