24 October 2014 11:36

Anglican clergy are very concerned with maintaining a high level of welfare spending, and see it as a way of protecting the weak and the poor – a left-leaning political stance out of step with most of the general population and most Anglicans. 

Clergy’s attitudes to other issues including abortion and assisted dying also sets them apart.

These are the findings of a new survey of 1,509 Anglican clergy, led by Professor Linda Woodhead and commissioned by Lancaster’s Westminster Faith Debates to support a new series on the Future of the Church of England.

Findings include:

  • Anglican clergy are marked out from lay Anglicans and the rest of the population by their left-wing “old Labour” views, including commitment to a generous welfare state. They are three times more likely than the general population think the welfare budget is too low.
  • 43% of clergy would like to see a reduction in the 24 week time limit on abortion, and 16% support an outright ban (even though this is not official church teaching). By contrast, just 6% of all Anglicans and the same proportion of the population want a ban on abortion.
  • 70% of clergy think the law on assisted dying should remain unchanged; the same proportion of lay Anglicans and the general population are in favour of relaxing the law.
  • 51% of clergy agree with the Church’s official view that same-sex marriage is wrong, 39% disagree, and 10% say they don’t know. 
  • On several issues, the more evangelical clergy have distinctive and pronounced views. For instance, a full 88% of evangelicals think that same-sex marriage is wrong, and 31% want to ban abortion.

Full finding are available here.

Professor Linda Woodhead said:

"This survey of a representative sample of CofE clergy gives us a much clearer view of what a distinctive tribe they really are. In both politics and ethics they are idealistic, and very concerned with protecting the weak and the poor. But these attitudes now set them apart from most of the general population and lay Anglicans.

"It’s also interesting to see how different most of the more evangelical clergy are from the rest in many of their attitudes. The Church’s official view that Anglicans should learn to 'disagree well' seems to be undermined by the two-thirds of evangelical clergy who don’t think that a goal worth pursuing."

The survey was designed by Professor Linda Woodhead with advice from a reference group drawn from across the Church. It was completed by a random sample of clergy aged 70 and under.

The Westminster Faith Debates are funded by Lancaster University, the AHRC and ESRC.