What the Newspapers have said – and correspondence following therfrom


From The Times: 29/06/02

Ruth Gledhill in The Times 290602

Fifth of clergy may resign over women bishops

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

ONE quarter of clergy in the Church of England are still implacably opposed to women bishops, according to a survey published yesterday.

Despite eight years passing since women priests were first ordained in England, 25 per cent of clergy and 17 per cent of laity believe that there "should not be any women bishops anywhere". The research showed that the ordination of women to the episcopate could lead to splits in the Church comparable to those over women priests.

Just over 50 per cent of the clergy and 60 per cent of the laity came out in favour of women bishops. But 20 per cent of clergy indicated that they might go so far as to leave the Church, with 5 per cent signalling a definite intention to leave.

The traditionalist grouping Cost of Conscience commissioned Christian Research, a leading research body, to investigate the views and beliefs of clergy and laity in the established Church. The research was carried out across all sections of the Church and was designed not to reflect just the views of the traditionalist wing. The survey has been published in advance of next week’s meeting of the General Synod, when the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, will lead a presentation on the investigations to date on the ordination of women bishops. The Rev Robbie Low, Vicar of Bushey Heath, Watford, and a leading Anglo-Catholic, said: "We had to know beyond doubt the mind of the Church. It is a very difficult place for traditional believers to exist at the moment."

He said that many clergy were confident in their own ministry as priests but fearful for the future if women were to be ordained bishops. More than 2,000 laity were questioned and nearly 2,000 clergy from all wings of the Church. The research showed big divisions between different sections of the Church.

Just 26 per cent of Anglo-Catholics were looking forward to women bishops, compared with 71 per cent of liberals and 47 per cent of evangelicals. More than half of the Anglo-Catholics said there should not be any women bishops, compared with 5 per cent of liberals and 29 per cent of evangelicals.

Father Low said: "These figures reveal a Church that is almost exactly divided on the issue. The support is significant but much lower than has been claimed. The determined opposition is much higher than previously estimated."

He said that it should be a cause for alarm among Church leaders that nearly a decade since the vote to ordain women priests there was still such strong opposition to women bishops. "It is easy for a parish and priest to behave as if women priests didn’t exist. It is impossible for them to ignore a woman bishop," he said.

The research also showed that twice as many male clergy believe in the Virgin Birth as women clergy. Six out of ten male clergy said they believed in the Virgin Birth, compared with three out of ten female clergy. More than half the clergy said they believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus.

God the Father scored highest, with eight out of ten clergy and nearly as many laity confessing to belief in Him. Jesus Christ as the "only way to salvation" scored lowest, with barely half of all clergy and laity having faith.

Faith in the physical resurrection was high, with nine out of ten evangelical clergy, seven out of ten traditionalists and even three out of ten liberals professing to believe in it.

The extent of opposition remaining to women’s ordination is surprising because of the large number of traditionalists who have already left the Church over the issue. Since the first ordinations at Bristol in 1994, more than 400 stipendiary priests have left the ministry.



The Church Times 5 July 2002

Clergy 'go 50-50 on women bishops' by Bill Bowder

CHURCH OF ENGLAND clergy are split down the middle over women bishops, new research suggests. The laity are more supportive, 64 per cent being generally in favour.

The survey, The Mind of Anglicans, was commissioned by traditionalist believers. Questionnaires had been sent to nearly 4000 stipendiary parish clerics and 2500 lay people of both sexes. The sample, based on Christian Research’s database, was intended to represent the range of churchmanship and parishes.

The full details of the survey, which covers a range of issues of faith and order, have not yet been released. But the Revd Robbie Low, Vicar of Bushey Heath, Watford, and a member of Cost of Conscience, presented some of the findings last Friday in Faith House, Westminster, to coincide with General Synod’s discussion of women in the episcopacy on Sunday. Forty-six per cent of the clerics replied to the questionnaire, he said.

A quarter of those said that there should be no women bishops anywhere; another quarter that women bishops should either stay in their own province, or else officiate only in provinces that already had a woman bishop. The rest of the clergy polled said they looked forward to having their own woman bishop. Cost of Conscience, which describes itself as “a traditionalist think-tank”, is opposed to the Church’s unilateral ordination of women as being “against Catholic order”. It wanted a true picture of the Church at a moment when “the Church is a difficult place for traditional believers to exist in,” Mr Low said.

