Jarel Robinson-Brown is fighting for his life, his very identity, which he says is under attack because he is a black, gay Anglican priest. His voice matters in the Church of England which often refuses to recognise the right of gay people to have sexual relationships and silences black people, taking their zeal and commitment for granted. He currently serves as Assistant Curate at St Botolph-without-Aldgate, in the City of London.
He’s written a compelling narrative in the tradition of black, liberation theology about the double barriers of being black and gay in the church which is often white and stubbornly heterosexual. He
In conversation with Sekai Makoni, he said at his book launch on Saturday, 09 October: “It’s hard to know the route back to our ‘original place’ if we are Black and British – we are, no matter what we might imagine, and as many, it seems, are keen to remind us – far from home. To be in this thing that some refer to as the African Diaspora is to be filled with a searching, a yearning…for some place, somewhere…where we are free, and whole.”
His grandmother was born in Cuba to Jamaican parents. Both grandparents came to the UK in the 1960’s with the Windrush generation. Mr Robinson-Brown was born British and claimed Jamaican Citizenship in adulthood by descent through his grandfather.
During his opening remarks, he poignantly recounted all the passages in the Old Testament and in Paul’s letters that condemn gay Christians. In his book he argues that Jesus did not condemn homosexuals or transgender people whose identities are always under attack.
Mr Robinson-Brown writes that if grace is not for all, then it’s for no one: ‘I am not interested in a church or a gospel that offers the love of God with a page full of terms and conditions. Either all people are made in God’s image or they are not. Either Christ came, died and rose again for all or for none. Either the church exists for every soul or for not a single soul.’
God created every human being in his own image including those who are homosexual, lesbian bisexual, transgender and intersex. It’s the Church, he writes, that has rejected many LGBTQ+ Christians and these people still say their prayers to Jesus privately at home.
In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, he knows her and he does not shame or humiliate her. She then tells everyone about her meeting. He writes: ‘This is what happens when Jesus, the joy of God, meets us where we are. When his wounds touch our shadow places, when his tenderness meets us in the closets of our lives, when his love enfolds the parts of us we hide, we come to know the joy that Jesus brings.’
He suggests the Church is dying because it excludes people who are black and LGBTQ+: ‘There is a death-ness in the Church today of which those of us who have been pushed towards the door know and have diagnosed for some time. It is a diagnosis rooted in both the cowardice of the Church as an institution and its crisis of identity.’
As Christians, he writes, there is a ‘call to a simplicity in the practice of love (which) is no small task for the people of God who call themselves Christian. It asks the Church to see the world as the place where God in Christ is already at work, and to follow that God in all the places Jesus would go.’
Mr Robinson-Brown is a radical priest and a free thinker advocating that inter faith peers should be appointed to the House of Lords. He said: “I want a church that is weaker, that hasn’t got privilege, a servant church. We have too much power and look what we do with it. When we don’t have power, we’ll do church better. For the church to change, I will lose out. I am willing to lose some of that privilege.
“The House of Lords should be an interfaith space. It should not be dominated by one denomination of one Church. My Christianity is not threatened by other people of other faiths in the House of Lords. I don’t know why we are so scared about losing some power.”
The law has recognised the criminalisation of gay relationships as the abomination that it is and embraced LGBTQ+ relationships in the Civil Partnerships Act. Yet, the Church, particularly evangelicals, continue to reject and exclude gay Christians who are not celibate.
He digs deep into black LGBTQ+ culture, citing James Cone, James Baldwin, Professor Pamela Lightsey, Toni Morrison and many others who write about how their very identity is under threat in the UK, Europe and America because of white, heterosexual supremacy.
Mr Robinson-Brown has written a robust, theological challenge to the church to live as Jesus lived. That is, to understand that every human being is made in God’s image, to be inclusive, to care for the poor, those in exile and to embrace people whose sexual orientation or gender is not ‘heteronormative.’
He writes that the Gospel is both personal and social: ‘Those who dismiss what they call the ‘Social Gospel’ in favour of a Gospel of personal salvation are making a division where none exists, nor can exist. There are not two Gospels, but one.’
Mr Robinson-Brown has a prophetic voice, desperately needed in our time. He said: “So I write, and exist – as someone walking the line between despair and resurrection light – it’s a wounded, crucified, entombed kind of hope if it is hope at all – and I write as one who has diagnosed a famine at the heart of the Church which can only be remedied when we become honest about what being in our bodies really means.”