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Evangelical clergy and the interpretation of a Church of England survey

by
07 November 2014

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From Dr Jonathan Chaplin

Sir, - Readers of Professor Linda Woodhead's interesting and informative article interpreting the results of a YouGov survey of Church of England clergy ("Clergy are 'more like Old Labour than New'", Comment, 31 October) would do well to consult the full survey findings themselves. These are available on the website of Westminster Faith Debates (WFD), which commissioned the survey pursuant to its series on the future of the Church of England. There they will find at least three important things not evident from her article.

They will, first, discover highly interesting results passed over by Professor Woodhead. For example, one is that only nine per cent of female clergy place themselves "on the conservative end of the spectrum", in contrast with 30 per cent of male clergy. Another is that 46 per cent of 25- to 34-year-old clergy put themselves in that place, a notably larger proportion than of any older age cohorts. A third is that only 18 per cent (net) of clergy think that clergy have too much power in the Church relative to that of the laity.

Such findings would seem hugely relevant for the future of the Church, and they cry out for commentary. I should have thought that these were more arresting results than the underwhelming discovery that clergy are united around a "personal faith in God" and a commitment to the parish system.

Second, they will see the detailed evidence on the basis of which Professor Woodhead ventures the uninformative generalisation that while clergy are "to the right of the general population in ethics [abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage], they are to the left in politics [welfare, immigration]". Confidence in the social-scientific utility of these categories is not increased by her disclosure that a colleague reported that, on scanning the data, "I thought I was looking at UKIP until I got to the politics bit."

Third, they will find important raw data that Professor Woodhead appears to have over-interpreted. Notably, she reports that, in the face of disagreements in the Church, half of (male) Evangelical clergy "think that greater uniformity should be imposed on everyone" (whereas 73 per cent of "middle" and Catholic clergy think unity should be "maintained by tolerance").

In fact, the survey question asks only whether the Church "should seek greater uniformity", which, on its face, need not imply any "imposition". In addition, the evidence for attributing this "impositional" view to "half" of Evangelical clergy is not visible in the results presented (though perhaps it is available elsewhere). Nor is it clear whether the 21 per cent of clergy who think the Church "should not be afraid of separating amicably" does not also contain a fair number of "liberals".

We all know that anecdotal evidence has been tossed around that, in preference to "maintaining unity through tolerance", some "liberals" would actually welcome the departure of the conservative Evangelical wing from the Church, and it would be interesting to know if this claim has any basis in fact.

In any event, in asserting that "most" Evangelical clergy don't think that "maintaining unity by tolerance" is a goal worth pursuing, or that, for them, the enterprise of "disagreeing well" is "misguided from the start", Professor Woodhead seems to have gone beyond the evidence of her own survey as presented on the WFD site.

JONATHAN CHAPLIN
Director, Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics
Tyndale House
36 Selwyn Gardens
Cambridge CB3 9BA

 

From the Revd Kim Fabricius

Sir, - Summing up a YouGov survey, Professor Linda Woodhead observes that "whereas the clergy [in the C of E] are to the right of the population on ethics, they are to the left in politics."

But since when is the the political (Professor Woodhead mentions welfare provision and immigration) not also the ethical, and the ethical (Professor Woodhead mentions abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage) not also the political? The distinction is at best barren, and at worst ideological.

More word-care, please.

KIM FABRICIUS
17 Carnglas Road
Swansea SA2 9BJ

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