Church House, the administrative headquarters of the Church of England, will host a two-day conference sponsored by arms companies, beginning tomorrow (1 November 2012).
The news has provoked shock and criticism from many Christians, including Church of England clergy.
Christians, along with supporters from other religions and none, will gather outside Church House from 7.45am tomorrow. They will say morning prayer as an act of witness against the arms trade. They will call on Church House not to endorse the arms industry.
Church House's decision to host the conference has been criticised by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and by Christian organisations including Christianity Uncut, Pax Christi, Christian CND, the Speak Network and the Christian thinktank Ekklesia.
People concerned about the conference have begun to email the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is president of the Church House Corporation. The Church House Conference Centre is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Corporation.
The event is sponsored by six multinational arms companies: BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, MBDA and Raytheon. All have been involved in the sale of arms to oppressive regimes. Other arms companies are listed as “exhibitors”.
The event has been organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a pro-military thinktank, with the support of the Ministry of Defence.
The conference, run on behalf of the Chief of Air Staff, will explore “air power in the future”. It will include discussion of remote-controlled drones, which have recently been condemned by a number of church leaders.
The Rev Al Barrett, a Church of England priest in Birmingham, said: “I find it utterly staggering and shameful that my denominational headquarters should be providing space to an event, sponsored by weapons manufacturers, promoting armed conflict. If the Church wants to model the hospitality of Jesus, it should invite the conference delegates in, without accepting any payment, to sit and eat with those people of the poorest countries of our world who have been maimed, widowed and orphaned by the weapons these delegates have manufactured, traded and deployed.”
The Rev Chris Howson, a Church of England priest in Sunderland, added: “After the St Paul's fiasco, where it looked to the world as if the Church of England had aligned itself to the banking establishment, it is a disastrous move for the Church to now look aligned to the military establishment. The Church of England should endeavour to make a stand against all forms of warfare, especially those that dish out death and destruction from thousands of miles away.”
See also: 'Why is the Church of England hosting an arms dealers' conference?', by Symon Hill: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17268