A reverend currently on placement in the King’s College London Chaplaincy is facing a Church of England investigation after using racial terms to condemn the commemoration of recently departed veteran Captain Sir Thomas Moore.  

On Wednesday, February 3, Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown posted a now-deleted tweet in which he voiced his refusal to partake in the co-ordinated nationwide clap organised to remember Sir Tom, on the grounds that “The cult of Captain Tom is a cult of White British Nationalism”. 

In the same tweet, the reverend acknowledged Sir Tom’s “kind and generous soul” and said that he would be offering prayers for his repose. He later posted an apology, shortly before apparently deleting his Twitter account entirely. This was not enough to satisfy the thousands who have signed a change.org petition to have Robinson-Brown removed from his post in the Church. 

The founder of the petition states: “This is extremely offensive and damaging not just to Sir Tom, who raised tens of millions for the NHS benefitting ALL races and creeds in the UK and served his country during the war, but an insult to millions of generous people in the UK who supported his cause”.

The KCL LGBT+ Society have a close working relationship with Robinson-Brown and issued a strongly-worded statement in his defence: “As a Black gay man, Jarel gives us hope that religious spaces can be open to all of us, no matter our background”. They also condemned the “disgusting attacks” Robinson-Brown has been subject to, asserting: “It cannot be denied that this abuse is overtly racist and homophobic in nature”.

A 2nd Year King’s student who identifies as both homosexual and as a person of colour also denied that there was truth in Robinson-Brown’s tweet: “I’m not a massive fan of ‘activists’ and I certainly don’t think clapping for Captain Tom was part of a ‘white British nationalist cult'”. 

In responding to such polarised opinion, the Diocese of London called for a review and highlighted their social media guidelines, which they say are built on “truth, kindness and sensitivity to others”.

In response to internal complainants from within King’s, the Office of the Dean said: “We will support the Diocese of London on a review that is now underway in relation to the comments made, led by the Archdeacon of London. We understand that many will consider the tweet as unacceptable, insensitive and ill-judged, and Jarel immediately removed it and has subsequently publicly apologised.”

In trying to assess its inherent offensiveness, an international KCL student discussed the matter with a friend, who also identifies as gay and BIPOC: “My friend and I arrived at a very similar conclusion. It’s unclear whether it’s the rise in identity politics or collective trauma that’s causing some to associate certain people with buzzwords such as ‘white British nationalism’. Either way, the comment was absolutely inappropriate and uncalled for, especially from a figure of religious authority who has the moral responsibility to choose his words wisely. There is nothing holy about politicising death, period.

“As far as his apology is concerned, PR or not it was a thoughtful move. As far as the reverend being removed by the Church of England – it depends on who’s funding it. A privately funded organisation has the right to not be affiliated with people it doesn’t want. However, in the case of public/tax funding, it is slightly worrying that he is being removed as it only perpetuates cancel culture and partisan thinking. His first comment may have been out of line but it wasn’t openly hateful”. 

The vast majority of the Church of England’s funding comes from an £8.7 billion endowment, generating approximately £1 billion in annual income. This is followed by annual donations, which amounted to £329 million in 2016. Since 2012, the Church has received £42 million per annum as part of the Listed Places To Worship Grant Scheme but receives no other funding from the government.

The current controversy comes during a period of rapid transition for Robinson-Brown.  Previously a minister in the Wales Synod of the Methodist Church, he underwent a conversion to Anglo-Catholicism whilst in Walsingham in 2019 and entered the Church of England the following year.  Only a month ago, he was appointed to a prominent role within the parish of All Hallows’-by-the-Tower by Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London. All Hallows’ is the oldest church in the City, founded 300 years before the Tower of London. 

The current Covid-era was also a time of rapid ascent for Captain Sir Thomas Moore, known with affection throughout the world as Captain Tom. He rose to fame during the early days of the pandemic by walking lengths of his garden with the aid of his zimmer frame and raising over £32 million for NHS Charities Together in the process (exceeding his 100th birthday target of £1000 by a factor of 32000).

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