DAVID Maddox, political editor of the Express online, captured one of the great ironies of the 21st century when reporting on the Church of England’s rejection of would-be clergyman Calvin Robinson. ‘The issue came to a head when Mr Robinson, who is black, met the Bishop of London, who is white, where she insisted that the Church is institutionally racist,’ wrote Maddox.
At a subsequent meeting with church hierarchy, Robinson was told no fewer than seven times that the decision to rescind the offer of a curacy, complete with church, congregation, house and ecclesiastical prospects, was not a consequence of his politics but, rather bafflingly, of his presentation. Have you ever seen Calvin? He is more handsome than Pharrell Williams, slicker than Jay-Z, and dresses like a man who at any moment may be summoned to take tea with the Queen. When he speaks, robins gather on spade handles and sparrows swoon from the trees. He also has an Afro which can be seen from space. It couldn’t be that, could it?
Absurd as it seems, there is more to this suggestion than simple devilment. No one is suggesting that old-fashioned racism is behind the bishops’ and archbishops’ decision to drop the axe on Robinson’s future. It is a much more progressive form of racism than that. The racism of the church does not lie dormant in its embarrassment of ecclesiastical treasures, as its Synod would have us believe, but rather in how it sees a black priest and assumes from the pigmentation that he fits into the paradigm of Black Lives Matter. When Robinson fails to conform to a stereotype by rapping about the evils of whiteness, the church becomes frustrated and spiteful.
Whilst bishops with complexions sitting between Slipper Satin and Pavilion Blue sweep from their vestries, laying waste every artefact, gargoyle, pillar and etched stone that speaks of colony, Robinson breaks bread with Peter Whittle and Emma Webb. The Bishop of London blogs about slavery. Calvin wears a Union Flag bow tie and celebrates St George. While the Church would have cancelled the Sermon on the Mount if it meant Jesus sharing a platform with Julia Hartley-Brewer, Calvin and Julia do lunch.
The failure of its ordinand to perform the role of an idealised Black Disciple prompts a similar rage to that experienced by the Scribes and Pharisees. Where they expected a sophisticated warlord in the style of King David, the Messiah turned out to be a blue-collar worker from the backwaters of Galilee. The similarity does not end there. Jesus chose tax collectors, sailors, and unruly women as his entourage. Robinson fellowships with Laurence Fox, Daily Mail readers and Terfs. Worse still, he picks these people as his closest friends because he’s on a mission from God. He chooses them because he likes them. They like him in return.
Like Jesus, Calvin is a populist. The Church of England, sadly, is not. Between 2009 and 2019, the Church suffered a 21 per cent decline in average weekly attendance, a period which correlates with the campaign and execution of Brexit and a zeal from the pulpit to remind us all of the iniquity of border control. Post George Floyd, the church has doubled down on its mission to purge from beneath its steeples every last vestige of Empire, and has even modified the doctrine of original sin so that now, when a white child is baptised, it is burdened with every colonialist transgression from John Hawkins to the Queen of England. Little wonder that everyday Christian folk are eschewing the holy bollocking in favour of a lazy morning in with Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs.
The wickedly perverse concept of guilt based on proximity to whiteness cannot be dismissed on the grounds that it does not appear in Mein Kampf. During Haiti’s Papa Doc years, Calvin Robinson’s lighter tones would not have escaped the notice of the regime’s straw-hatted inquisitors, the Tonton Macoute. In the Caribbean voodoo regime, only the blackest of lives mattered.
Unlike Robinson, the actress formerly known as Thandie Newton has learned to despise her complexion. Through the medium of TikTok, she recently begged forgiveness for being insufficiently black. ‘My Mama looks like you. I took your men, your work, your truth,’ she confessed in an orgy of self-flagellation. Much to the church’s annoyance, Robinson turns his nose up at such race baiting nonsense.
So, what was it about Calvin Robinson’s presentation that the church has found so problematic? The answer appears to be institutionalised racism wherein the ecclesiastical blue print could not accommodate a black priest who did not conform to type. So when the cry rang out from Lambeth Palace, ‘Who will rid us of this turbulent priest?’ a host of pasty bishops rushed to oblige.