ROCK ARTICLE IN ENGLAND NOW
Successful navigation at sea depends upon having horizons – fixed points from which a ship’s direction and location can be accurately calculated.
The celestial, or heavenly horizon (the sun or certain stellar constellations) will indicate your ship’s direction; the terrestrial, or earthly horizon – the line at sea beyond which one can see no further – if taken in conjunction with the celestial horizon and especially if related to an appropriate map, will show precisely where the ship is.
The same is applies to the study of God – which we call Theology. Those theologians who have gratuitously been rewriting our theology for us during the last fifty years have in fact lost sight of both horizons. By trying to sail the good ship Ecclesia without the benefit of compass, sextant or map, they have effectively lost their way and steered us all into those totally uncharted waters which they choose to call the Sea of Faith.
For their celestial horizon they have substituted a god who is an inflated version of a 20th century well-intentioned manager-bishop in place of the One True God who "at sundry times and in divers manners" has graciously revealed himself to Man; and they have systematically removed from the earthly horizon all mankind’s familiar moral landmarks – their own and their neighbours’ – and replaced them with a Code of Practice based upon "what every reasonable person sees as self-evident."
Since such reasonable persons must of necessity be occupying a different space from each other – and will probably have moved away from the location they were in just five minutes ago – the likelihood of any two people agreeing about what is "self-evident", is slight; leaving aside, of course those tiresome, unreasonable persons like you and me who insist on continuing to navigate using traditional maps and methods.
But of course we aren’t dealing with reasonably-minded people. We are faced with a powerful, but by no means omnipotent or invulnerable caucus, who are the victims of their own dogma. According to their lights, if Natural Justice must take precedence over prudence, tradition, theology and even over the will of God as revealed to us in Scripture and interpreted by the undivided Church, and if Women Bishops are an example of Natural Justice then nothing, yes Nothing, and Nobody including the Almighty Himself, must be allowed to stand in the way of its happening ASAP!
These are men who have effectively lost their horizons. It is our task to ensure that the Ecclesia on which we are travelling does not hit the rocks, or if it does, that the lifeboat in which we find ourselves is properly equipped with the instruments of traditional navigation, and under the captaincy of those who know how to use them.
The Mind of Anglicans Survey
It was all very well knowing where we wanted to get to. What we simply did not know was where we were actually starting from because of all the depredations of liberal theology during the past half-century. What was needed before anything else could be done was for us to discover if possible, the respective mindsets – of those with whom we were allying ourselves on our journey back to orthodoxy, and those who have brought us into the uncharted waters where we presently find ourselves.
Cost of Conscience – a Fellowship of Anglican Clergy who work in close co-operation with Forward in Faith – achieved this by commissioning a remarkable Survey entitled The Mind of Anglicans. This was made possible by a bequest of the late Mr Fraser Barron who had died on 13th December 1999 and left us the princely sum of $25,000 in his will.
Fraser Barron was a layman who had been deeply involved in the first Congress of St Louis as a leading light in the Association of Concerned Churchmen, which called the congress together in 1977. The next question was to find a research organization with the necessary skills and resources to produce a "robust" article – one which would stand up to intensive scrutiny and criticism from any source – particularly those to whom its findings might prove unwelcome.
We didn't have to look far. In January 2000 I attended a lecture given by Dr Peter Brierley of Christian Research and the results of his investigations recently published in a book entitled The Tide is Running Out. This detailed the spectacular numerical decline in the Church of England during the past twenty-five years. What he said left me in no doubt both that there was a serious gap in our knowledge, and that Peter was the man to mastermind the closure of it. The gap was simply not knowing, other than anecdotally, what effect, if any, the novelty of ordaining women as priests in the Church of England in 1993 had had, and specifically its effect on those who thought and believed as we did.
Of anecdotes there was no shortage. Everyone could describe churches which had been emptied by the arrival of women clergy; but for every such anecdote one heard another where it seemed to make no difference, and yet other accounts of supposedly "sound" Catholic parishes which had seamlessly accommodated themselves to the novelty, if not by accepting women clergy at least by welcoming as their vicar someone who would do the "right" things ceremonially and liturgically, but regardless of his beliefs or lack of them.
A few months later we had decided the sort of survey we wanted, namely:
It should be as representative as possible of the present consist of the Church of England. We wanted the broadest spread possible, North/ South, large and small parishes, urban/suburban/rural, male/female, clergy/laity, across the age groups, marital status and churchmanship exactly according to the known proportions in the Cof E. Using CR's exceptional database we asked them to bring as completely a representative picture as possible of the current state of play. In short, we wanted the truth.
It should be conducted in such a way as to conceal as far as possible the identity of those who had commissioned it and their purpose in doing so. In order to increase the likelihood of our concealment being successful, such questions as might have given the show away (e.g. about women bishops) were carefully scattered about through the questionnaire and deliberately phrased to avoid indicating any particular predisposition on the part of the authors. So, for example, questions about women bishops were in a section headed "Church Government", and were separated physically as well as numerically by being on another page from questions about Women Priests) which appeared under the heading "Personal Beliefs"
The reason for insisting on a representative survey was two-fold. Choosing too narrow a group for a survey makes it deceptively easy to "prove" from its results anything one wants and the findings are immediately suspect. Secondly, even if those results were unexpectedly favourable, it’s far more devastating to be able to tell opponents the truth about their constituency than to boast, however truthfully, about one’s own. In the event, as we shall see, this strategy proved to be the right one.
