Do "almost a half" of male clergy in the Church of England "not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus or in his bodily resurrection"? And do a significant proportion also deny other fundamental Christian teachings, such as the Trinity?


These claims were made around 8 minutes into a talk by Paul Perkin this week at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Nairobi.

As far as I can tell, the statistics come from a survey undertaken in 2002 by Christian Research (who seem very competent) for an organisation called Cost of Conscience (click on the link and I'll let you form your own opinion). I can't find the raw data, but if you send a cheque for 50p to Cost of Conscience, they will post to you a 16-page report entitled "Believe it or not! What Church of England clergy actually believe" (the 50p includes postage and packing, by the way).

The problem (as highlighted by David Walker on Thinking Anglicans) is the way the questions were asked and the way the answers have been reported. The questions about belief had five responses:

  • Believe without question
  • Believe but not sure I understand
  • Mostly believe
  • Not sure I believe this
  • Definitely don't believe

Of course, many clergy were quite willing to concede that they weren't able fully to comprehend God and many of the beliefs that they apprehended wholeheartedly. So they ticked the second box. But it seems that all except the first box were lumped together as "doubt or disbelieve", and hence the shocking statistics.

I'm quite willing to believe that plenty of clergy do have such levels of disbelief. But it's clearly not as bad as Paul Perkin made out. It wasn't that bad in 2002, and, given the considerable growth in the evangelical (particularly charismatic) parts of the Church of England in the 11 years since the survey was undertaken (see the first part of the talk), it seems at least plausible that the situation in 2013 is considerably better than it was in 2002.

Now, all repeat after me: "Show me the raw data!!!!"