A prominent clergyman has accused the Church of England of aiding a backlash against a trainee priest who tweeted there was a “cult of white British nationalism” surrounding Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died last week.
Andrew Foreshew-Cain, chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, told the Observer: “What Jarel [Robinson-Brown] tweeted was actually very respectful of Captain Tom, but he raised questions about some of those lionising him. There has been a pile-on in response, and the church has aided that.”
More than 120 clergy have rallied to Robinson-Brown’s defence after he received death threats and abuse. An open letter to Sarah Mullally, the bishop of London, after the diocese ordered an investigation into the trainee priest’s conduct, calls for a “strong and public condemnation of the racist, homophobic and abusive way he has been treated”, and says the row raises concerns about freedom of speech.
Robinson-Brown wrote: “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’.”
He swiftly deleted his comment, and offered “an unreserved apology for the insensitive timing and content of my tweet regarding the clap for Captain Tom”. He later deleted his Twitter account.
The tweet drew a furious response on social media and in other forums, including the Millwall football club fans’ chat room. By 5pm on Friday, almost 18,000 people had signed an online petition calling on the church to “remove him from his post, on the basis he is a divisive and damaging figure that has insulted the memory of a national treasure and true hero of this country”.
Sir Tom died aged 100 last week after raising more than £32m for the NHS by walking laps of his garden. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, was among those who clapped in his memory on doorsteps on Wednesday evening after describing him as “an inspiration to millions” and “the very best of us”.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the diocese of London said Robinson-Brown’s comment was “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. Nor do Jarel’s actions justify the racist abuse he is now receiving.”
A letter organised by Foreshew-Cain and backed by up to 400 clergy and lay members of the church expresses “profound unhappiness” with the statement.
It says: “Your statement raises questions about the freedom of thought and speech of individual clergy, and fails to fully acknowledge the deliberate and hateful way that Jarel’s tweet has been misconstrued and used to attack him in ways that are both racist and homophobic … This is a serious safeguarding issue.”
Robinson-Brown was recently appointed as curate at All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London. His book, Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer, will be published in July.