top of page

Discerning "The Times"

Making every possible allowance, therefore, it appears that there are at least 3,000 clergy regularly going into pulpits who, even if they don’t acknowledge it, support the end of the Church of England.

It is like fielding a goalkeeper committed to being cack-handed alongside a striker with a plan to score own goals.

That the Sunday Times should publish a poll of the clergy’s views of the Church of England that broadly corresponds to that newspaper’s writers’ views of the Church of England is perhaps not actually "news" Real "news" would be if The Times published a poll about the Church of England and the purported ongoing 'secularisation' of society that departed from its standard editorial line.

The extent to which the whole thing could be considered newsworthy at all was immediately called into question. Both Revd Peter Ould (a professional statistician) and Revd Dr Ian Paul (at 2h 49m 24s) showed almost immediately that the methodology used was deeply flawed.

Notwithstanding these myriad and obvious failings, identified by "Peter and Paul", the Sunday Times regarded their Poll as worthy of a front page story, a Leading article, a headline that proclaimed, “Britain is no longer a Christian country, say frontline clergy”, several follow-up pieces, and for the newspaper’s radio station to herald the work as a “scoop” and “ground breaking”. Times Radio described the work as a “huge data haul” and the journalist said it was a “huge sample”, as if the sheer size of the response could somehow minimise rather than magnify its unrepresentative nature. Even that, however, did not stand much scrutiny - a total of just 6% of active clergy responded and a mere 769 of them were under 70 and thus eligible to be incumbents.

All the criticisms made little difference to the paper and its outlets as they continued to suggest that the poll was somehow representative of clergy in the Church of England. Nothing if not consistent, their radio station’s presenter of "The Evening Edition", Kate Borsay, openly sniggered at the very idea of pre-marital celibacy even between committed Christian couples.

And, of course their fellow travellers on the road to a church which in order “… to avoid irrelevance… would be wise to embrace the liberal instincts of its clergy and the country” couldn’t get enough of it:

And there were numerous others. It seems that for the so-called progressive part of the Church anything that supports their prejudices is to be deployed to the cause, whether it has any validity or not.

LGBT campaigner Charlie Bell described the poll as, “broad brush” and on that, for once, it might be helpful to agree with him and use it as a starting point. Because surely the real significance of the poll, for all its failings, is what it does unequivocally show.

Accepting that only 1,185 clergy, out of a sample of 5000, responded it is striking that:

  • Around half of them would conduct same-sex weddings;

  • Around 700 of them would offer same-sex blessings;

  • Around 750 of them would support clergy being permitted to enter same-sex marriages and dropping opposition to premarital sex.

This means that, even if the poll was only and entirely representative of those highly motivated to respond, the numbers above can still be fairly multiplied by at least four (there being around 20,000 active clergy). Doubtless the number, properly weighted would be much higher than that, but at the same time, the greater proportion of that notional pool of 5000 clergy would, again, not be incumbents (or equivalents).

Making every possible allowance, therefore, it appears that there are at least 3,000 clergy regularly going into pulpits who, even if they don’t acknowledge it, support the end of the Church of England.

This can be said because of another survey, which is much more important, not least because it is methodologically sound. In it John Hayward, has shown pretty conclusively the effect of “Progressive Ideology” on UK Church Decline.

His work shows that churches like the United Reformed Church, who long ago embraced such ideologies, especially in relation to issues of sexuality, are on the road to extinction. He predicts the URC ceasing to exist in about 2038, the Church of Scotland lasting for maybe five years after that and the Methodist and Scottish Episcopal Churches surviving perhaps until the close of 2050.

Even before fully adopting the disastrous innovations of those churches, Hayward gives the CofE about another 35 years - but all the evidence is that should the established Church not come to its senses it’s extinction date will loom much sooner than that.

It is worth emphasizing that what is being predicted are “extinction level” events - a time when, even it retains buildings and its inheritance has not all be squandered, like the Prodigal, on dehumanising immorality, a church/denomination will have zero adherents. No actual people.

