— Major shift in attitudes in England since 2014 survey, when only 39% approved of same-sex weddings
Most Church of England priests want the C of E to allow same-sex weddings and to drop its opposition to premarital and gay sex, according to a survey.
In a major shift in attitudes over the past decade, a survey of priests in England conducted by the Times found that more than half supported a change in law to allow clergy to conduct the marriage of gay couples, with 53.4% in favour compared with 36.5% against.
The last time Anglican priests in England were asked, in 2014, shortly after the legalisation of same-sex civil marriage, 51% said same-sex marriage was “wrong”, compared with 39% who approved.
Last year a row erupted at the first Lambeth conference (a meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world) in 14 years, with the archbishop of Canterbury faced sharp criticism for affirming a 1998 declaration that gay sex was a sin.
But the new poll found that 64.5% of priests in England backed an end to the teaching that “homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture”. It also found that 27.3% of priests supported an end to any celibacy requirement for gay people, while 37.2% said they were willing to accept sex between gay people in “committed” relationships such as civil partnerships or marriages, and around a third (29.7%) said the teaching should not change.
Andrew Foreshew-Cain, founder of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, said the survey showed there was “no excuse for further delay and equivocation” in welcoming gay people into the church.
“The clergy of the Church of England are kinder, more generous, and more welcoming towards LGBTI people than the current official position allows,” he said. “The C of E, and in particular our bishops, needs to stop wringing its hands over gay people and move forward towards blessings and, in time, to celebrating same-sex marriages in our parishes.”
The survey results were encouraging, said Robbie de Santos, director of communications at Stonewall. “We hope that church leaders reflect on these findings,” he said. “Too often, LGBTQ+ people of faith face discrimination and prejudice simply for being themselves.”
The survey also found that three-quarters of respondents thought Britain could no longer be described as a Christian country. Almost two-thirds (64.2%) said Britain could be called Christian “but only historically, not currently”.
In the 2021 census of England and Wales for the first time fewer than half of the population described themselves as Christian.
The Times poll found that two-thirds of priests in England thought attempts to stop the drop in church attendance would fail, with only 10.1% thinking it would be halted, and 10.5% believing that congregations would grow again. Average attendance for Church of England Sunday services in 2021 was 509,000, down from 1.2m in 1986.
The survey also found that 80% of respondents would back the appointment of a woman as the archbishop of Canterbury, while two-thirds wanted an end to the system that allowed parishes to reject female leaders.
The survey also asked priests how slave trader memorials and statues should be dealt with: 15% backed the removal of such memorials, 14.1% said they should be left alone, while two-thirds said information should be added alongside them to highlight their links to slavery.
The survey analysed 1,200 responses sent out to 5,000 randomly chosen serving priests.
Responding to the survey on behalf of the church, the bishop of Leeds, the Right Rev Nick Baines, said: “The church is the church, and, as such, not a club. It has a distinct vocation that does not include seeking popularity. Repentance means being open to changing our mind in order that society should encounter both love and justice. And this means sometimes going against the flow of popular culture, however uncomfortable that might be.”
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