As for secrecy, we realised that if it became known that the Survey had come from a particular stable it would inevitably skew the responses both of those sympathetic and those hostile towards the commissioning body. In the event we were staggered that nobody, (but nobody!) guessed correctly who was behind it.
Different, though overlapping, questionnaires were produced for clergy and laity. As Peter started analysing the results he indicated to us not only that the level of response was outstandingly high; and from what he had so far seen, that they would be highly significant in a number of respects – which indeed they were.
[For much of what follows I am indebted to Fr Robbie Low’s writings in New Directions between July and September this year which can be read in full on the Cost of Conscience website at www.trushare.com]
It was a remarkable exercise, not least for its response rate. Of the 3,500 plus priests asked, 46% responded! The lay response was an astonishing 76%! Many wrote in to give additional information. Not a few complimented it as the best survey they had seen. A small number refused to complete it as it was 'obviously from a group of evangelicals'!
Let us take for example what Fr Low says about one particular question, since, in one sense it was a "presenting issue" – Women Bishops – given that the Rochester Commission was due to make its interim presentation to General Synod immediately after the first of his articles was published. This is what he says:
In depth research
The previous much-hyped survey by Christina Rees claimed over 80 per cent of the Church of England in favour of women bishops. We wanted to know:
if this were indeed the case
which parts of the Church were most enthusiastic and which least.
(Was there, for example, a simple correlation between the apparent 20 per cent objectors and a 20 per cent of the Church known statistically to be Anglo-Catholic?)
Four options were put to our clerical respondents:
I am looking forward to having our own female bishop.
There shouldn't be any female bishops.
Female bishops can preach but not officiate or stay in a province which doesn't have female bishops.
Accepting that female bishops are part of the Anglican Communion, they should stay in their own province.
The enthusiasts (Option 1) registered 51%
The implacable opposition (Option 2) was 25%
The two NIMBY (‘not-in-my-backyard’) options shared the remaining 24% almost equally.
Half and Half
These figures reveal a Church that is almost exactly divided on the issue. The support is significant, but much lower than had been claimed. The determined opposition is higher than previously estimated. What must alarm the proponents, and the bishops who must press the red or green light, is the quarter of the Church which has reluctantly tolerated a decade of other people's experimentation, but remains apparently unconvinced. It is easy for a parish and priest to behave as if women priests didn't exist without ever signalling opposition and incurring the wrath of the diocesan. It is impossible for them to ignore a woman bishop.
What do The Clergy and Laity Believe?
Equally remarkable, but even more alarming for those in the Establishment who suppose that the question of women priests/bishops was nothing more than a simple matter of Natural Justice, was the enquiry into what people, priests in particular actually believe.
This survey it will be remembered collated information which was freely volunteered by those who gave it, and was published under the seal of anonymity: Nobody in Cost of Conscience has, or will ever have, the slightest idea about "who said what". so it was a survey likely to provide honest answers. Now see what they said about Question 14 which asked them about their personal beliefs.
A number of questions were put to the respondents. They were invited to state their reaction to the following statements
I believe in God the Father who created the world
b. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin
c. I believe that Jesus Christ died to take away the sins of the world
d. I believe that Jesus Christ physically rose from dead
e. I believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can be saved
I believe that the Holy Spirit is a person who empowers Christians today
I believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ & the Holy Spirit are all equally God
We didn't just want to know the overall returns to these questions for clergy and laity. We also wanted to find out if there was any difference between the responses of female clergy and male clergy. We asked Christian Research to analyse the results and report back. Because the female sample is a smaller number it is important to state that there is a plus or minus 5% margin of error on these figures.
The Holy Trinity
Female clergy’s confident belief in God the Father registered 74%. Male clergy returned 83%. A correspondent to The Times protested that if there had been an option of God the Mother women priests would have done better. We have no reason to argue with that assertion. It is eloquent.
Female clergy returned a 70% confidence in the doctrine of the Trinity, male clergy posted 78%. The female score was undoubtedly boosted by the enthusiasm, in feminist quarters, for the Trinity as a model of relational theology.
On the Holy Spirit, often dubbed by women as feminine and the Sophia, matters were much closer 74% (F) to 77% (M).
If these figures illustrate a gap between the sexes on central articles of faith, they are as nothing to what happens when we begin to ask about Jesus, the defining person of the faith.
‘I believe Jesus Christ died to take away the sins of the world’ is confidently asserted by 76% of male clergy. This confidence falls to 65% in women clergy.
Jesus is asserted as the only way to salvation by a pitiful 53% of male clergy. Even so, this is streets ahead of the women priests who can only muster a 39% assurance.
Belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is more positive with male clergy confidence up to 68%, while female clergy just make it over the halfway line at 53%.
Belief in the Virgin Birth tumbles to 58% certainty in male clergy and collapses to a dismal 33% in women clergy.
Even allowing for the maximum margin of error there is a huge gulf between the genders on the person of Jesus. Gaps of 3%, 8% and 9% on the other persons of the Trinity grow to 11%, 14%, 15% and 25% when we come to Christ!
These figures will not come as a great surprise to those familiar with feminist theology and the women’s movement in the Church. They may come as a shock to many ordinary churchgoers (and clergy) who have accepted the innovation of women priests without enquiring too closely into the movement’s origins and ends. The figures on women clergy beliefs are truly shocking. The senior analyst, who researched these figures, himself a supporter of women priests, remarked to me, as he handed them over, ‘This is very bad news for the future of the Church of England.’
If the women clergy figures are shocking, and they are, the men clergy figures are hardly reassuring. The question naturally arises, Was the weakness across the board of churchmanship in men or was it to be located more specifically?
Ignorance and doubt
What should be equally alarming is the level of ignorance. The liberal groups regularly returned some 20%+ of their clergy who claimed not to understand a particular doctrine. Levels of incomprehension in traditionalist groups, by contrast, averaged single figures. Again, in the biggest trad groups (EA, FiF, Reform) scarcely 1% evinced positive disbelief in any credal item or even agnosticism. In contrast, again, definite disbelief and proclaimed agnosticism reached levels as high as 82% in some liberal groups, seldom dropped below 20%, and in matters pertaining to Christ were especially weak.
Women bishops and belief
In the light of all the above there was one final question we wanted asked by Christian Research in this particular area: Was there any difference in the beliefs of those who wanted women bishops and those who didn’t? Given the fact that ‘pro women bishops’ clocked up 51% among the clergy, their support cannot simply have come from the liberal groups. They must have some Evangelicals and Catholics among their supporters. Also, we can be pretty clear from the figures published last month that there are a good number of liberals who are not altogether happy about the prospect of women bishops. This is unlikely to be for doctrinal reasons. So it is important to get some idea of the doctrinal balance in the pro- and anti-camps.
Christian Research provided the following breakdown.
Those against women bishops (A), either implacably opposed or simply not wanting them in their province, gave God the Father a confident 89%. Those in favour of women bishops (F) only 76% unequivocal support.
The Holy Trinity sees ‘A’ at 85%, ‘F’ at 69% conviction.
The Holy Spirit sees ‘A’ at 83%, ‘F’ at 71% certainty.
Again, when we turn to Christ, the gap widens.
Jesus dying for our sins sees ‘A’ at 84% , ‘F’ at 65%.
The bodily resurrection gets 77% solid support from ‘A’, only 54% from ‘F’
The uniqueness of Christ, consistently weak, gets 62% from ‘A’ and a mere 39% conviction from ‘F’.
The Virgin Birth records 70% from ‘A’ and 40% from ‘F’.
The independent analyst concludes these figures with the sublime understatement that those who are not looking forward to the advent of women bishops ‘have a stronger belief system than those who are. ’ Indeed, had we only included the figures for those who stated themselves implacably opposed to women bishops the ‘A’ figures would have been much higher in credal confidence and thus the gap much wider.
What has emerged from the results of this survey is the final exposure of two separate churches co-existing uncomfortably within the bosom of Anglicanism. One is essentially credally orthodox and committed to the historic and Apostolic mission of the Church. The other is wrapped in the garments of Christian language, but has only the most tenuous grasp of the central teachings of the faith. It is no surprise that liberalizers are tempted to distort or ignore the Word of God to achieve their political agenda in the Church but the degree to which this is revealed here is truly shocking.
Shocking, not surprising. For it is the General Synod nowadays which decides to all intents and purposes what the Church of England believes and teaches. The synod, we are told, is above all else representative of the Church of England as a whole. Now if it is representative then it follows that much of our official beliefs and practices are being shaped, if not determined, by people whose belief in the faith once delivered to the saints is distinctly tenuous; if on the other hand the membership of General Synod is atypical of the Church of England as a whole then we have been seriously misled as to its nature. It was created, remember, to "bring democracy to the C of E. What it would seem to have done is to disseminate error, doubt and scepticism in large quantities!
Even if we ignore what General Synod gets up to, there remains for many people another very worrying question which is this:
"My Vicar publicly every Sunday recites the Creed in church. In the course of it he/she states unequivocally that, amongst other things, he/she believes that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, rose from the dead, and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. If he/she is one of the percentage who is anything less than certain about the truth of what he/she is saying, how can I be certain about anything else that he/she says?"
Who can be surprised then if people who are in search of certitude and faith decide to look elsewhere – or (more likely) simply abandon the attempt entirely? The Mind of Anglicans has demonstrated only too clearly that those who choose to navigate theologically without horizons will soon find themselves in the uncharted waters of the Sea of Faith. Navigation-by-experiment is all very well for those who wish to sail toy boats on the local duck-pond; on the wider ocean of Objective Truth it is to court disaster!
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