Of course, Hayward’s excellent work in fact simply provides emperical evidence of what is apparent from mere observation. To go the way of The Episcopal Church of the USA, Anglican Church of Canada, the Porvoo Churches etc spells disaster if the goal is to run churches with people in them. Whenever revisionists are asked to cite examples to the contrary, they cannot do so - because there aren’t any. The expectation that a Church can grow by an ever-greater abandonment of historic Christianity in favour of ever-greater embracement of secular culture, is a theory in search of a non-existent evidence base

The other side of the church decline research is what it shows is necessary for growth - orthodox, biblical Christianity as traditionally understood. The Church of England might be in decline, the Church in England, is not. The CofE’s desire to be the Church for England is being thwarted by its own designs. Perhaps for progressives seizing the institutional structures and determining how the Church of England’s history will end is enough, but it’s a pretty odd sort of goal.

For the Church of England to be “served” by so many who, given the evidence, in fact support its death, is intellectually unfathomable. The recent lament of the celebrated evangelist J. John, is notable, for his seeming inability to explain, not what the current CofE is like but how it can possibly be pursuing the course he identifies. The Times survey gives a lot of the answer.

If, say, even 3,000, (that is 15%), active clergy are committed to policies and approaches that will cause the extinction of the Church, it is not unlike Arsenal taking to the field each week with a couple of players who, tacticly, or otherwise, not only favour the club’s relegation but also it going out of business. It is like fielding a goalkeeper committed to being cack-handed alongside a striker with a plan to score own goals. Or a centre half who keeps wanting to give the ball away, alongside a midfielder determined to get sent off.

This is not a 'fifth column' of clergy, or a battalion of 'entryists,' but a large body of clergy right on the frontline, fully supported by equally clueless bishops who are working for the day when the Church of England’s not always glorious five centuries becomes a thing of the past.

The local Nissan garage does not (for long) employ people utterly committed to anti-car policies. The local pub does not have a landlord who is an ardent temperance campaigner or bar staff minded to point the customers to the nearest barista. The trade union is not staffed by militant capitalists. And yet the CofE platforms every week those who, whatever they may think, do not have its best interests at heart.

Again, The Times survey rather confirms this. Over half of those who responded think that Church attendance will continue to decline over the next decade - of those, 50% think decline will accelerate and 50% think it won’t. No wonder 15% thought it “very" or "fairly unlikely” that their church would not have a service every Sunday in 10 years’ time - to be added to the 6% for whom that was already reality. At best this shows a less than touching lack of confidence in their clerical colleagues’ abilities and at worst a lack of confidence in their own.

Again, reduced to pure numbers this means the CofE has a 'people-facing' workforce, a full 2,500 of whom already think the project is inevitably going backwards. That is simply bizarre. Those employees in most "sunset industries," not "downsized" first for their doom-mongering, might similarly despair at the future, but unless saved by impending retirement, their response is either to make sure the sun doesn’t set any sooner than avoidable or to get out. In the Church, however, they stay and labour towards the early arrival of dusk. It is unthinkable that ministers in growing denominations like New Frontiers would think this way and it is not the way for the Church of England to be prophetic, it is in fact more likely to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This is immensely depressing for the faithful clergy who remain and, in the current jargon "resist". Their best efforts will be thwarted by the thousands, or more of their colleagues who ware committing their future to pursuing extinction. No clear out, or reversal of the current trends, seems possible. Likewise, 'outlasting' the liberals does not appear an option, when they are so numerous, so adhesive and there is a reducing pipeline of orthodox clergy. And any thought of revisionists agreeing an "amicable divorce" defies the logic of what they are doing.

What this survey says is not that the Sunday Times is no good at statistics but that the clergy who want to take responsibility for there being a faithful Anglican witness in England in a generation’s time are going to have to find new and viable outlets for their energies.


Anglican Futures offers practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans

If you would like to hear more:

subscribe to our regular emails

506 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page