Gay marriage: the Bishops and public opinion

by
21 February 2014

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From the Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh and 45 others

Sir, - Among the findings of your current series of Church Health Check articles is that the number of young clergy (i.e. those under 40) in stipendiary ministry is such that shortly there will not be "enough boots on the ground" (Church Health Check, 7 February).

Research by Professor Linda Woodhead suggests a disconnect between the Church of England's official position on the subject of same-sex marriage (as articulated forcefully in the House of Bishops' Pastoral Guidance on the matter published on Saturday) and the attitudes of many churchgoers.

Arguably most concerning is Professor Woodhead's research finding that for many young people religion is seen as a "toxic brand" and the Church of England as an organisation that "discriminates against women and gay people" (Church Health Check, 31 January).

We are all clergy under 40, and so belong to that age group that is largely missing from the Church of England. We long to proclaim the gospel faithfully and afresh in this generation. To many of our friends and contemporaries, however, we are public representatives of a discriminatory and toxic brand.

We do not all agree about same-sex marriage, nor about how the Church of England should respond. But we are all of a mind on this: if the Church of England is serious about intentional evangelism to a generation that regards us with a mixture of apathy and contempt, and if we are to reverse our fast institutional retreat from relevance in the life of this nation, we need urgently to change the tone and manner of our discussions on matters relating to human sexuality.

There is much that our generation needs to hear about love, cherishing, fidelity, and the intrinsic and infinite value of each individual as created and loved by God, but our current debates mean that few of our contemporaries are listening to the Church of England, let alone taking us seriously - and why should they? The Pilling process might yet help us advance these discussions; our view is that the Pastoral Guidance note issued by the House of Bishops this weekend has just made it all very much harder.

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Hannah Cleugh

Chaplain and Solway Fellow

University College

Durham DH1 3RW

Neil Patterson

Rector of Ariconium

Andrew Allen

Chaplain and Fellow

Exeter College, Oxford

Andrew Davison

Tutor in Doctrine

Westcott House, Cambridge

Daniel Inman

Chaplain

The Queen's College, Oxford

William Whyte

Senior Dean, Associate Professor, Fellow and Tutor in History

St John's College, Oxford

John Hughes

Dean of Chapel and Fellow

Jesus College, Cambridge

James Hawkey

Precentor of Westminster Abbey

James Walters

Chaplain to the London School of Economics

Johanna Kershaw

Assistant Curate,
St Mary's, Todmorden, St Michael's, Cornholme, and St Peter's, Walsden.

Kat Campion-Spall

Assistant Curate

St Mary's, Merton

John Munns

Sam Dennis

Rosie Woodall

Priest-in-Charge of Bisley, Chalford, France Lynch and Oakridge

Stella Bailey

Vicar

St Mary Magdalen's, Chapelfields

David Cleugh

Priest-in-Charge

Leadgate, Ebchester and Medomsley

Stephanie Nadarajah

Liam Beadle

Vicar of Honley

Phillip Johnson

Vicar of Weston

Joel Love

Gemma Burnett

Assistant Curate

St Mary's, Plaistow

Chris Bunce

Assistant Curate

St Peter's, Hammersmith

Thomas Sander

Assistant Curate

St Peter's Sharnbrook, St Mary's, Felmersham, and All Saints', Souldrop

Catherine MacPherson

Russell Dewhurst

Vicar of Ewell

Tom Carson

Assistant Curate

Mortlake with East Sheen Team Ministry

Brutus Green

Associate Vicar

St John's, Hyde Park

Kate Tuckett

Anna Matthews

Vicar of St Bene't's, Cambridge, and Ely Diocesan Director of Ordinands

Patrick King

Robin Sims-Williams

St John's, Hyde Park

Thomas Plant

Catriona Laing

Dominic Keech

Heston Groenewald

Alex Barrow

Matt Bullimore

Rosemary Morton

Assistant Curate

Coggeshall with Mark's Hall

Robert Mackley

Vicar

Little St Mary's,  Cambridge

Benjamin Carter

Assistant Curate

St Mary's, Monkseaton

Thomas James

Assistant Curate

St Peter's, Petersfield

Chantal Noppen

St Martin's and St Michael's, Byker, with Mission Initiative Newcastle East

Josephine Houghton

Christopher Woods

Educator in Adult Learning and Professional Development for Stepney Area

Parish Priest, St Anne's, Hoxton

Sally Hitchiner

Senior Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser at Brunel University, London

Julie Gittoes

Guildford Cathedral

From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, - Your survey of Anglicans' changing opinions on homosexual marriage (News, 7 February) makes no mention of how public opinion actually works, a topic studied in depth by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (The Spiral of Silence).

Normally, opinion won't be grounded on fact or research so much as on a desire not to be in the minority, especially within one's own peer-group. This is confirmed by the inevitable swift percentage swings once a new majority opinion is perceived (with a little help from the media) to have taken over.

There is nothing to gain socially from being in a minority; minority opinions are, therefore, the more likely to be explained by the wish to retain intellectual integrity.

CHRISTOPHER SHELL

186 Ellerdine Road

Hounslow TW3 2PX

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