It’s a very odd world where bishops of the Church of England receive death threats, especially when they are people as gentle as Helen-Anne Hartley (Ripon) and John Inge (Worcester). Both bishops had apparently expressed views critical of a senior government adviser’s behaviour during lockdown – as had very many other people – and I guess being a bishop does put you in the firing line. But how has it come about that anyone expressing an opinion nowadays is liable to be on the receiving end of a Twitter storm or a poison-pen email? What’s happened to us?
I have fond memories from the Sixties of our Sixth Form debating society. In that forum, we’d prepare our arguments, think up some witty remarks, and strut about a bit while delivering them. You won or lost the debate depending on how effective the audience felt you’d been in making your case. But there was a keen sense of what was ‘out of order’. No insults, no lies, no deception: there was a shared assumption that we’d behave decently to one another, and joke – or even perhaps take an illegal drink - together afterwards.
Somehow, that sense of common decency in communication seems to have shattered. Our new social media have allowed, even encouraged, a descent into incivility: we insult on Twitter, send threatening emails. Have we forgotten the example of Jesus, who ‘When he was abused, did not return abuse’? Let’s hope not.