An arms industry-sponsored event was disrupted this morning (28 June 2017) by Christian campaigners just as Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was due to speak. The Land Warfare Conference, at Church House Westminster, was challenged by Christian campaigners who object to a Christian venue hosting a military conference sponsored by arms companies.
Ten Christian protesters blockaded the main entrance to the centre for about an hour after around 8.40am this morning. They were removed by police, who arrested one of them for attempting to walk into the building.
The blockade followed an attempt to question Defence Secretary Michael Fallon about arms sales to Saudi Arabia as he made his way into the conference. He did not answer any questions and his critics were physically dragged away from him by Church House security staff.
The conference, organised by a military thinktank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), is sponsored by arms companies including Airbus Defence & Space and L3, who have both been challenged over the provision of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Church House claim that Church House Westminster (formerly known as Church House Conference Centre) is a separate business. Critics point out that, as well as being in the same building, it is a wholly owned subsidiary business of Church House Corporation, whose president is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
As the door was blockaded this morning, army officers and arms industry personnel clustered around the steps, unable to get through the doorway, before being diverted to an inconvenient back entrance.
The ten Christians, who included several members of the Church of England, displayed banners declaring “Evict the arms dealers”, “Anglicans against arms” and quoting Jesus’ words, “All who take up the sword will die by the sword”.
“I did not take this action lightly,” said Christian author and Ekklesia associate Symon Hill, who was arrested as he attempted to walk into the building before being released shortly afterwards. “Church House have consistently refused to listen or talk with us, ignored the points we have raised and even been petty enough to block critics on social media.”
He added, “As those with power refuse to listen, we have taken nonviolent direct action, putting our bodies in the way of the evil that is going on at Church House today.”
When the conference opened yesterday, hundreds of tweets were sent to Church House Westminster to object to the event, including several from Church of England clergy.
There have been protests and vigils outside RUSI conferences at Church House every year since 2012.
“Jesus lived a life of active nonviolence,” said Eve Waterside, a member of the Church of England living in Oxford, who took part in today's protest. “We are called to follow his example, however fallibly.”
She continued, “A leading Christian conference centre is being used to plan large-scale violence, funded by companies that arm some of the world’s most oppressive regimes. I am sad and angry to see the church of which I am part profiting from war and the arms trade."
Christian pacifist network the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) responded to the protest by declaring that the blockade was “morally justifiable”.
FoR explained, “Church House Westminster say they can’t check who funds all the events they host, but it’s not hard to find out, as it’s plastered all over the organiser’s website”.
They added, “We think that taking money from weapons manufacturers is the opposite of Jesus’ message of peace and nonviolence. While we recognise the humanity of each and every arms dealer, their profession has no place in a house of prayer.”