Sunday, 29 August 2010

Don't know, Don't care ...

Following the renewed controversy about whether Jeffrey John could or should be a Bishop this summer, YouGov conducted a random poll asking whether the public at large thought that "the Church of England should or should not allow the appointment of Bishops who are gay".

The results came out in favour of gay Bishops - 39% were in favour, 27% against - but what struck me was the high proportion of people who just didn't care - or in the words of the survey "have no opinion either way".

Almost a third of those questioned (31%) had no opinion either way.

There are 2 possible interpretations of this:

Either they don't care because homosexuality just is not an issue for them - it doesn't provoke a response, positive or negative.

Or the Church of England and probably, by implication, the Christian faith is simply irrelevant in their lives.

Either way, this should be a matter of grave concern for those of us who want to make Jesus Christ known, as it shows how irrelevant the church has become for so many people.

For those for whom sexuality doesn't illicit any response, the way the church gets hot under the collar (usually the dog collar!) over and over again about this one issue must push them more and more to the conclusion that we are nothing to do with them.

But I suspect that the greater proportion of the 'no opinion' group have written the church and the Christian faith off, and see the church as a quaint anachronism, which has nothing to say to them. Our traditional ways of doing things - our patriarchal institutions - our funny clothes and rituals - our liturgical and ecclesiastical language - simply do not make an impression on an increasing proportion of the population.

For those Christians in newer churches, (mainly evangelical or pentecostal in style) this is not news. Their growth in recent years has been due largely to presenting the gospel in a contemporary way, seeking to make it relevant to a new generation. But even here there are problems.

In the 25-39 age group where these newer churches often do well, there were significantly fewer people who expressed no opinion, (27%) but this is the group who were most in favour of gay bishops (52%) which goes against the predominantly conservative approach on sexuality which these churches take.

Nor can the established church take much comfort from the older generation. Even among the over 60's (the only age group which came out against gay Bishops - 25% in favour, 40% against) the 'don't care' vote was the highest of all age groups (34%). This age group is generally regarded as being the most 'religious' (and most traditional) and those of us who are attend church will know that this is the best represented group amongst the majority of our congregations, and yet over a third don't care on this most traditional of issues!

The challenge of this survey is not the issue of gay bishops. It is the challenge which the church faces in presenting the Gospel in a relevant and engaging way. It is the challenge of bringing the love and teaching of Jesus Christ to our nation in the social environment of the 21st Century, rather than the 17th or 19th Century. It is the challenge of living and acting in a way which can speak to people who have been turned off what we do and what we say to the extent that they just don't care.


  1. Well said, Benny; I think it's much the same here in Canada.

  2. Your last paragraph encapsulates where the church has gone wrong. Most people either can't follow or can't be bothered to follow the intricate theological discussions on controversial church issues. To these people perception is all important. If the church is seen to be 'exclusive' then they won't want to be a part of it.

  3. Thank you both - I am sorry to hear that things are much the same across the pond. For once I wish the grass was greener on the other side!