THE Church Times survey has exposed a huge divide on sexual morality which church policy-makers may wish to deal with.
Professor Andrew Village, who helped devise the survey with Professor Leslie Francis, correlated the answers given in the morality section with the respondents’ church tradition, classed loosely as Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and “Broad”, i.e. those between the two poles.
Roughly 60 per cent of Anglo-Catholics agreed with ordaining practising homosexuals as priests and bishops (62 per cent and 59 per cent respectively). Among Broad Anglicans the figure was still 57 and 54 per cent. For Evangelicals, however, the figures dropped to 20 per cent and 19 per cent. Nor were there many don’t-knows among the Evangelicals: 63 per cent were against practising gay priests, and 65 per cent against gay bishops. If the gay priest or bishop was celibate, 67 per cent of Evangelicals would approve.
Regarding same-sex marriage in church, Anglo-Catholic and Broad Church respondents mildly disapproved (40 and 37 per cent approved of it; 43 per cent in both parties disapproved). Among Evangelicals, 75 per cent disapproved; 12 per cent voted for it. And 51 per cent of Evangelicals disagreed with even the idea of a blessing of some sort.
About one quarter of Anglo-Catholics and Broad Churchpeople agreed that it was wrong for men and women to have sex before marriage. More than half (58 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively) disagreed. Among Evangelicals, 66 per cent agreed it was wrong, and only 20 per cent disagreed.
Sixty-two per cent of Anglo-Catholics disagreed with the statement that it was wrong of people of the same sex to have sex, and 21 per cent agreed; in the Broad category, the figures were 54 and 24 per cent; for Evangelicals, 20 per cent disagreed, and 66 per cent agreed.
All groups agreed strongly that divorced people should be allowed to marry again in church. Only five per cent of the Broad Church category disagreed, compared with 11 per cent of both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.
In the light of this, one part at least of the agenda of next week’s General Synod seems less contentious: women bishops were approved by 76 per cent of Anglo-Catholics and 77 per cent of Evangelicals. Those in the Broad Church category were 93 per cent in favour.
This latest ‘Church Times’ survey exposes a significant division between Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical thinking on Sexual Morality issues that presently divide the Church of England’s rank and file. Broadly speaking it seems that Anglo-Catholics are more tolerant of homosexuality than Evangelicals – a result which will not surprise those whose view of Biblical inerrancy (or not) influences their response to the survey. While Anglo-Catholics may be more inclined to adhere to the Anglican norm of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, as a balanced approach to moral questions; Conservative Evangelicals are often noted for their insistence on the ‘Sola scriptura’ model, which includes Old as well as New Testament restrictions on moral and social behaviour.
Interestingly, on the question of whether respondents would approve of ordaining practising-gay clergy and bishops, 60% of Anglo-Catholics agreed; whereas 67% of Evangelicals disagreed.
However, if the gay clergy and bishops agreed to be celibate, 67% of Evangelicals approved. This shows that most Evangelicals would not vote against the ordination of gay clergy and bishops – provided they chose to be celibate! This is at least a move away from radical homophobia, while yet disapproving of gay sex.
Concerning heterosexual marriage, all respondents, irrespective of ‘party’, seemed to be in favour of re-marriage after divorce.
A majority of correspondents were also in favour of Women Bishops, which augurs well for this month’s General Synod debate on the issue.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand