Thousands of people have called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene to stop an arms conference from taking place on Church of England premises.
The Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Conference is due to take place on 15 and 16 July at Church House Conference Centre in London. It follows the Land Warfare Conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which also took place at the Church House premises between 30 June and 1 July.
The Air Power event’s sponsors include major arms manufacturers such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin.
On Wednesday Christian and other activists gathered outside Church House, which is the Church of England’s administrative hub and the London meeting place for General Synod.
They urged the church authorities not to host the second conference.
In addition almost 3,000 people have signed a letter to the Archbishop Justin Welby calling on him to intervene, and arguing that profiting from events supported by arms companies is in conflict with the Church’s moral position as established in its investment policy.
“Hosting these events legitimises those who profit from death and destruction and brings the venue into disrepute,” the letter says. Referring to St Paul’s Cathedral’s decision not to host events with, or sponsored by, arms manufacturers, it goes on: “St Paul's Cathedral has already recognised that hosting events sponsored by arms companies is not acceptable.”
A Church of England spokesman said that the RUSI is a long-established think thank that deals with defence and foreign policy.
“The Conference Centre at Church House provides a meeting space and conference facilities for a range of bodies from Government Departments to Think Tanks, from UK Feminista [an organisation that campaigns for gender equality] through to the General Synod of the Church of England," he said. "To suggest that by accepting this booking from the Royal United Services Institute Church House is accepting money from arms dealers or is supporting arms sales is simply untrue."
In Turin, Italy, in June Pope Francis condemned Christians who involved themselves in the arms trade, calling them "duplicitous" for directly or indirectly propping it up.