What Jarel Robinson-Brown did not say

Right-wing social media users have driven themselves into a frenzy of outrage over a tweet written by a Church of England priest named Jarel Robinson-Brown. The front page of today’s Daily Star features calls for him to be sacked.

I strongly suspect that some of those attacking Jarel are motivated in part by the fact that he is black, gay and left-wing. Mostly, however, they are attacking him for things that he has not said.

Jarel has been accused of insulting Tom Moore, the 100-year old fundraiser who sadly died recently after raising millions for NHS-linked charities. Jarel has also been accused of insulting white British people.

He has done neither of these things.

The tweet in question read:

The cult of Captain Tom Moore is a cult of white British nationalism. I will offer prayers for the repose of his kind and generous soul, but will not be joining the ‘national clap.’”

Whatever you make of this viewpoint, it is clear that Jarel was not criticising Tom Moore but the use of his memory. Indeed, he described Tom Moore as “kind and generous”. Nor did Jarel attack white British people; he attacked white British nationalism.

It is one thing to disagree with Jarel (which is fair enough). It is quite another to accuse him of saying things he has not said.

Jarel Robinson-Brown removed his tweet on the day it was posted, acknowledging that the timing and wording were insensitive. However, other people, including other clergy, have made similar comments. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the person who was most attacked for taking this sort of view is black, gay and the sort of person who right-wingers in the Church love to hate.

Now right-wing Twitter warriors who claim to be “free speech advocates” and who regularly attack “cancel culture” have driven Jarel off Twitter and set up a petition calling for him to be sacked. Speaking as someone who has often recieved abuse and even death threats from far-right types, I know that there are few people so easily offended as gung-ho nationalists.

Journalists on papers such as the Daily Star and Daily Mail know very well that accusing people of misusing Tom Moore’s memory is different to criticising Tom Moore. A lot of hate-mongering relies on intelligent people pretending to be stupid, well-trained journalists acting as if they cannot understand nuance.

Like most people, I admire Tom Moore, who became a celebrity at the age of 99. His fundraising actions suggest he is compassionate, dedicated and courageous. Jarel Robinson-Brown described him as “kind and generous”.

Admiring Tom Moore does not mean supporting people who have misused him to promote nationalism and militarism. The Covid pandemic is a reminder that our compassion cannot stop at borders and that we need to work together to find global solutions. Despite this, Tom Moore is frequently portrayed as somehow representing Britain, as if Covid were a particularly British problem that only British people could solve.

Shortly after Tom Moore’s fundraising efforts began, he was being described as “Captain Tom”, as if his former membership of the army somehow made him more worthy. He later became “Captain Sir Tom” – referred to by three words, only one of which is actually a name. He was made an honourary colonel at the Army Foundation College, where 16-year-old recruits are taught to kill, two years before they are old enough to buy a violent video game. Today, the Ministry of “Defence” tweeted about recent activities undertaken by the UK armed forces and claimed that they were building on Tom Moore’s legacy (they conveniently failed to mention their key role in training the Saudi forces bombing civilians in Yemen).

It is possible to criticise all these developments without attacking Tom Moore himself. We can also celebrate Tom Moore while also praising the other people of a similar age who have also undertaken heroic fundraising efforts during the Covid crisis. Nor is it insulting to Tom Moore to suggest that if Boris Johnson really wants to honour him, he could perhaps commit to funding the NHS properly rather than rely on the charitable efforts of heroic centenarians.

Amongst those who have behaved most deplorably in this situation is the Diocese of London in the Church of England. They rushed to hide behind the pillars of establishment respectability. Their statement began by referring to “Jarel Robinson-Brown’s comments regarding Captain Sir Tom Moore”, ignoring the fact that his comments were not primarily about Tom Moore but about the reaction to his death. The Diocese’s statement contained several sentences criticising Jarel Robinson-Brown and one short sentence criticising the racist abuse he is now receiving. “A review is now underway,” it said ominously. “Led by the Archdeacon of London”.

Faced with a choice between backing a prophetic voice under attack or siding with the forces of establishment and nationalistic outrage, it is rarely difficult to know which position the leadership of the Church of England is likely to take.

Contrast the treatment of Jarel Robinson-Brown with Richard Poole, a Church of England vicar in Surrey. Last year, Richard Poole criticised the Black Lives Matter movement in his sermon and spoke about race in such a way that a black churchwarden resigned. Poole’s bishop defended him after a rather vague apology. The story barely made the media beyond the Christian press and the likes of Piers Morgan and Laurence Fox did not take to Twitter to criticise him.