He thought that the number of those against women bishops might be even higher, but that clergy who believed in Catholic order would be reluctant to oppose women bishops once women clergy existed, because they would believe the two went together, he said. The survey confirms the general satisfaction clergy have in their jobs — 94 per cent declared themselves confident in their ministry as priests. But, Mr Low said, nearly a fifth were not certain that they would remain Anglicans for the rest of their lives, and five per cent said they definitely intended to leave. Such an exodus would at least equal the loss to the Church of England of about 450 Anglican clergy after the decision to ordain women priests. Meanwhile, supporters of women bishops are sending all Synod members a booklet, Women and Episcopacy, which urges the Church to consecrate women bishops soon. The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd John Saxbee, argues, in an epilogue, for an end to the Act of Synod, which set up the two integrities within the Church.


The Church of England Newspaper  Thursday, 4th July, 2002  No: 5622  

Women bishops 'will split the Church' Number: 5622 Date: July 4,

The introduction of women bishops would lead to a mass exodus from the Church of England, new research has revealed. Half of the clergy warned that they would not accept female bishops in this country, and nearly a fifth are uncertain that they will remain in the Church of England. While 59 per cent of clergy responded that they want women bishops as soon as possible, or within the next 10 years, 41 per cent said never, or only when all the other Churches have agreed. 

Past research had suggested that over 80 per cent of clergy were in favour of women bishops. The findings serve as a caution to the Working Party on Women in the Episcopate, which is presenting a progress report from the House of Bishops this weekend. A final report is not expected until 2005, but the level of opposition still alive in the parishes suggests that the promotion of women to the episcopate is not a foregone conclusion. 

"There is a large group in the church who will not have women bishops so we need a settlement so that we can live in peace", said the Rev Robbie Low, a member of the traditionalist group Cost of Conscience, who commissioned the survey. "I suspect that people are very bored with living in a Church that operates in a civil war. Most of us don't want to live in this mess very much longer."; The survey, which was carried out by Christian Research and canvassed nearly 2,000 members of the clergy, indicates that the next Archbishop will be presiding over an increasingly divided Church. 

Mr Low commented: "This is the crisis facing the new Archbishop: a split between a believing church and an institutional church that believes very little but is in charge of the key positions downwards."; While a consistently high percentage of evangelicals hold to orthodox beliefs, the vast majority of liberals do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he physically rose from the dead or that he is the only road to salvation.


Yorkshire Post : News : Opposition to women bishops shown in survey News Mon, Jul 01, 2002           

 Michael Brown Religious Affairs Correspondent

Opposition to women bishops shown in survey 

LARGE minorities of Anglican clergy and lay people are against women bishops, according to new research. The opposition means there is no "comfortable majority" for having females in mitres, it has been claimed.

The research was carried out among 4,000 clergy and 2,500 lay people by Christian Research, leading church statistics analysts, for Cost of Conscience, a long-standing traditionalist Anglican think-tank. Forty-six per cent of the clergy and 76 per cent of the laity responded.

Results show that 51 per cent of the clergy are in favour of women bishops but 25 per cent "implacably opposed" with 63 per cent of lay people in favour and 17 per cent opposed. Eleven per cent said they would be "happy" to have a woman bishop as long as she only preached and did not celebrate the sacraments.

The Church of England, which agreed to women priests in 1992, now has about 2,000 within its ranks. It is now considering the feasibility of allowing women to become bishops.

Cost of Conscience spokes-man Fr Robbie Low said yesterday of the findings: "From neither the clergy nor the laity is there a comfortable majority for change and the task given to the Rochester commission on women bishops looks as if it is moving from the difficult to the impossible."

The survey also questioned vicars about their work and the findings suggest that 94 per cent of them are confident of their ministry as priests.

But a considerably smaller number – 84 per cent – declared themselves confident in their ministry in the Church of England as it is at presently constituted, and only 81 per cent confidently expected to remain Anglicans for the rest of their lives.

"This leaves nearly a fifth of the clergy in some state of disaffection with the firm," Fr Low suggested, adding: "A fifth indicate a definite intention to depart. This would be equivalent to the scale of the departures after the decision to ordain women as priests."

Copyright © Yorkshire Post Newspapers Ltd 



From The Tablet 6th July 2002

Quarter of Anglican clergy oppose women bishops, says survey

A quarter of Anglican clergy are opposed to women bishops, nearly ten years after the Church of England's decision to ordain women to the priesthood. But nearly two-thirds of Anglican laity are in favour of ordaining women to the episcopate, which is one of the major issues facing the as yet unnamed new Archbishop of Canterbury when he succeeds Dr George Carey.

The survey of nearly 2,000 clergy was commissioned by the Anglo-Catholic think tank Cost of Conscience, but organised by the independent analysts Christian Research. The survey was deliberately based on a wide sample, from Anglo-Catholic to evangelical, large and small parishes, male and female respondents and both urban and rural churches.

