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A 2002 survey of nearly 2000 Church of England clergy uncovered some worrying statistics:

  • a third doubted or disbelieved in the physical resurrection
  • only half were convinced of the truth of the virgin birth
  • more than 75 percent believe in the Trinity, with the very troublesome implication that 20 percent didn't in some way

Was there an official response to this survey or others like it, either to refute the numbers, or to initiate measures that might improve the proportion of clergy who can uphold the church's official doctrines with enthusiastic integrity?

(PS: If anyone could find the official survey report that would be helpful - I can only find news reports, and some blogs who question how the survey's results are being reported.)

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The survey in question was commissioned by a group called "Cost of Conscience". This is, or was, a group within the Church of England which was originally opposed to the ordination of women priests, and later to lady bishops. It also aimed to protect the interests of persons opposed to women priests, for example by campaigning for the right of parishes to refuse to accept a lady vicar, and by campaigning for financial compensation for clergymen who resigned believing they could not, in conscience, remain in a Church which ordained women.

The survey was carried out in late 2001 and early 2002. Participants were not made aware who had commissioned the survey. The first results were published in July 2002 with some other results published at various times, sometimes in New Directions magazine. The early results focussed on the extent of opposition to lady bishops. (Women priests were introduced in 1994 and bishops in 2015.) Subsequent ones showed that lady vicars were much less likely than gentleman vicars to say they "believed without question" in many of the doctrines of Christianity. Also, those most likely to support women bishops, were least likely to believe without question in Christian doctrines.

Some details of the survey can be found on this site.

Cost of Conscience said:

The Copyright of the Survey belongs to Cost of Conscience.

Given the importance of the findings, and the doubts which they raise about the accuracy of current thinking, the Committee of Cost of Conscience believes that it would be a mistake to publish it too hastily or all at one go.

Our policy therefore is to release such findings as have a bearing on matters of particular interest at any given moment, and to write a series of articles in New Directions during the coming months which will gradually help to build up an accurate picture of whether and how opinion is changing. For example, with General Synod in York due to hear the Presentation of Bishop Nazir-Ali's Report on the Progress of his Commission on Sunday 7th July we thought it appropriate to reveal some of the attitudes towards women bishops.

It added:

If there is sufficient demand thereafter a publication of the Survey in its entirety will be considered.

I am not aware that it ever was published in its entirety, it certainly was not at the time.

This selective publication of the survey, presumably only those parts most favourable to Cost of Conscience's viewpoint, was a major criticism of it. Legally they may have held the copyright, they paid for it, but the many clergy who had taken time out from busy lives to complete it felt it should have been published in its entirety. They would not have completed it otherwise, and certainly not, in many cases, if they knew it would be selectively published to serve the interests of a particular agenda.

Another very major criticism, in relation to the questions on beliefs, was the choice of responses. The possible responses were:

believe without question

believe but not sure I understand"

mostly believe

not sure I believe this

and

definitely don't believe.

Any response other than "believe without question" was interpreted by Cost of Conscience to as indicating doubt or disbelief. The only sound answer was "believe without question".

In logic, questioning something is not the same as doubting it. It is possible to believe something without fully understanding it. That, indeed, has been the position regarding the Trinity of many very eminent and perfectly orthodox theologians. If "believe without question" and "believe but not sure I fully understand" were mutually exclusive, it would perhaps be most surprising that 70% of vicars claimed they "fully understood" the doctrine of the Trinity. Wesley said expecting a man to understand God was like expecting a worm to understand a man (to which many add expecting a man to understand a woman).

If the survey had been released in full we might know how many actually said they definitely don't believe. This was not released initially, and I do not think it was ever released.

I am pretty sure that no official response to the survey was given.

Nevertheless there were and are undoubtedly a number of vicars who did not, and do not, believe in aspects of Christian doctrine; and this issue highlighted in the statistics was a matter of great concern. Perhaps partially in response to the survey there was a movement to establish tribunals at which vicars who professed openly not to accept Christian doctrine could be accused and, if found "guilty" defrocked. Although there was widespread support for this in principle there was also some concern over these proposed "heresy trials" and more and more members of the clergy began to worry about how tight the net might be drawn.

For these tribunals to be established a measure would first have to be approved by each House of the General Synod, then considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee of the UK Parliament and then approved by the Parliamentary Houses of Commons and Lords, and assented to by the Queen. In July 2004 the House of Bishops and the House of Laity both voted overwhelmingly in favour, but the House of Clergy voted against by a majority of 4 votes.Reference:

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