Westminster Faith Debates logo

In his presidential address to General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of divisions within the Anglican Communion, and of the prize of being able to develop unity in diversity. Closer to home, he is supporting ‘facilitated conversations’ in the CofE as a way of healing rifts over the issue of gay marriage. What’s the chance of success?

A recent survey of CofE clergy by YouGov, commissioned by the Westminster Faith Debates, reveals a major obstacle in the way of the Archbishop’s goal of ‘disagreeing well’: a relatively small group of the most evangelical male clergy.

Evangelical profile

When asked where they fall on spectrum from evangelical to catholic, roughly a third of all clergy say they are at the evangelical end, a third at the catholic end, and a third in the middle. The third at the evangelical end hold some distinctive and pronounced views.

For instance, a full 88% of these evangelicals say that same-sex marriage is wrong, compared with just over a third of the rest of the clergy. Similarly, 31% of evangelical clergy would ban abortion altogether, a figure which falls to 16% among Anglican clergy overall.

These differences are not a block to unity – if those who hold them are happy to tolerate different views within the Church. But here comes the rub.

Evangelical men beg to differ

The survey of 1,500 Anglican clergy asked about the most appropriate approach to unity in the Anglican Communion. While the majority of clergy support the aim of ‘maintaining unity by being more tolerant of diverse views,’ two thirds of the evangelical clergy disagree, contending either that the Church should seek greater uniformity of views or else that it should not be afraid of separating amicably along doctrinal and ethical lines.

What the survey also finds, however, is that it is evangelical men not evangelical women whoare opposed to the Archbishop’s goal of ‘disagreeing well.’  Most evangelical women clergy (61%) agree with the majority of clergy who support greater toleration. But 68% of evangelical male clergy disagree.

The typical view of evangelical male clergy is both to oppose gay marriage and not to wish the Church to embrace diverse views.  Overall this combination of views is held by about 25% of clergy, the majority of whom are male evangelicals.  These are a major block to the Archbishop’s dream of unity in the CofE - clergy who don’t think it a goal worth pursuing---especially because so many of them belong to the same clergy “tribe”. 

The good news for Justin Welby is that he doesn’t have to worry about the majority of clergy. They support his goal. The bad news is that his opponents are not likely to change their minds. His success depends on finding a solution – something which eluded his predecessor Rowan Williams.

Modern Church President and survey creator Professor Linda Woodhead comments:
These findings are both good and bad news for the Archbishop – good in that his battle is won with most of the clergy and almost certainly an overwhelming majority of lay Anglicans. Bad, in that there is a significant group of male clergy who do not share his vision for the CofE and the Anglican Communion.

Future of the Church Debate

The last in the current series of national debates on the Future of the Church of England from Westminster Faith Debates delves into this issue, asking what kind of unity is appropriate for the Church and how Archbishop Justin’s goal of unity in diversity can be achieved.

Speakers at this public debate in Oxford included Canon David Porter, the Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson, Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream, the Very Revd June Osborne and Rt Revd Dr Trevor Mwamba.

The debate, held on Thursday 20th November 2014 at the University Church, Oxford, was entitled ‘Diversity – what kind of unity is appropriate nationally and internationally, how can diversity become a strength’

Hear talks from the debate here.

  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size 1509 Anglican Clergy. Fieldwork undertaken between 14th August and 9th September 2014. The survey was carried out online.
  • For more information, see http://faithdebates.org.uk/research/
  • The survey was designed by Professor Linda Woodhead with advice from a reference group drawn from across the Church. It was completed by a random sample of clergy aged 70 and under.