The survey depicts a broadly conservative body, resistant to upheaval and reluctant to express its beliefs. It also shows that there is still widespread resistance to the ordination of women, which has caused the exodus of 400 stipendiary priests from the Church of England since the first woman was ordained in Bristol Cathedral in 1994.

Christian Research, which conducts surveys and collates statistics from church bodies across the world, contacted 4,000 clergy and laity country-wide. Some of the results were heartening. Ninety-four per cent of clergy said they were "confident of their ministry as priests", though only 81 per cent were certain that they would remain Anglican clergy for the rest of their lives, and 5 per cent said they intended to leave.

There were varying attitudes to Christian tenets of belief. Twice as many male as female clergy believed in the Virgin Birth, while more than half the clergy said that they believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus. Both among the laity and the clergy, eight out of ten people believed in God the Father, but the idea of Jesus Christ as the "only way to salvation" scored very low, with barely half of all laity and clergy asserting it.

Unsurprisingly, the research also showed that there were big divisions between the different wings of the Church. While only 26 per cent of Anglo-Catholics were looking for women bishops, 71 per cent of liberals and 47 per cent of evangelicals supported the move.

The survey has been published a week before next week's General Synod, when Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester will present the results of an investigation on the ordination of women bishops. The Revd Robbie Low, a leading Anglo-Catholic and vicar of Bushey Heath, Watford, told The Tablet: "I wasn't surprised at the results of the survey; 60 per cent want women bishops, but the rest either refuse to have them or will only accept them when the whole Christian Church - Catholic and Orthodox - moves together on this issue. We need to ask: is this a Church that wants Catholic order or makes it up as it goes along? Many of those who voted for women priests are not in favour of women bishops."

A Church of England spokesman told The Tablet: "The issue of women bishops is not decided. The synod has yet to hear back from the working party on the theology of women in the episcopate. It is interesting, however, that there are fewer people opposed to women bishops than were opposed to women priests."



From the Catholic Herald 6th July 2002

Anglicans prepare for battle over bishops


A quarter of Church of England clergy are opposed to the ordination of women as bishops according to a new survey.

Eight years on from the ordination of women priests, the Church of England now faces a battle to persuade Synod that women should be ordained to the episcopate.

The General Synod, which is currently meeting in York, will debate the case for ordination. As The Catholic Herald went to press, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, of Rochester was expected to present the findings of an ongoing Church commission .on the issue.

But a poll conducted by Christian Research highlighted opposition to women bishops. More than 2,000 laity and 2,000 clergy were questioned for the survey.

Twenty-five per cent of clergy said "there should not be any women bishops anywhere" with 20 per cent indicating that they may leave the church. Five per cent signalled their "clear and definite" intention to leave if women bishops are ordained. More than half the Anglo-Catholics interviewed opposed women bishops.

A leading Anglo-Catholic clergyman said the opposition was much higher than anticipated. The Rev Robbie Low, vicar of Bushey Heath, Watford, described the C of E as a "very difficult place for traditional believers to exist at the moment".

The degree of opposition to women bishops that still exists has surprised Church observers, because of the large number of traditionalists who left the Anglican church in the early 1990s after the ordination of women priests.

A spokesman for the C of E said the issue was still under discussion and did not represent an immediate concern. "It would be right for many people to reserve their position until they had seen the result of these deliberations," he said.

A spokesman for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said the two communions were "not particularly close" at the present time. "This is just another issue among many that have to be resolved," he said.

But he confirmed that Anglican clergy would be welcomed into the Catholic Church.

"If they decide they can't stay within the C of E it is probable that they will come to Rome and we welcome them with open arms. That has always been the position with the Pope," he said.

Procedures are already in place for the reception of Anglican clergy. In 1993, the Vatican granted a special dispensation for the retraining of Anglican clergy seeking communion with Rome. That dispensation will be renewed later this month.


From the Church Times 2nd August 2002

Research probes the orthodoxy of priests by Bill Bowder

WOMEN priests are less likely than men to affirm the Creed literally, says research by the traditionalist Anglican campaigning group Cost of Conscience.

The Revd Robbie Low, who is Vicar of St Peter’s, Bushey Heath, and a spokesman for the group, revealed the latest findings of its £12,000 research on Tuesday. Questionnaires had been sent out by Christian Research to 4000 clerics who had the status of incumbents, and who represented the wide spread of views held by male and female clergy in urban and rural settings. Of the clerics questioned, 1700 replied (News, 7 July).

Mr Low made it clear that his reading of the survey results correlated Christian belief with a literal affirmation of the Creed.

