A GROWING number of churchpeople have voiced their support for the Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown, the Black ordinand and former Methodist minister, whose Twitter post last week was widely interpreted as an attack on Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died on Tuesday.
Mr Robinson-Brown had posted: “The cult of Captain Tom is a cult of White British Nationalism. I will offer prayers for the repose of his kind and generous soul, but I will not be joining the ‘National Clap’” (News, 4 February).
Captain Sir Tom raised £32 million for the NHS during the UK’s first national lockdown by walking 1000 laps around his garden. He died, aged 100, after contracting Covid-19. The Archbishop of Canterbury described Captain Sir Tom as “the very best of us” (News, 4 February). The public was invited to clap in his honour on Wednesday evening last week.
Mr Robinson-Brown’s post was quickly taken down, and an apology from him was posted in its place: “I offer an unreserved apology for the insensitive timing and content of my tweet regarding the clap for Captain Tom.”
A petition was none the less started for his removal from office (he has not yet been licensed, but has secured a title post at All Hallows by the Tower, London). By the weekend it had gained more than 20,000 signatures. Many of the signatories referred to Mr Robinson-Brown’s race, with comments such as “Racism is a one way street according to some. When a white person is accused of racist tendencies they are rightly called out and vilified. When a BAME person does the same it seems to be their right to do so based on the wrongdoings from generations ago.”
Racist trolling has been one trigger for expressions of support for Mr Robinson-Brown. Another has been the statement put out by the diocese of London, which read: “Jarel Robinson-Brown’s comments regarding Captain Sir Tom Moore were unacceptable, insensitive, and ill-judged. The fact that he immediately removed his tweet and subsequently apologised does not undo the hurt he has caused, not least to Captain Tom’s family.”
Many social-media posts have viewed this as undermining Mr Robinson-Brown’s apology — “throwing him under a bus” has been a common expression — as was the announcement that the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller, was to conduct an investigation into the matter.
The statement also said that it was unacceptable that Mr Robinson-Brown has been subjected to racial abuse.
In response, the Revd Dr Jonathan Jong invited supporters of #IStandWithJarel to write to the diocese of London in support of his view that “Jarel is a kind, loving, admirable, and talented minister, whose moral voice has touched and inspired many. It would be a tragedy for it to be silenced or attenuated by a media environment all too ready to marginalise people of colour and other minority backgrounds. It would be a moral failure for the Church to allow this to happen.”
A typical post from supporters was: “I am heartbroken and horrified by the way the my dear friend Jarel Robinson-Brown has been treated by the media and the public. He is one of the most kind and gentle souls who is doing vital work for LGBTQ+ individuals and people of colour yet is met with abuse at every turn.”
One Twitter user reported that someone exploring their vocation had withdrawn after seeing how little support the diocese had offered Mr Robinson-Brown.
Another suggested that buying Mr Robinson-Brown’s forthcoming book, Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer (SCM Press, £17.99) was the best way of showing support. It now sits at the top of the Amazon bestseller list for theology, even though it is not published until 31 July.
Few have defended Mr Robinson-Brown’s tweet, but the Society for the Study of Theology (SST) said on Friday: “The Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown’s tweet called attention to the issue of political rhetoric that appeals to jingoism at the expense of Black and Brown lives. The vocation of the theologian requires freedom of expression and conscience and must include the freedom to name and confront evils that others have not acknowledged.”
The society, which has 500 members, has been working to repair the marginalisation of Black and ethnic-minority theologians since 2017. It said: “SST is proud to count Revd Robinson-Brown as a member and values his courageous theological work highlighting discrimination by the church against those who are Black and gay. We are concerned by the review announced by the diocese of London and call for the Church of England to defend Revd Robinson-Brown from the campaign being waged against him.”
A talk by Mr Robinson-Brown for the SCM Press/Church Times event “How to Rage” is featured in this week’s Church Times. A recording of the event can be purchased here, and Mr Robinson-Brown contribution is featured on this week’s Church Times podcast.