THE authors of the Living in Love and Faith report (LLF) have responded to criticism from the Church Society, after the conservative Evangelical group sent a critical analysis of the LLF report to members of the General Synod.
The document had been available on the Church Society website for almost a month, but, on Monday of last week, it was brought to the attention of Synod members in an email from the charity’s associate director, Dr Ros Clarke, who is a lay member for Lichfield diocese.
The analysis critiques various aspects of the methodology used in the LLF process, and queries whether the final report is representative of opinion in the Church of England.
It also questions whether the report should be regarded as a “credible basis for further discussion”, asking “are we really supposed to carry out doctrinal change by SurveyMonkey?”
On Wednesday of last week, a response to the Church Society’s analysis was sent to Synod members by Dr Eeva John, who coordinates the LLF Next Steps Group.
This document was divided into two parts. The first, written by Brendan Research, addressed the Church Society’s criticism of aspects of the LLF online survey, the results of which it had analysed. The second, by the Church Army Research Unit (CARU), responded to issues raised with the focus groups it administered.
The LLF report, which was published in early September, collated 6400 responses to the LLF online survey, the results from five focus groups, and 239 independent submissions from individuals and churches (News, 9 September).
On Thursday of last week, the Church Society’s regional director for the south west, the Revd Dr Chris Moore, said that the purpose of the group’s analysis document was to “see whether the report could bear the weight that many people were seeking to put upon it”.
Dr Moore, who is Rector of the Fownhope Benefice in the diocese of Hereford, and a member of the General Synod, said that, when the LLF report was published, there were “many who were trying to suggest that the report itself was giving the mind of the Church of England on the issue of same sex marriage, or perhaps same-sex blessings or whatever it might be around those hot topics at the moment. . .
“The report was not commissioned or designed to do that: it was supposed to give people a chance to discuss their experiences of the [LLF] course itself.”
One of the assertions made in the Church Society’s analysis is that “it is the episcopate who should give the lead in all this, rather than a survey. The wise shepherd does indeed pay attention of the flock, but the flock should not determine the direction of travel.”
In its response, Brendan Research, which administered the LLF online survey, said that “this is exactly the second aim of the report”, as quoted in the report itself: “To ensure that the voices, perspectives and insights expressed through this churchwide engagement are listened to and heard by the bishops of the Church of England as they embark on the final stage of the journey in discerning a ways forward for the Church of England during the autumn of 2022.”
The Church Society analysis also says that “the positionality of the researchers is not disclosed” in the LLF report. It says that the head of Brendan Research, the Revd Dr Fiona Tweedie, is the Church of Scotland’s statistician, and that the Church of Scotland permits its ministers and deacons to marry same-sex couples in church (News, 23 May).
The Church Society analysis also says that one of the staff members of CARU who wrote the report was, until June 2022, a trustee of OneBodyOneFaith, a charity which, on its website, asserts a “conviction that it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex, but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship”.
The Church Society analysis says that it is “disappointing” that these sources of “potential bias” were not made clear in the report.
In the response document circulated on Wednesday of last week, CARU says: “We are very aware that we all come from particular positions, and within the research team we have different viewpoints. Regardless of this we are able to approach the task in a professional manner, guided by our research ethics made explicit in the technical report [which was published alongside the main LLF report].
“The suggestion is that we ignored our own declared ethical standards. Furthermore, we would strongly resist the notion that people with non-heterosexual backgrounds should be excluded from engaging in research in this issue.”
Brendan Research’s response quoted CARU’s statement approvingly, and added: “That one of the researchers is a member of the Church of Scotland, whose General Assembly agreed to allow ministers who wished to, to perform same-sex marriages three weeks after the questionnaire closed, is no indication of the researcher’s views, and to suggest that this reduces the credibility of the report is an unwarranted attack on their professionalism.”
SPEAKING on Thursday of last week, Dr Moore attempted to qualify the criticism: “It’s not to say that those people can’t act in an independent way, it’s just that you would anticipate that people would declare positionality, as it’s known in reports, and then talk about how they’ve taken that into account.”
He went on to say that “certain groups within the Church will receive the report with more suspicion than would have been the case had that been disclosed more openly”.
Dr Moore said that the Church Society document was produced internally, by members of the organisation, and did not involve any external consultants. The names of the authors are not listed on the analysis document.
The Church Society analysis also suggests that respondents to the LLF “differ greatly from the population as a whole”. It continues: “Nationally 96.1% of those who identified their sexuality were heterosexual, as opposed to 84.5% of those who did so in the LLF survey. This either suggests that 15% of the church is LGBTQ+, almost four times the national average, or that LGBTQ+ people were more likely to participate in the survey than non-LGBTQ+ people. Given the importance of this process, and the understandable desire for those who feel strongly about this matter to have their voice heard, the latter is more likely.”
The high proportion of LGBT+ respondents to the LLF survey “should be taken into account when attempting to draw conclusions”, it says.
The Church Society analysis also highlights that the LLF report presented census data pertaining to the north-west region as representative of the whole country, an error that the response from Brendan Research acknowledged.
However, the research company did query the Church Society’s calculation of the ratio between the national statistics and the declared sexuality of survey respondents, as the latter were able to select more than one category, rendering it impossible to compare directly the two sets of data.
Previously, the director of the Church Society, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, wrote of the original LLF resources, published in November 2020 (News, 13 November 2020), that “there is absolutely nothing in LLF which warrants a change in the Church’s doctrine or practice.”
Asked whether he could conceive of any survey, regardless of its methodology or the views that it indicates as being widely held, could “warrant” any such change, Dr Moore said that he could not, and that the sources of authority cited in the canons of the Church of England “would outweigh the authority of a popular survey”.
“I wouldn’t want to sort of write the whole thing off as a colossal waste of time and money,” Dr Moore said. “For those who took part in the course and reviewed the material, I think it helped them to gain a better understanding of both sides of the arguments.”
He went on to say that, in producing the analysis, the Church Society “was not trying to sort of go in and try to undermine the LLF whole process; we want to speak into the process.
“The more voices and the fuller that debate, the more confidence I think the Church of England as a whole can have in the conclusions that are drawn.”