He criticised the Archbishop designate of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and other leading bishops for supporting liberal Christian organisations that were shown by the survey to have doubts. “The levers of power are moving into the hands of people whose credal foundations are, at best, fragile,” he said.

Responses to credal statements such as “I believe in God the Father who created the world” ranged from certain belief to certain disbelief, he said. Women clergy registered a 74-per-cent belief in God the Father, compared to the men’s 83-per-cent (this difference may not be exact: the survey allows a margin of error of five per cent, since fewer women replied).

Seventy-six per cent of male clergy believed that Christ died to take away the sins of the world, compared to 65 per cent of women priests. For 53 per cent of male clergy, Jesus was the only way to salvation, but for only 39 per cent of female clergy; 68 per cent of the men believed in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but 53 per cent of the women; 58 per cent of the men believed in the virgin birth, but 33 per cent of the women.

A disproportionately large number of clergy affiliated to Affirming Catholicism — 306 — responded to the questionnaire. Of these, 70 per cent were confident about belief in God the Father, 53 per cent in Jesus’s dying for the sins of the world, 35 per cent in his bodily resurrection, and 24 per cent in the virgin birth. Dr Williams is a trustee of Affirming Catholicism, Mr Low said.

Of the 50 clerics representing the Modern Churchpeople’s Union in the sample, only 39 per cent believed in God the Father, and 25 per cent that Jesus died for the sins of the world. Mr Low said this showed the MCPU’s Christian credentials to be “virtually non-existent. However, its way of thinking would not be alien to a number of the bench of bishops, and to a good number of teachers in the theological training colleges.”

Canon Raymond Rodger, PA to the Bishop of Lincoln, who is President of the MCPU, said, “The Bishop would be pleased to look at the methodology and the results behind the data produced by Cost of Conscience.”


Ruth Gledhill in The Times 

July 31, 2002

Women priests put less faith than men in the Creed By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

ONLY three out of ten women priests believe in the Virgin Birth, and they are far more sceptical generally than their male colleages about the other central Christian doctrines. While eight out of ten male priests believe that Jesus died to take away the sins of the world, just six out of ten female priests do, according to a Christian Research survey published yesterday. Seven out of ten men believe in the bodily Resurrection compared with five out of ten women. Only belief in the Holy Spirit showed similar scores, with 77 per cent of male priests having faith in this, compared with 74 per cent of women priests. The traditionalist think-tank Cost of Conscience commissioned Christian Research to survey nearly 2,000 clergy — a fifth of the total — in a £12,000 research project funded by a legacy from the United States. The survey was designed to accommodate views from all sections, from traditionalist through evangelical to liberal. The Rev Robbie Low, the Vicar of Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire and spokesman for Cost of Conscience, said: “On every item of the Creed women priests were lower than their male counterparts. “Certainty about God the Father revealed a 9 per cent gap and belief in the Trinity an 8 per cent gap. “What is quite apparent is that there are effectively two Churches co-existing uncomfortably in the Church of England. “One that is overwhelmingly convinced of the historic truths of the Christian faith and one that is, at best, dubious and, at worst, frankly disbelieving.” Members of Affirming Catholicism, whose founders include the Archbishop-designate of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, were among the lowest scorers on beliefs such as the bodily Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. Mr Low added: “The people out there in the pews have no idea this is going on. “They might think their vicar is a bit strange sometimes, but they won’t be aware that he does not believe 75 per cent of what he stands up and says each Sunday.”


Should the church tolerate this pick'n'mix approach to the Creed? E-mail your views to debate@thetimes.co.uk


Jonathan Petre in the Daily Telegraph

One third of clergy do not believe in the Resurrection

By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent

(Filed: 31/07/2002)


A third of Church of England clergy doubt or disbelieve in the physicalResurrection and only half are convinced of the truth of the Virgin birth, according to a new survey.

The poll of nearly 2,000 of the Church's 10,000 clergy also found that only half believe that faith in Christ is the only route to salvation.

While it has long been known that numerous clerics are dubious about the historic creeds of the Church, the survey is the first to disclose how widespread is the scepticism.


The Rt Rev David Jenkins

Few bishops would now share the views of the former Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, who caused a scandal in the 1980s when he contrasted the Resurrection with a "conjuring trick with bones".

Nevertheless liberal clergy, who represent about one in eight of the total, remain profoundly uncertain about the Church's core doctrines. In the survey, two thirds of them expressed doubts in the physical Resurrection and three quarters are unconvinced by the Virgin birth.

Similar levels of belief were found in organisations such as Affirming Catholicism, a liberal Anglo-Catholic group of which the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is a founding member.

Although Dr Williams holds firmly orthodox views on the Resurrection and theVirgin birth, the proportion of members of Affirming Catholicism who believe without question in the two doctrines is 35 and 24 per cent respectively.

