Two leading Church of England bishops have urged Anglicans to show "grace, kindness and compassion" to one another after a bitter war of words erupted following the publication of new resources on sex and gender.
Bishops Christopher Cocksworth and Sarah Mullally declared: "Specific and harmful targeting of some of the individuals who have courageously shared their stories as part of LLF is wrong and not in the spirit of LLF and the Pastoral Principles commended by the House of Bishops.
"Personal insults and attacks are contrary to the respect, love, grace, kindness and compassion to which we are all called."
They added: "It is vital that our ongoing conversations and processes of learning and discernment take place in as safe a way as possible."
Their intervention came a fortnight after the release of Living in Love and Faith (LLF) – a suite of written and filmed resources aimed at trying to find a way forward for the church amid deep splits on issues of sex, marriage and gender.
Liberals have mounted an online onslaught against evangelicals who have spoken out in support of the orthodox view on these issues, especially those associated with the film The Beautiful Story produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC).
Concerns have also been raised by a wider range of theological voices about a video produced by pressure group Christian Concern (which can be viewed here).
The publication of LLF was intended to provide and promote 18 months of reflection and consideration. But since its release, the war of words over the ethical issues under discussion has become increasingly heated.
Liberals have turned on a host of orthodox figures including bishops and other senior figures who have continued to articulate or even simply associate with the existing historic position of the Church.
In the last few days, Rev Robert Thompson, the vicar of St Mary's Kilburn, criticised Pete Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden, and Jason Roach, an adviser to the Bishop of London, for their connections with the CEEC and its film. Rev Thompson tweeted that "the College of Bishops and staff need to discuss what their agreed discipline on these matters [is] and make that public". He also criticised St Mellitus College and Bishop Jill Duff.
Liberal churchman Rev Giles Fraser said the Beautiful Story was "grooming young gay Christians into a life of misery and self-hatred" even though the video itself contains several openly LGBT people who share how their life is quite the opposite.
And veteran gay campaigner Canon Jeremy Pemberton tweeted: "How does Philip Plyming, Warden of Cranmer Hall, who is on the Council of CEEC, support his LGBTI+ students? Is it really a safe space for them?" A number of LGBT former Cranmer students defended Plyming in the same thread.
Meanwhile ordinand Charlie Bell accused Church Society director Rev Dr Lee Gatiss of "homophobic tropes" because of an article in which he sets out his initial thoughts on Living in Love and Faith. Theologian Molly Boot, who has been helping Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell develop his future vision for the Church of England, said her response to Lee Gatiss' article was "Absolutely F*** this" (expletive edited), while 'Quanglican' Just Mel tweeted her agreement in equally colourful language: "Seconded on the absolutely F*** all the way off with this."
There are also rumours that some theological colleges are coming under private pressure from at least one well-known senior figure in the Church of England not to uphold an orthodox view on sexual issues.
Responding to the plea by Bishops Cocksworth and Mullally to use language respectfully, long-term LGBT equality advocate Rev Colin Coward hit back on Facebook last night: "Their statement is grossly inadequate and useless... Well, f**k that, I've been abused, we've been abused, and we've just been abused again by two incompetent bishops." Clergyman Iain Baxter described their statement as "absolutely useless and spineless... completely and utterly appalling."
It is understood the bishops' statement was prompted particularly by the video from Christian Concern. This uses a number of very short extracts from the Church of England's own LLF material and then offers critiques on what is said. Liberals – and some evangelicals as well – have criticised its selective use of video excerpts. They say these are taken out of context and are unfair to the particular individuals featured, as well as being unrepresentative of the LLF videos in their entirety.
Bishops Cockworth and Mullally declare: "We are profoundly grateful to each person who has taken the path of sharing their story publicly for the 'Living in Love and Faith' project. They enrich our learning and invite us to acknowledge the diversity found in the Church today. They are to be received with openness."
They continue: "Engaging with the LLF resources is enriching and, at different points for different people, challenging. Questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage are deeply personal with real-life consequences. It is vital that our ongoing conversations and processes of learning and discernment take place in as safe a way as possible."
Finally, they state: "The LLF process of learning together with our different lived experiences and theological understandings is challenging and will not succeed without respect, love, grace, kindness and compassion."
David Baker is a Church of England minister, Contributing Editor at Christian Today, and Senior Editor of Evangelicals Now.