US Christian leader Tony Campolo has become the latest public figure to give his backing to five British Christians who are on trial for blocking an entrance to the London arms fair. He said that they followed in the biblical tradition of putting loyalty to God ahead of loyalty to the state.
The five Christians – James Clayton, Symon Hill, Chloe Skinner, Chris Wood and Daniel Woodhouse - will be tried in Stratford Magistrates' Court in London on Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 February 2014.
Campolo, a Baptist minister and academic, has played a leading role over several decades in encouraging evangelical Christians to take a stand on issues such as poverty, peace and the environment. He coined the term “Red Letter Christians” to describe a faith based on the words of Jesus.
“There are times when being arrested puts persons in a great tradition that goes all the way back to the apostles in the early days of Christianity,” explained Campolo in a message about the case. “They had to declare that, where the law of the land conflicted with God’s law, they had to obey God rather than the law of the land.”
He added, “When Christians in our present day imitate that biblically-defined model, we should pray for them and encourage them as spiritual progressives.”
The five defendants have already received supportive messages from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the comedian Mark Thomas. Members of Parliament to offer their backing include Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, Linda Riordan of Labour and Elfin Llywd, Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on defence issues.
The defendants were part of a group who blocked a bridge leading from Custom House station to the Excel Centre, where the London arms fair was being held, on 10 September 2013. They knelt down and linked arms while praying and singing hymns. They are charged with disrupting a lawful business activity and failing to move when requested by the police.
The arms fair – known formally as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) – has long been criticised for the presence of regimes with poor human rights records, such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Uzbekistan.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which is also backing the defendants, pointed out today (31 January) that two companies had been removed from the arms fair for selling illegal torture equipment on the same day that the Christians were arrested. No-one from the companies is believed to have been arrested or charged with a crime.
“The biennial arms fair in the docklands has a proven track record of illegal activity,” explained the activist comedian Mark Thomas, a longstanding CAAT supporter. “Time and time again the organisers and the police fail to stop companies from offering illegal torture equipment.”
Thomas added, “If the organisers and the police do nothing to stop this, then I applaud the individuals whose conscience compels them to take a stand.”
Symon Hill, one of the defendants, is an associate of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which advocates for nonviolence, peacemaking and conflict transformation.
* More from Ekklesia on protests against the London Arms Fair: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/8731