Thankfully, while church leaders are rushing to grovel to the right-wing lynch mob and side with the idols of nationalism, the London wing of the Student Christian Movement, the LGBT+ Society at King’s College London and the Anglo-Catholic Socialist Collective have all bravely issued statements of solidarity with Jarel Robinson-Brown.

It is a reminder that the future of Christianity lies with grassroots movements, not with institutional denominational leaderships. It is at the grassroots that Jesus’ gospel of love and liberation is most faithfully proclaimed and lived out.

10 responses to “What Jarel Robinson-Brown did not say

  1. what a ridiculous article and waste of print .I think most if not all people had a great respect of Tom..For someone to say it’s white supremacist is surely incredibly racist and disgusts me ..People of all backgrounds including myself took Tom to their hearts and for someone to accuse those people of being white supremacists is racist and disgusting..I had no inkling of this so called man of the cloths background but
    he disgusts me for his bigoted racist views ..

    • Thanks for your comment, Duane.

      In case I didn’t make this clear in the article, I also have a lot of respect for Tom Moore. I think Jarel Robinson-Brown probably does too. In the tweet in question, he described Tom Moore as “kind and generous”.

      The criticism was not against Tom Moore, nor against people like you and me who admired and respected him. It was about the misuse of his memory to stoke up a nationalist agenda. Admittedly, Jarel could have been clearer about this in his tweet, and he apologised for the insensitive wording.

      It is simply not true that either Jarel or I have said anything disrespectful either of Tom Moore or of those who admire him.

  2. The fact is his words created division and are pretty racist….if this had been a white priest talking abt a black nation that person would probably already be sacked. I don’t find the left or right peaceful or calm….but goodness very left leaning people seem to like to dish it out and then don’t like to hear any criticism. Btw…I am lesbian and see myself as a centre person. The church should show love,unity, acceptance of all….no colours,genders etc mentioned. People in such positions should be bringing ALL people to God, not chasing them away by causing divisions. I,m glad he apologised….and if he truly meant it he must be given a second chance and concentrate less on politics and more on inclusive love for all..not just those issues he chooses.

    • Thanks for your comment, Louise.

      Whether or not you agree with Jarel’s comments about “white British nationalism”, he did not attack white British *people* or Britain generally. As for the idea that a white priest who had been racist about black people would be sacked: I refer you to the example in my article above about a priest who did just that and attracted far less criticism and media attention than Jarel did.

      Concentrating on inclusive love means getting involved in politics. How can you love people who are suffering without seeking to address the cause of their suffering? How can you love people who are poor without challenging the causes of their poverty? All life is political, and it is impossible to follow Jesus without being political.

  3. I second the comment above. 2020 was frightenng and disheartening. And then came along Captain Tom and gave us all a reason to smile again. And he was a unifer for everyone.

    The worst part of all of this was the timing. The man hasnt even been buried and not a thought was given to the family. State and church are supposed to be separate but a perusal of Jarel Robinsons tweets indicate he appears to be more interested in politics than anything else. I particularly didnt appreciate the comment about some christian men being weak.

    These are not the sort of things that a decent person does. That time was not about him and his views, it was about showing some respect to a man who has done more for his country than most ever will. Is that too much to ask. And so when the public quite rightly dont like this situation, his ‘supporters’ then attack the church,

    The clap was a clap for Captain Tom and the healthcare workers he supported. It was a final chance to say thank you – no agenda, no white nationalism, just a thank you. And yet here we are yet again. If the UK was truly racist, Mr Robinson would not have the confidence or freedom to say things that he knows are going to draw attention to himself.

    He started this. No one else – through entitlement, lack of boundaries and a failure to read the mood of the wider public.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nicole.

      Jarel described Tom Moore as “kind and generous” and said he would pray for his soul. He did not say anything negative about him. I don’t undestand how Tom Moore’s family can have been offended by Jarel’s comment. They may have been offended if they read the many people who *misquoted* Jarel. Nonetheless, Jarel accepted that his comment was open to misinterpretation, he apologised for both the wording and the timing and he withdrew the tweet. Far more people know about the tweet than would have done, because the right-wing media delighted in quoting it and attacking Jarel.

