Two percent of Anglican clergy in Britain do not believe in God, while a further nine percent say that ‘no one can know what God is like’, according to a new poll.
The YouGov poll of clergy in the Church of England, Church in Wales, Scottish Episcopal Church and Church of Ireland found that 83 percent believe in a personal God – as taught by Christianity for millennia – which means that up to 17 percent do not.
The poll found widespread liberal views among Anglican clergy, although there are signs the Church may slowly be becoming more conservative as younger clergymen are far more likely to hold more traditional views, with older clergy members ordained in the 1960s and 70s being the bastions of liberalism.
Just 24 percent of clergy in total describe themselves as conservative, compared to 43 percent who say they are liberal and 32 percent who are ‘somewhere in the middle’.
Among those aged 25 to 34, however, 46 percent say they are on the conservative end of the spectrum, compared to 30 percent on the liberal end, while 36 percent of clergy aged 35 to 44 define as conservative compared to 31 percent liberal.
The poll also finds that only 16 percent of clergy support a ban on abortion, although 43 percent would like to see the time limit for abortions reduced below 24 weeks. Once again, the younger clergy appear to be more conservative, with 42 percent of 25 to 34 year olds supporting a total ban on abortion, compared to just 13 percent of 55 to 64 year olds.
A slim majority – 51 percent – oppose same-sex marriage, and 70 percent oppose assisted suicide, however a large majority do not think the Church of England should be too strict on its enforcement of doctrine on these issues. Seventy-one percent say the Church should “lay out general principles but leave people to decide for themselves”.
The results come 30 years after David Jenkins, then Bishop of Durham, caused considerable controversy when he compared the resurrection of Christ to a “conjuring trick with bones”, and this poll suggests that heterodox beliefs are still common in the Church of England.
One retired Church of England vicar, David Paterson, told Trinity College Dublin’s newspaper that there was no contradiction in peaching about God while being unable to believe in Him: “Within my congregation I would take the line that how you feel about God is not in the least dependent on whether you think God exists or not.
“I preach using God’s terminology, but never with the suggestion that God actually exists.”
However, Alison Ruoff, a lay member of the General Synod – the Church of England’s governing body – said she could not comprehend how a member of the clergy could not believe in God. She told the Independent: “They shouldn’t have been selected, but if they have lost their faith it’s a great shame.
“Clergy just preach social clap-trap these days. We expect better from them.”