A conference sponsored by arms companies is to go ahead at the Church House Conference Centre today and tomorrow (9-10 July), despite protests from Christian opponents of the arms trade.
The Air Power Conference is organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a pro-military thinktank. The event, which will be addressed by the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, is sponsored by a number of arms companies, including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Finmeccanica. They are all involved in the sale of arms to oppressive regimes.
Critics of the event are emailing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is president of the Church House Corporation, of which the Conference Centre is a wholly owned subsidiary business.
They also plan a vigil of prayer and protest outside the event at Church House this morning.
Church House houses the administrative headquarters of the Church Commissioners, the Archbishops’ Council and other parts of the Church of England.
“A number of Christians are very concerned about this event,” explained Pat Gaffney of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organisation. “The Church of England’s ethical investment policy includes 'conscientiousness with regard to human rights' as one of its criteria. How then can it host and accept income from some of the largest arms exporting companies whose weapons are used to abuse the rights of others?”
Pax Christi, along with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Speak network, has joined with the Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to set up an online facility to email Justin Welby about their concerns.
This is not the first time that the arms industry has held an event in Church House. A similar conference in November 2012 was met with opposition from many Christians, who wrote to the Church House Conference Centre and to the Archbishop of Canterbury to raise their concerns.
Last month, Church House hosted a conference on 'Land Warfare', also organised by RUSI and addressed by Philip Hammond. Christian opponents of the arms trade, about half of them Anglicans, gathered outside for a prayer vigil.
A Church House spokesperson recently told the Church Times that the event was not an “arms conference” as it is organised by a thinktank. The claim was dismissed by Emma Anthony of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
“The Church is kidding itself when it says that RUSI is an independent security thinktank,” she insisted. “In reality, they're anything but independent as they couldn't exist without funding from the arms industry. There is no way, with those sponsors, that these conferences are anything other than the repugnant preparation for war. The Church should reject this process, let alone facilitate it.”
Christian activist Symon Hill, a member of the CAAT Christian Network, pointed out that he and four other Christians had received a message of support from Welby's predecessor, Rowan Williams, after they were arrested for blocking an entrance to the London arms fair last year. He urged Welby to show the same principles by asking Church House not to host arms industry events.
“The arms companies are not hiring Church House Conference Centre because they want to be nice, or to support the Church,” said Hill. “They are doing it because it's good for their business. By agreeing to host them, Church House Conference Centre is supporting the arms trade by giving practical support and a veneer of legitimacy to an industry that profits from death and destruction.”
Campaigners will gather outside Church House – on the Westminster Abbey side – at 11.00am today (Wednesday 9 July) to hold a nonviolent vigil.
To email the Archbishop of Canterbury about the event, please see http://act.caat.org.uk/lobby/churchhouse.