      Being a Christian means seeking to follow Jesus in all areas of life, including politics. There is little point in a church that ignores politics because to ignore politics is to ignore people. You can’t love people, you can’t challenge sin, without being political. (You may disagree with Jarel’s views on politics, but it makes no sense to tell him not to be political. All life is political.)

      I also admired Tom Moore. I clapped for healthcare workers. But I did not want to be part of a clap promoted by the likes of Boris Johnson, who hypocritically cheered Tom Moore while failing to fund the NHS and implementing policies that have increased the death toll. They hypocrisy makes me sick. There cannot be unity in a deeply unequal society with a government committed only to the interests of the very rich.

      You say that if the UK were truly racist, Jarel would not have the freedom to voice his opinions. Are you suggesting that a society can be deemed racist only if racial minorities are prevented from expressing their views? There is a lot more to racism than that.

      • Hi, you state in the above reply, and I quote – “I don’t understand how Tom Moore’s family can have been offended by Jarel’s comment”. I find it strange that you fail to recognise that ANY grieving family, at the time they have just lost a loved one, could really do without having to unpick a statement like Reverend Browns.

        I also think you’re making quite an assumption that the family were not in the least affected by Reverend Browns tweet and the controversy that has stemmed from it. Maybe the family will comment on it in their own good time should they wish to do so.

        And why use Twitter to develop a complex argument? At a more timely moment Reverend Brown could have written an article to expand on his feelings and people may then have better understood and appreciated his viewpoint. His poorly timed tweet appeared to some as something approaching race baiting.

        I do not know Reverend Brown nor had I heard of him before this controversy but a quick google search shows him to be something of a BLM activist with, judging by the number of selfies he posts, possible narcissistic tendencies. So whilst I agree with you that he will suffer more of a backlash as a gay black man (which should not happen and is completely wrong) it may be that many people have looked him up on google and feel they don’t appreciate being guided by the comments of what they see as BLM supporting narcissist who happens to be a clergyman.


      • Hi Danny. Thanks for your comment. I admit I possibly overstated my point in saying that there was no reason for any of Tom Moore’s family to be offended. I agree they may have been offended, although I think this is more likely if they read the many claims about what Jarel Robinson-Brown had supposedly said rather than what he had actually said. There are many, many people online claiming that Jarel said things that he did not, and overlooking his description of Tom Moore as “kind and generous”. The people who make such claims may well bare far more responsibility than Jarel for any upset caused to the family. However, I cannot of course speak for Tom Moore’s family or read their minds. Nor for that matter can the many people saying that they were offended by Jarel’s comments. Perhaps we should both let the family speak for themselves. I would also rather that they were spared having to deal with controversies whipped up by the media.

        I completely agree with you that Twitter is not a good place to develop a nuanced argument. I never suggested that it was wise for Jarel to tweet what he did. He apologised (within the same day) for his insensitive timing and wording, and he removed the tweet. I’m not saying he made his point well, rather I am saying that the point he was making was not against Tom Moore, and that Jarel has been misrepresented.

        Jarel Robinson-Brown is indeed a Black Lives Matter activist as well as a campaigner on other important issues, including poverty and LGBT rights. I admire his commitment over many years to improving society and challenging injustice. I do not know him well, but I do not see any sign of narcissistic tendencies. It is a big leap from noting that he posts a lot of selfies to assuming that he is narcissistic. His actions speak louder than his selfies.

  4. It probably is a British Institution but if you do not like it why to you want to live in out country. I do not understand people who criticise our country but do not mind taking advantage of all it has to offer. The old saying do not bite the hand that feeds you comes to mind. I agree he said nothing bad about Tom but he showed disrespect when he added the comment about the clapping, he did not even have to mention that and as a member of the cloth he should be better than this.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dawn.

      I’m glad you agree that Jarel did not say anything bad about Tom Moore. I wish more people realised that!

      I don’t really understand what you mean about living in the country. I have no reason to think that Jarel does not love Britain (his comments were about white British *nationalism*, not about white British *people* or about Britain generally). I love Britain. I don’t like the way that the rich and powerful treat it, and I challenge institutions and practices that I think benefit only the rich and powerful and not the British people generally.

      Are you suggesting that if someone doesn’t like the way things are going politically in their country, then they should move out of the country? That if they consider something to be unjust then they should leave rather than challenge the injustice?

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