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Don't pre-judge the CofE's new resources on sexuality

Today sees the launch of the Church of England’s 'Living in Love and Faith' (LLF) teaching and resources, which explore questions of gender and sexuality. The Bishop of Lancaster Rt Revd Dr Jill Duff was part of the co-ordinating group. She's urging her fellow evangelicals who hold a traditional perspective to exercise caution before criticising the resources, and to be gracious when discussing the materials with others

In short – as bishop on the LLF co-ordinating group, my plea is: Hold your nerve

LLF is a huge suite of resources. Its a 450 page book, 30+ hours of videos, a course and podcasts. Some parts evangelicals will like; some evangelicals absolutely won’t.

Is it balanced? We have tried to get a balance between orthodox and progressive views, so everyone can hear their position. Is there a precise balance between orthodox and progressive views? No. It depends who you speak to. Balance is in the eye of the beholder. Progressive bishops see a conservative tilt, whereas many of us have pushed back on elements which give it a revisionist tilt, which is more evident in the course. That said, if you stack all the film stories up, there’s pretty much a balance overall.

How to respond? May I recommend evangelicals are positive about the “significant support for an orthodox position within the LLF Resources.” This has been Christian teaching of the Church for 2000 years. Let’s listen openly, engage and commend orthodox teaching with a posture of warmth and gentleness. My networks would suggest there is a large – but silent – conservative majority in the Church of England. Those undecided will tend to back those who display the fruit of the Spirit. So we who hold an orthodox position need to engage – especially in groups of differing opinion – with gentleness and respect. I love the way that the truth of scripture is compelling by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

An ongoing challenge for progressives is there is not a clear “position” they are agreed on. There are multiple different landing points: same-sex blessing; same-sex marriage; sex outside marriage. We have an advantage of unity, the status quo, and the international Christian community, and two millennia of history. Let’s find ways to make the testimony of scripture compellingly attractive as we speak about Jesus’s incredible welcome to everyone combined with his astonishing vision of the kingdom of God.

Posture: Jesus’s words in Matthew 10.16 come to mind: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves..." Shrewd as snakes: Expect a barrage of negative darts from the media about the orthodox position. Note that ridicule is a textbook tactic in spiritual opposition (Nehemiah 2:19), as is making you think you’re outnumbered (2 Kings 6). Innocent as doves: Speak of Jesus! He was radically welcoming and yet set incredibly high standards for human flourishing (eg Matthew 5:27 on adultery)

Orthodoxy brings with it something of the “joy of the Lord”. I have noticed this again and again in our LLF discussions. Do not lose this – it is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)

Ask the Spirit for words, he is not the Spirit of fear (Romans 8:15): “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”. (Matthew 10:19-20)

Prayer: Most importantly, please don’t underestimate the size of the spiritual battle over relationships, human flourishing and family. Let’s not be naïve. Let’s not fight amongst ourselves. 

One of my favourite quotes from Anthony of Egypt (when threatened by the heresies of his day) is: “We must not worry about knowing what is to come but about carrying out what we have been told to do”.

It’s all about Jesus: So finally, don’t get distracted from the main thing which is making Jesus known. In word and deed. Watch how much time you spend on disagreements with other Christians – especially the mental broadband time. Put on the helmet of salvation to protect you from those fearful thoughts. Don’t be distracted. Nehemiah was ridiculed, threatened, and numerous attempts were made to waste his time on distractions. But he kept on building the walls. The threats came to nothing, and the walls were rebuilt. This is an incredible time of opportunity for the gospel in our nation. There has been an acceleration in openness to the “bigger questions in life”. Let’s not miss this moment for Jesus!

“Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God”. (Hebrews 12:2)

You may think we haven’t done a good enough job to commend the biblical view on sex and marriage. We have done what we can. There is plenty in LLF which you can grab hold of. What matters now after the launch is how you commend the positive and biblical aspects of LLF in your churches, communities and networks. The baton is over to you.

Rt Rev Jill Duff is the Bishop of Lancaster 

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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