Calvin Robinson: I don’t know if it is possible to reform the Church from within anymore

This interview was originally published in our May magazine edition, EXODUS. You can get your copy here.

You announced on social media that you are not being ordained as a priest this year; can you talk about what’s happened? 

Sure, it might be a bit boring now, I know I’ve been going on about it for a week or two.

I think people might still be interested to hear what the actual story is of what’s happening.

Breaking it down, I’m not being ordained this year in the Church of England. It’s not a case of someone turning around and saying “we are not going to ordain you”, it’s just a case of using traditional constructive dismissal techniques to push me out. For example, when you leave Seminary, which I’m due to do in a month, you tend to go straight to a curacy as an assistant priest, where you spend three years training on the job, after learning all of the theology. I was assigned a curacy by my Bishop, and as of Christmas last year, everything was set to go and to build a relationship with the priest, and we were both very much looking forward to it.

I hadn’t heard anything back from our Bishops to get the process moving. I hadn’t got the paperwork formalising it, either, so I chased them up. By the end of February, they finally got back to me and essentially said “Look, we don’t think it’s going to work”, but nothing was ever made explicit. As always, it was more “well, let’s spend some time thinking about this”. Well when you spend all your time thinking about it, then your time is gone and there’s nothing left to do.

That’s an enormous shame. You know my thoughts on it: I think you’re the sort of person the Church of England needs, and I’m really sorry.

It’s purely political. The whole time I’ve been at Seminary I’ve had all these implications from the Bishops about my politics, and it’s just tiresome. It really is the case that anyone that’s on the Left gets promoted, and encouraged; everyone that’s on the right is shut down and silenced. It shouldn’t be that way, it should be about the Bible, it should be about preaching the Gospel. It shouldn’t be about climate change, and Black Lives Matter, and all that nonsense.

The point of this month’s edition really is to question whether it is even worth fighting anymore, so – and I imagine I know the answer – has this made you think that it’s not worth it? 

To some degree I’ve always felt that the Church of England needs people like us on the inside, pushing it back in the right direction, and that means as servers, as priests, in every role, we need more people that are small-c conservative. That means conservative theologically as well as politically and that’s important. However, I’m now coming more to the conclusion that this is a bit of a “Remain” argument: do we reform from within? I don’t know if it’s entirely possible just because they are the gatekeepers and they’ve already marched through the institution. They’ve taken it over. All of the Bishops now at this point are these so-called “liberal progressives” and there’s no way in. There’s no way in, they’ve made it a club, and that’s not what it was supposed to be about.

The people appointing the Bishops are liberal progressives too, and so, even if there are a few conservative vicars within the Church, they have to keep silent, they have to keep quiet if they want to keep their job, and their stipend depends on it. There’s a massive disconnect between the clergy and the congregations as a result.

To answer your question, I don’t know if it is possible to reform from within anymore. The Reformation was, I believe, the first Brexit; it was moving away from the jurisdiction of Rome, because it had become corrupt. I think the Church of England has become corrupt – politically rather than financially (although they’re no longer funding parishes and clergy, and are doing the opposite.) If you look at the Save the Parish movement, there’s a lot of work to be done in that respect, but I think we need to mirror what’s happening in North America, in that the ACNA movement, or the GAFCON movement, is upholding Anglican orthodoxy where the Episcopal Church has had erred in terms of issues of human sexuality or female ordination or any of these touchy issues that the Church doesn’t want to address properly or return to Scripture on, because they want to be seen as “right” by societal standards.

You pretty much took the words out of my mouth. I don’t really know much about GAFCON and the other movements in America, could you explain what they’re trying to do?

So, the Jerusalem Declaration in 2008 was when the wider Anglican communion came together with heavy influences from Africa and strong within North America, of Christians that want to stick to Christian teaching and stick to Christian doctrine and not move away just to “look good” and not to chase societal norms and not to become, well, heretical, really. And the way that that took shape in North America is that the ACNA – the Anglican Church in North America – is a group that split away from the Episcopal Church in North America and basically, said, you know “we’re part of the wider Anglican communion and recognized by the wider Anglican communion but we’re not part of the Anglican communion as in we’re not under the Primate of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”  And so that enables them to be Scriptural or stick to Biblical truths and not worry about the worldliness that’s taken over the rest of the Church.

And is that possible here?

Very possible. It just needs people with a bit of spirit to make it happen. There are a lot of people in this country that are conservative theologically and conservative politically and are looking for a movement, but there just needs to be some initial momentum to get things going.

There have been a number of high profile figures who have left the Church of England recently, a number of Bishops have left, recently, but they’ve all gone over to Rome, which is very unfortunate. It would have been better if they would have stayed either within the Church of England or just stayed Anglicans and encouraged and promoted the GAFCON or ACNA movement over here, but no one really has yet. 

I know obviously of Michael Nazir Ali – who else, high profile, has left? 

Michael Nazir Ali was on the executive of GAFCON, which is why it’s rather unfortunate, but Jonathan Goodall has also gone over to Rome, Gavin Ashenden has gone over to Rome. You know, Michael Nazir Ali, in fact all of these people are all great priests, so it is such a loss to see them go that way.

What about organizations like Forward in Faith? Are they a spark of hope?

Well, Forward in Faith in America is fantastic and adheres to the Jerusalem Declaration and it sets out clear rules of life and it’s very much a part of ACNA. Forward in Faith in the UK is less affirming of orthodox views. Forward in Faith in the UK has become a silo and it’s almost a safe space for traditionalists in the Church of England and they daredn’t peep out of it just in case their head gets chopped off. It’s very sad to see that happen. 

