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
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
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
Director, Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics
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.
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Swansea SA2 9BJ