Doubts are even greater among members of the Modern Church people's Union, a liberal group whose president is the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev John Saxbee: only a quarter believe in the physical Resurrection and just eight per cent in the Virgin birth.

The survey, carried out by Christian Research, did find that clergy were more orthodox on other doctrines.

More than 75 per cent overall accept the doctrine of the Trinity and a similar proportion believe that Christ died to take away the sins of the world. More than 80 per cent were happy with the idea that God the Father created the world.

Unsurprisingly, the organisations whose members were the most traditional were Reform, a conservative evangelical group, and Forward in Faith, a traditionalist umbrella body.

The Rev Robbie Low, a member of Cost of Conscience, the traditionalist organisation which commissioned the survey, said: "There are clearly two Churches operating in the Church of England: the believing Church and the disbelieving Church, and that is a scandal.

"Increasingly, positions of authority are being placed in the hands of people who believe less and less. It is an intolerable situation where the faithful are increasingly being led by the unfaithful." He added that doubts about the core doctrines of the Church were higher among women priests and their supporters.

Only just over half of the admittedly small sample of female clergy in the survey said they believed in the bodily Resurrection and the figure fell to exactly a third when it came to the Virgin birth.

The Rev Nicholas Henderson, the general secretary of the Modern Church person's Union, said he was not surprised by the figures. Clergy, faced with intelligent and educated congregations, increasingly had to think "very carefully" about how to present complex doctrine credibly.

He was also critical of plans by the bishops to revive heresy trials for clergy who publicly questioned key Church teachings.

Dr Peter Brierley, the executive director of Christian Research, said the survey had been undertaken among 4,000 churches and reflected a representative sample of clergy, in terms of churchmanship and belief.

In findings reported earlier this month, the survey also showed that a quarter of the clergy still described themselves as "implacably opposed" to women bishops.


From Times 2

August 01, 2002

Why we need defenders of the faith

In Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh remarks: “There is a species of person called a ‘Modern Churchman’ who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.” This week’s report into the unbelief among many of the clergy shows that Waugh’s joke is also an ugly truth. Many modern churchmen deny the Virgin Birth, or argue that it is peripheral to the faith. But it isn’t. It is in the Creeds and it has been an article of faith for Christians everywhere from the early centuries. It is at the very centre of the Church’s teaching.

Without a belief in the Virgin Birth all other doctrines of faith unravel and the doubter has really departed from Christian orthodoxy. Liberals, by denying the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception — that the Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain of Original Sin — diminish her status, making her just an also-ran rather than the second most important figure in the Gospels. They also, in effect, diminish Jesus’s unique entry into the world and, following from that, his unique status.

Why do so many clergy have difficulty believing the truth of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection along with the miracle stories of the New Testament? There are two reasons: the rise of the so-called “higher criticism” of the Bible in the 19th century, and the loose set of prejudices known as the Enlightenment from the century before. Modern scepticism derives from Descartes via Voltaire, Diderot and the other French Enyclopaedists and from the positivism of David Hume.

These writers taught scepticism as an intellectual principle. Nothing should be taken on trust, but everything must be questioned and thrown into doubt in the name of Reason. But their understanding of “reason” is extraordinarily narrow and invites the response: “If everything may be doubted, what is the result when we begin to doubt doubt itself?” Or, if reason is held to be the first principle, what reason do we have for believing that? What starts out with the appearance of a brave new beginning, free at last from the ancient irrational notions of religion, descends into an exercise in the manipulation of mesmeric tautologies.

Besides, every reasonable argument must be based on axioms: something has to be held as basic. The basis of Enlightenment rationalism was scientific materialism, and the rationalists of the 18th century declared that scientific materialism should be the method in every area of human inquiry from physics to the study of society.

Allied to this method was the new idea of progress. The Theory of Evolution gave a sort of spurious, mythological support to this view: as the species was becoming more refined physically, so it was progressing morally. So, with something like a sleight of hand, Charles Darwin merged into Herbert Spencer and HG Wells. It was — one is inclined to irony — an article of faith among these militant sceptics and progressives that humankind is constantly improving. One might have thought, given the history of the 20th century, of the Somme, Hitler, the Holocaust, Stalin’s genocide, the H-bomb and sundry other unprecedented malevolences, that people would by now be disabused of the superstition of progress.

