ALMOST one in five of people (17 per cent) believe that the Church of England “is not there for everyone who wants to go to church”, a new poll suggests.
The online survey of 1669 adults, conducted by YouGov this month, was commissioned by Jayne Ozanne, a member of the General Synod and an LGBT campaigner. Almost half (47 per cent) of respondents agreed that the Church “is there for everyone who wants to go to church”, and 36 per cent selected “Don’t know”.
The poll also asked: “How welcoming, if at all, would you say most Christian churches in the UK are to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community?” Thirty per cent said “Welcoming”; 33 per cent said “Not welcoming”; and 37 per cent selected “Don’t know”.
The likelihood that a respondent would agree that the Church was there for everybody increased with age, from 38 per cent of those aged 18-34 (18 per cent said that it was not; 44 per cent didn’t know) to 57 per cent of those aged over 65 (18 per cent said that it was not; 24 per cent didn’t know).
Of those who described themselves as having no religion, 36 per cent agreed that it was there for everybody (20 per cent said that it was not; 44 per cent “Don’t know”). More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of Christians agreed (13 per cent said that it wasn’t; 20 per cent didn’t know). Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of those who described themselves as C of E/Anglican agreed (11 per cent said that it wasn’t; 11 per cent didn’t know).
Those who described themselves as having no religion were more likely to say that the Church wasn’t welcoming to the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community (41 per cent), compared with Christians (22 per cent) and Anglicans / C of E (19 per cent). By age, those aged 18-24 were most likely to say that the Church wasn’t welcoming (38 per cent).
“What is of greatest concern is the fact that it is those whom the Church is most keen to reach — the young and those of ‘no religion’ — who believe that the Church is not there for everyone, and that they are not welcoming to the LGBT community,” Ms Ozanne said. “If the Church is serious about its commitment to mission, it needs to heed the concerns and perceptions of those it wants to attract. Otherwise no one will want to listen.”
Across all groups, a high proportion of respondents selected “Don’t know” to both questions. Research commissioned by Professor Linda Woodhead for the Westminster Faith Debates, in 2013, found that, of 4000 adults surveyed, 58 per cent believed that the Church was “neither a positive nor negative force in society”. Just 14 per cent believed that it was a negative force, of which 30 per cent agreed that the main reason was that “the Church of England is too prejudiced: it discriminates against women and gay people”, rising to 46 per cent of those aged 18-24.
In response to a question from the Labour MP for Clwyd South, Susan Elan Jones, about whether it was time for Christians to give “more careful consideration” to the pastoral care of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman, said this month that this was “completely in line with the policy of the Church of England”. The House of Bishops had “consistently encouraged the clergy to offer appropriate pastoral support, including informal prayer with LGBT people, Christians, and others. I think that that injunction is on us all.”