Saying that, do you get the feeling that you have been made an example of?

By the church? I’m not sure. I really don’t know if they made an example of me; I do think that this could be a part of my calling – exposing the hypocrisy, the double standards, the worldliness and the counter-scriptural tendencies of the hierarchy of the Church of England. Because, I’m fortunate that I have a platform and many people aren’t in that position, so when they get to the stage that I am at, they’ve been silenced and they’ve been cancelled, and no one’s heard about it, and since I’ve spoken out I’ve heard from so many people who have either been Ordinands or Curates or Priests that have been booted out of the church, or are still in the church and being bullied because they will not capitulate.

It’s fascinating because it feels as though we’ve been talking for so long as conservatives about the Conservative Party that really we should have been talking about this. Do you think that the conversation we’ve been having so far, obviously around the Church, is the same conversation that you and I have been having for a long time about the Conservative Party? Do you think the Conservative Party can be saved, or do you think it’s a lost cause?

You know my motto – “never go full Hitchens”. I don’t want to believe that the Conservative Party’s is a lost cause because it is the party of power. I think if we want to make a change in this country, we have to do it via the Conservative Party. There is an argument to be made that smaller parties can put pressure on the Conservative Party and hold them to account and that’s fantastic to see happen, but I don’t see small parties ever taking power in this country, or ever being parties of government.

Therefore, unless we want Labour to get into power, we have to stick by the Conservatives and I hate to use the words, but reform it from within. But there is a battle going on in the Tory Party and always has been, and I’ve been saying for a while now that it’s the Wets that are our greatest threat – it’s not the Left it’s not the Radical Left, it’s the Wets within the party who want to appease as the Left and water down and dilute our values. It’s gotten to a point now that so many large-c conservatives are not just appeasing the Left, they agree with the Left and they are the Left from within.

I put out a tweet about the whole abortion issue, stating that you can have any view you like, you can hold any view on these issues that you like, but when it comes to conservatism, if you are not looking to conserve traditional views, use a different term! Don’t call yourself a conservative. There are so many liberals in the Conservative Party that I don’t even know if they believe they are liberal, I think that they genuinely believe they are conservative, because the party has shifted so far left, but we need, we need more right wingers in the party, both at the parliamentary level and at the local level. The grassroots, I think, are very much in line with readers of the Mallard, it’s the people in the hierarchy once again that have become disconnected.

You do get people like Ben Harris-Quinney at the Bow Group that says, really, we should be looking to reform the structure of the party and introduce things like primaries to give local associations more control. But then it’s the same problem that you’re saying about the Church; how do you get to a position where you can change?  

That is right and Ben Harris-Quinney is fantastic. But the problem is like you say changing those things; we need some good old fashioned Gramscian entryism from our side, that’s what we need. CCHQ is a behemoth, it’s a disgusting beast, and the reason that so many of the 2019 intake of parliamentarians are pretty much the same person, you know cookie-cutter copy-and-paste people is because that’s the type of person they look for. They look for someone that’s agreeable, they look for Yes Men, they look for people that will follow the party whip without questioning, and they don’t look for people with conservative values. And that’s a shame, so we need to take over CCHQ and/or change the selection process to make sure that local people are able to select local candidates with CCHQ imposing on them their latest favourites.

We’ve covered two of the three institutions you’ve been part of, but the one, obviously, that you were in for a long time is education. And we have talked about education before you and I, but do you think that we can have a similar “march through the institutions” in education, or is education, again, completely dominated by the Left?

No, we can and we must, and I think this is, you know, obviously this is an area I’m very passionate about, but I think this is an area I’m going to spend a bit more time on now that I’ll be freed up. Because we have a special team and an advisory team around the minister, the Secretary of State for Education, who are incredibly sound and get it, they get the curriculum should be knowledge-rich and that the job of a teacher is to be the expert in the room, passing on subject matter, imparting knowledge to the next generation, the best there has been, a secure canon of of cultural capital.

They get that, so we’re in a good position to make a difference, much like we were in 2014 with Michael Gove when he first started the revolution in education, so I’m hoping to see some things, some good things change, such as the return to textbooks so that we know, first of all, what knowledge is being passed on in schools and we can we can physically look at it, but also we can collate different ideas and put them into print, because at the moment, everything is so wishy washy. We’ve got all these really vocal minority protest groups, saying “we need to teach more black history, we need to teach more of this and that” without actually knowing what is being taught. But also the biggest challenge to education, after behaviour, is teacher training.

We need to really shape up teacher training, and I think there is a real appetite within the Department for Education, to change the way that teachers are taught, because at the moment it is far too liberal-progressive. I remember, from my teacher training, conversations, such as “if a child is about to throw a chair, it’s not necessarily that the child is behaving badly, it is just that they are expressing a form of communication and you’ve got to work out what they’re trying to communicate” and I’m like, that’s nonsense! They need boundaries and that’s how kids thrive – in an environment with boundaries.

And we need to move away from this idea that child-centred learning is a good thing, because children do not know what they do not know, and it’s our job as I say, as subject-matter experts, to impart knowledge, not to ask the child what they want to do next.

Do you think it’s something that you will consider going back into?

Absolutely. It’s always been my future, I just don’t know in what capacity. Whether that’s advising or teaching again, or maybe perhaps setting up my own school, who knows, but I’m trying not to make any rash decisions and to keep my ear to ear to the ground and to look for the door that God is opening to me because, as one door closes another one always opens. It’s just about being open to that.

Photo provided by Calvin Robinson.

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