Modern churchpeople, conditioned by materialism and the “science” of biblical criticism, regard such luminaries as St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas as hopeless primitives who need modern theologians such as Strauss, Bauer and Rudolf Bultmann to teach them the truth. There has been more than a century of debunking religious belief — not by aggressive atheists, but by those responsible for the teaching of theology in the universities and theological colleges. No wonder so many parsons don’t believe anything. They were brought up on the demythologising techniques of Bultmann, who famously said: “You can’t believe in the miracle stories of the New Testament in the age of electric light and the wireless.” Why not? And how dated that “wireless” sounds nowadays. There is a colossal arrogance.

But, as Chesterton said: “In truth, the notion that we are ‘free’ to deny miracles has nothing to do with the evidence for or against them. It is a lifeless, verbal prejudice of which the life and beginning was not in the freedom of thought, but simply in the dogma of materialism. The man of the 19th century did not disbelieve in the Resurrection because his liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it. He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow him to believe it.”

Something has to be held as basic. Why should modern churchpeople think that the basis of everything is scientific materialism? Real modern science, in the study of particle physics, for example, has long since abandoned it. Why not regard the classical doctrines of the Creed as what is basic? That is what Christians did for 1,800 years before the coming of “enlightenment”. There is no reason to disbelieve these teachings, including the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection: it is simply a matter of removing a prejudice. Why try to interpret the Bible in terms of 19th century materialism — that old hat? Actually, the so called “liberal” clergy are not liberal at all in, say, Mill’s sense. They are extremely doctrinaire, and intolerant of anyone who does not share their opinions and methods. Especially distressing is the survey’s confirmation of what traditionalists have known for years: that those who believe the least are promoted to positions of authority and power in the Church. In the survey of clergy beliefs, it appears that women priests are more sceptical than the men. The main reason is that women were not admitted to ordination before 1992 and, of course, they were supported in this by the liberals and radicals in the Synod. It is not surprising that many women priests are likeminded with the people who supported them.

It is no coincidence that more than a century of in-house scepticism and reductionism has seen the biggest desertion from the pews in Christian history. If the clergy don’t believe, why should lay people bother? The faithful have endured a whole generation of clergymen such as described by Waugh, and scores of books written by them which deny the doctrines that they promised to uphold at their ordination: books with knocking, snide titles which do the dirt on the faith — The Gospel of Christian Atheism; But That I Can’t Believe; The Myth of God Incarnate etc. Is it any wonder ordinary folk are disillusioned with the Church? If the Church no longer teaches its historical articles of faith as true, then it is indistinguishable from any other humanistic pressure group. It might as well resign.

The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill, and Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.

August 01, 2002

You better believe it (but we don't)

Are the pulpits of Anglican churches occupied by closet atheists? A new survey shows that many vicars do not belive in the Resurrection or Virgin Birth

A survey by the Cost of Conscience pressure group seems to imply that many of the pulpits of the Church of England are filled with closet atheists. According to its recent survey of some 2,000 clergy, only three in ten women priests and six in ten male priests believe in the Virgin Birth; only half of women priests and seven in ten male priests believe in the physical Resurrection of Christ. Here they stand — the report suggests — not actually believing 75 per cent of what they preach each Sunday.

Cost of Conscience stands on the extreme, traditionalist wing of the Church of England and has often been accused of having an underlying agenda by which it might castigate the mainstream of the Church, not least in implying that women priests must not become bishops because of their tendency to stray from orthodoxy.

But clergy who do not hold to Cost of Conscience views are neither atheists nor people who have succumbed to the tides of secularisation; rather they stand for a credible faith for reasonable people.

The present generation are all ultimately children of the Enlightenment, exposed to modern science and the critical, inquiring approach. This makes for a curious, questioning generation of people, and demands that the Church has to acknowledge such a position in its presentation of the faith. For example, everyone agrees (as do the 39 Articles of the Church of England) that the Deuteronomic rules of the Bible cannot be obeyed simply at face value.

The Church must not throw up insurmountable barriers to people interested in Christianity, suggesting that unless they subscribe to everything they are not true believers — that all Christians, like Alice in Wonderland’s White Queen, must believe six impossible things before breakfast.

The current contentious doctrine of the Virgin Birth has been made a litmus test by traditionalists. This is unfair. Such a stance is similar to the Darwinian controversy of the 19th century, when conservative Christians feared that if one tenet of faith was struck down then the whole edifice would fall with it.

There are powerful biblical grounds to place the truth of the Virgin Birth in a different context. The Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew, for example, echo the prophecy in Isaiah (7:14): “Behold a virgin shall conceive.” A more realistic translation of the original text in Hebrew would be “young woman of marriageable age” rather than a “virgin”. The Evangelists have chosen to use the Greek word to mean a virgin for special reasons.

