The Church of England has always had its share of turbulent priests. Occasionally they come from the left, but much more frequently from the right—and there is nothing that the media likes better than a priest prepared to denounce the institution and all its works. Newspaper readers may not go to church much these days, but they do like to be told that the Church is departing from the faith of their fathers.
The latest in the line of Jeremiahs is 37-year-old Calvin Robinson, who left the Church of England last year when the diocese of London decided not to ordain him and has since come out fulminating against its progressive heresies, mainly about gay people. That won him a regular spot on the right-wing polemical GB News channel presenting a show called Calvin’s Common Sense Crusade, until he recently chose a perverse form of martyrdom.
Robinson stood up for the right of one of the channel’s other contributors, Laurence Fox, to say live on air that he would not want to shag Ava Evans, a female journalist who had recently argued against the creation of a “minister for men”. He also stood full square behind Dan Wootton, Fox’s interviewer, who grinned vacuously throughout the sequence without seriously attempting to stop his lubriciousness. Within days, GB News had decided it could do without Fox, Wootton and Robinson.
On TalkTV, Robinson explained to presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer that it was all a matter of free speech: “We need a difference of opinion, we need a broad spectrum of views. This is a good thing. And we can say that while also saying what Laurence said was wrong. I told him to his face as well: ‘What you said was wrong, you didn’t need to say that. She’s a known misandrist, you could have defeated her argument… don’t stoop to her level.’”
In a video broadcast, apparently from his front room, sitting in front of a chest of drawers draped in the Union flag and with a portrait of the late Queen perched on the top, Robinson argued that an apology from Fox—which was eventually tendered—was the most that should have been required of him. Presenters such as Wootton were truth-seekers and freedom fighters, building up the station with blood, sweat and tears. Sinister forces were at work within the station, seeking to undermine its outspokenness on behalf of the silent majority. Why, they had even stopped him inviting Katie Hopkins—the extremely right-wing polemicist whose views are too hot these days even for the tabloids—onto his show. (Robinson’s claims in the same video concerning alleged sexual harassment at the channel are serious, and may warrant further investigation.)
Robinson’s highly polemical and political style may be new in this country, but echoes that of the “televangelists” in the US who have been leaching right-wing partisan politics into their supposedly religious broadcasting for nearly 50 years. Men like the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson first effectively threw their weight behind Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s, ironically supporting a non-religious divorcé against Jimmy Carter, the devout Baptist Sunday school preacher, because they preferred Reagan’s politics. That may have reached its apogee in the Christian right’s more recent support for Donald Trump.
How far the silent majority would actually support Robinson’s theological views, or even be converted by them, is a matter of conjecture. Sex outside marriage is fornication, marriage is between one man and one woman, abortion is wrong and the idea that the Church should even consider such things—such as blessing same-sex unions—is heresy. He told YouTube broadcaster the Rev Dan Beesley, the vicar of Chalfont St Giles, this week (and Beesley seemed to agree with him) that 99 per cent of the episcopacy were apostates: “Every time the Archbishop of York opens his mouth heresy just spits out, it’s getting really bad.” The question is why Robinson ever wanted to be ordained in the Church of England in the first place.
Robinson’s highly polemical style echoes that of the “televangelists” in the US
Robinson was born, brought up and educated in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. He is of mixed-race heritage, describing himself as “half white, half black”, “half Afro-Caribbean and half English”, the son of a white English mother and a father whose parents emigrated from Jamaica in the Windrush generation. He studied computer games design and programming at the University of Westminster, trained as a teacher and taught computer science in a Church of England school in Hendon, north London. He also created a video games site called God is a Geek.
He was an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in local elections in Brent and Camden in 2016 and 2018, and would have stood for the Brexit Party at Broxtowe in the 2019 general election against the pro-European former Tory minister Anna Soubry, but stood down to give the Conservative candidate Darren Henry a clear run to win the seat.
Free speech he may favour, but he also supports the defunding of the BBC and has outspoken views on the Black Lives Matter movement. As he wrote in the Guardian in October 2020: “Black history should not be compulsory... we don’t teach history based on race.” He continued: “What we need to teach is what has affected our nation and how it has been shaped… for many people, the colour of their skin is an insignificant part of their identity—and the more we emphasise that and make it a thing, the more we stoke up racism where it didn’t exist to begin with... we are all British no matter what our race.”
The C of E has always been a broad church, and Robinson was accepted for ordination training at St Stephen’s House in Oxford, normally a hotbed of High Church bells and smells and camp Anglicanism, which once had a reputation for gay ordinands, making it seem a strange fit for his views.
Nevertheless, his training was—apparently—proceeding normally, towards the first stage in the process of ordination, as a deacon, until his Twitter account was spotted by Rob Wickham, the suffragan bishop of Edmonton: “the most woke bishop in London,” I was told. He alerted the diocesan, London’s Sarah Mullally, about Robinson’s views on racism: “Calvin’s comments concern me about denying institutional racism in this country.” The case was even brought to the attention of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (another heretic, Robinson told the Rev Dan’s channel). Robinson claims Mullally told him: “Calvin, as a white woman I can tell you that the Church IS institutionally racist.”
With his future in the Church of England blocked, Robinson, fluent and engaging in his broadcasting style, threw in his lot with the polemicists. He had already been writing controversial columns, including for the Mail, which always likes a sinner who sees the light, and the Daily Telegraph, which believes the Church has wokely let the side down. He joined the breakaway Free Church of England sect, now aligned with the Global Anglican Future Conference of conservative evangelicals opposed to any liberalisation of the Church’s attitude to homosexuality.
Ironically the Free Church of England, which has fewer than 20 congregations in England, was originally founded to counter any move towards Catholicism by the reformist Oxford Movement in the mid-19th century, while St Stephen’s House was set up by the Oxford Movement precisely to promote reform. One of the sect’s bishops ordained Robinson as a deacon almost as soon as he left the Church of England and he is currently serving at a church in Harlesden.
Robinson is bitter about his treatment by GB News. Some members of staff there were worse than the woke mob: “These vultures are giving the mob ammunition and essentially escalating the channel’s demise... GB News is more than a job. It’s certainly more than a chance to be on the telly. It is a mission, an opportunity to shift the dial in public discourse, to have the conversations the shills on other channels cannot or will not have.
“I tried to stand up for what we believe in, for our principles. I tried to provide some critical challenge to [the channel’s] leadership, and they saw it as bringing the station into disrepute... I am literally jobless. I rent a flat in London that I don’t know how I’m going to afford. They have just dumped me and it’s hurtful.”
Despite his support for a free press and free speech, Calvin Robinson did not reply to requests for an interview.