In an industrial estate in Nottingham, an anonymous warehouse serves as an international sales office and distribution depot for Heckler & Koch, a major small arms company, whose assault rifles and submachine guns are sold around the world. Next door to H&K is an evangelical church called Trent Vineyard, whose support local anti-arms activists are seeking in their campaign to close down the arms company. Shut Down H&K’s messages to the church leadership have gone unanswered, so campaign supporters decided to take their message to the regular churchgoers…
On December 13th, three supporters of the Shut Down H&K campaign took flyers to offer to people arriving for the Sunday morning service at Trent Vineyard, seeking to raise awareness about the arms company and find common ground with worshippers just a fortnight before the birthday of the Prince of Peace.
The campaigners began leafleting at the entrance to the church itself. The early arrivals were generally pleased to accept leaflets and surprised to hear that the world’s second-largest manufacturer of assault rifles and submachine guns was right next door. It was clearly not common knowledge among the congregation.
After about 10 minutes a representative of the church came to speak to the campaigners. She said that although she wasn’t unsympathetic to the cause, the campaigners should not be on church property. Handing out leaflets at the door might give churchgoers the impression that they were endorsed by the church when they were not.
Another church staffer then came out and took over the discussion. He said that campaigners had already been told (on a similar leafleting mission in January) that the church does not want leafleting on its property, and that their return demonstrated that either the campaign was untrustworthy or that its supporters were uncoordinated “loose cannons”.
He continued that while the church would be pleased to see H&K go, it could not be seen to endorse the campaign as this could violate the church’s tenancy agreement (with car insurance company LV=) and could lead to losing its premises.
He said that the church’s researcher had checked and found inaccuracies with the campaign literature, causing them to question the validity of the leaflets; another reason for not wishing to be associated with them or the campaign. The “inaccuracies” in question were not discussed, but the campaign will be writing to the church to seek clarification.
He felt it would have been polite for the campaign to have contacted the church earlier, to seek support in engaging with the congregation. In fact, the campaign has tried to do that several times. In May 2008 a member of the congregation repeatedly sought an audience with the pastor on behalf of the campaign, and in May 2009 the campaign wrote to the church. No reply was ever received.
Whilst the conversation was civil, the staffer suggested that the campaigners were “hijacking” the church’s congregation and his time, which should have been spent with Sabbath arrangements and engaging with the congregation. A Sunday service was not the time and place for this kind of activity, he said.
The campaign regrets the lack of trust between itself and the leadership of the Trent Vineyard church. However, the campaign believes that the congregation of the church has a right to know that the church is next-door to a controversial arms company with an indisputable history of supplying guns that have fuelled conflict around the world.
Shut Down H&K strives for accuracy in all of its claims, relying only on authoritative sources and cross-checking its research with arms trade experts in the UK and Germany. If any of the campaign’s claims are shown to be inaccurate, they will be corrected immediately.
Although Trent Vineyard did not respond to Shut Down H&K’s requests for a meeting, the campaign has been told by a churchgoer that Vineyard leadership has been in conversation with Heckler & Koch. The campaign urges the church not to accept assurances from the arms company on face value, and remains willing to meet with church representatives at any time.