In the long centuries before the Enlightenment it was regarded as legitimate to record history from the standpoint of the writer’s belief. Although today this smacks of factual inaccuracy, in an historical context it does not lack integrity. The special nature of Jesus Christ from the believer’s point of view is enhanced dramatically by emphasising that Jesus was not like other men, nor was his arrival into the world.

At the risk of retreading what are now old pathways of understanding, it should be pointed out for further example that the birth accounts of St Luke and St Matthew do not tally chronologically. St Matthew, for instance, has the Holy Family visiting Egypt, escaping Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents; Luke’s chronology allows no time for Jesus, Mary and Joseph to travel to Egypt. Most interestingly, St Mark’s account — regarded by biblical scholars as the earliest of the Gospels — has nothing whatsoever to say about the circumstances of Christ’s birth.

So we must be aware of over-simplistic answers to what are ultimately peripherals of faith. Further, we must be careful not to let biblical literalism undermine the dynamic, gracious force of God. The liberal pos tion is hardly some weak-willed Nimmoesque surrender by trendy vicars to secularisation; rather it is far more robust than the position of so-called traditionalists. Ironically it is liberals who must claim the so-called traditional ground by acknowledging that the Gospel is still a living force which may meet the critical forces of social change confidently.

God reveals himself afresh to each generation — the same revelation but in different contexts. It is essential for the survival of the church that we recapture that sense of the numinous — the presence of God — for people who might otherwise despair of a Church that is seemingly out of touch with reality. I write this conscious of the popularity of developments such as the Evangelicals’ Alpha Course, but remain unconvinced that such courses can ultimately appeal to anything other than a rather privileged minority.

Liberals suggest that an honest, credible faith does not have a glib answer to every complexity of life. Rather it represents a pilgrimage, with all the concomitant difficulties that such an undertaking entails but with the glorious promise of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paradoxically, this understanding of Christianity is nearer to the orthodoxy than that which is offered by Cost of Conscience.

The traditional triple Anglican foundation that liberals firmly espouse — of scripture, reason and tradition — could be the Church of England’s gift to a Post-Modern age.


The Rev Nicholas Henderson is general secretary of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and vicar of two West London parishes

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CHURCH TIMES Letters to the Editor 9th August 2002


Credal orthodoxy of the clergy: survey is questioned


From Mr A. Wordsworth

Sir, - The figures released by Cost of Conscience (News, 2 August), if correct, tend to confirm what some of us thought at the time, when women were attempting to enter the priesthood, that many of them were motivated more by feminism and the desire to storm a male bastion than by religious conviction.

I was secretary of the Middlesbrough deanery synod for 14 years, and, in my view, too many of the (male) priests regarded themselves as glorified social workers to whom Jesus was largely an irrelevancy. One clergyman told me that the Church would have been far better off if St Paul had never existed.

A few years ago, I had a discussion with the then Bishop of Whitby about how many modern churchgoers would be prepared to be thrown to the lions for their faith like the early Christians. Not too many of the clergy would be, if the Cost of Conscience statistics are to be believed.

A. WORDSWORTH 24B Sir William Turner's Court Kirkleatham, Redcar, Cleveland


From Miss M E. Gifford

Sir, - The results of the recent Cost of Conscience survey are alarming. How can so many people continue to hold office in the Church while they do not believe its teaching? Who recommended them for theological training in the first place? Who approved their ordination? How can they possibly give spiritual support and guidance to the Christian laity? How can they lead their congregations in the Creed?

MARGARET GIFFORD 17 Orchard Court Laburnam Walk Stonehouse, Glos GL10 2NR



From Mr Mike Homfray

Sir, - The results of the Cost of Conscience survey did not surprise me. Surveys usually have the purpose of finding out information which is of use to those who collect it. In this instance, to help to present women priests as less "orthodox" than men, to enhance an ongoing campaign against women in the priesthood and the episcopate. I'm not surprised that the results were as found. It very much depends on how the questions are phrased: the example given of belief in "God the Father who created the world" may have suggested, to some, a belief in literal seven-day creation and a rejection of evolution. Do we also have to affirm that there is a real throne somewhere in the sky, on which sits God, with Jesus at his right hand? Whatever happened to symbolism?

I think Canon Rodger's suggestion that we look at the methodology of this survey makes sense. I think it demonstrates very effectively the limitations of closed yes/no answers where the subtleties of faith, or the meanings and message of Christianity, have no place.

MIKE HOMFRAY Portnahaven House 7 Kinross Road, Waterloo Liverpool L22 IRS



From the Revd Michael J. Crow

Sir, - How sad that Cost of Conscience was prepared to waste £12,000 finding out how many priests hold to a "literal affirmation" of the Creed, and then criticise those who do not. Have its members never studied the Creeds? Do they not know how they came into being? Are they not aware that anything we say about God is inadequate?

The Creeds are, of course, important documents, and anyone seeking to learn about the development of Christian doctrine should take account of them. They are also useful liturgical symbols of our common faith. But to require "literal affirmation" of the pictures they present is to misunderstand the nature of the documents just as surely as it is a misunderstanding to require a similar approach to holy scripture.

Both Bible and Creeds are far too rich mine of revelation to be taken literally.

MICHAEL J. CROW 216 Pinhoe Road Exeter EX4 71111



From Mr Walter James

Sir, - If the data produced by Cost of Conscience is accurate, liberal theology has at last emerged belatedly from the academy and has taken up residence in the vicarage and the rectory. When can we expect liberal theology to be pursued corporately within the pews to liberate the laity?

WALTER JAMES 25 Kepplestone Staveley Road Eastbourne BN20 7JZ



From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy and the Revd Nicholas Henderson

Sir, - Our thanks to Cost of Conscience for showing that the majority of clergy do not share their views on Christian believing.

We think this is as well, because most of us are traditional members of the C of E, for better or for worse. The reason why religious belief is so important to every human society is that it provides an account of who we are, who made us, and how God has designed us to live. As living traditions reflect on these big questions, they keep developing, and rediscover the love of God in new ways every generation.

Historical formulations such as the Nicene Creed or the Thirty-Nine Articles are attempts at regularising our common faith for our common good. Inevitably, they suffer from being of their own time. We must be ,careful not to let them lose their point and become contextless symbols of conformity, ways of playing games about being "more old-fashioned than thou".

Most people's faith is robust enough to point them to the real issues of the day: Third World debt, ;globalisation, climate change, and :he famine in Africa. If we spend more time asking what God is ,calling us to do about these, we'll be doing what the authors of the Bible did, and what the best church leaders lave always done; and, if we do it well, we'll end up expressing our -relationship with God in new ways, is they did.



Modern Churchpeople's Union 15 Birch Grove, London W3 9SP



CHURCH TIMES Letters to the Editor 16th August 2002


Survey findings "mirror CT's"

From the Revd Geoffrey Kirk

Sir, - The Revd Michael Crow (Letters, 9 August) laments that Cost of Conscience spent £12,000 finding out how many priests hold to a "literal affirmation" of the Creed. His letter, and others to your paper, merit a detailed response.

We spent £12,000 because that is what a top-of-the-range, reliable, independent survey costs, and because we wanted to know the "mind of Anglicans" on a wide range of topics. Further information - for example, on moral, ethical and social issues, patterns of ministry, etc. - will become available as the data is processed and analysed.

The survey was one of the most extensive ever undertaken in the Church of England, and conducted by Christian Research, one of the most reputable agents for such work. Christian Research has no axe to grind in these matters. It has undertaken work in the recent past for WATCH, as well as for Cost of Conscience.

The questionnaire was in 29 sections and covered four A4 pages, seeking information under the following heads: Parish Life; Personal Beliefs; Christian Education; Church Finance; Church Government.

Those questions in the survey which related to Christian doctrine (a small but significant part of the questionnaire) were not framed to require a "literal" assent or denial. On the contrary, they were based on formulae already familiar to Anglican clergy (e.g. "Do you believe in God the Father who made the world?" cf. the ASB baptism rite).

Respondents were able to affirm or reject those propositions according to the meaning that they themselves have come to place on them during the course of a ministry in which they will have been in regular use. There was provision for the usual five categories of certainty.

What the survey shows is not the extent of "literal affirmation" nor lack of it, but the extent to which the rites and formularies of the Church of England no longer express what a significant number of its clergy think and believe. As Dr Brierley points out in his report to the Cost of Conscience Committee, these results, though more detailed, closely mirror the results of the Church Times's own survey (published 25 January this year).

What is distinctive about our survey, "The Mind of Anglicans", is the size of the sample (1741 clergy); the breadth of the _sample (involving, proportional to their known strengths in the Church of England, clergy associated with Affirming Catholicism; Evangelical Alliance; Forward in Faith; Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement; Modern Churchpeople's Union; Prayer Book Society; Reform and WATCH); and the way in which the data can be sorted to give a snapshot of opinion in any of these groups, across the board, or in different sizes and types of parishes.

This is essential information for the whole Church and for groups and societies within it as we plan for the future. Summaries of the analyses of data so far are to be found at www.forwardinfaith.com. The whole report (99 pages with further appendices in preparation) will be generally available in due course.

GEOFFREY KIRK For the committee of the Cost of Conscience St Stephen's Vicarage Cressingham Road London SE13 5AG



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