The Brighton and Hove Changing Attitude Survey is Flawed

Which is of course not the same thing as saying it’s bad.

The official survey results are out and with it comes a press release that presents a number of the key observations in a misleading manner.

The churches were asked to choose one of four categories to describe their attitude to the LGBT community.  These ranged from being fully affirming – ‘gay and lesbian people can be fully and openly involved in every aspect of the church’s life, including lay leadership roles’ through accepting, then tolerating, to condemning – ‘LGBT people would not be permitted to be in lay leadership roles….the congregation believes that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful and it is wrong to be in a gay relationship’.

A notable finding is that not a single church ticked the condemning box which represents the traditional teaching on homosexuality and which continues to be the official doctrine of the Church of England.

32 out of the 39 Church of England churches have responded so far, (responses are promised from the rest).  Of these 9 (approx 28%) have declared themselves fully affirming, and a further 18 (approx 57%) say they are accepting and ‘recognise the equality and worth of openly LGBT people who are valued members of the congregation’.

Sounds good, but let’s have a look at the survey text itself to see the problem.

Yes, even if you click on the picture opposite the text is a bit hard to read, so let’s spell out what the four options are.

  1. Whilst openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people are welcomed they would not be permitted to be involved in many positions in the church and especally not in lay leadership roles. Leaders and congregations believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful and that it is wrong to be in a gay or lesbain relationship. Similar views are held about bisexual or transgendered.
  2. There is a variety of views on LGBT issues among the congregation, but the church is not comfortable having openly LGBT people involved in some aspects of the church’s life. Leaders hold to traditional bibilical teaching on sexual orientation but are willing to hold dialogue and to explore different interpretations.
  3. Openly LGBT people including those in relationships can be involved in every aspect of the church’s life, ublcuding lay leadership roles. The equality and worth of openly LGBT people is implici, but is not often explicitly discussed. There are few or no visible signs of LGBT people and organisations in the church.
  4. Gay and lesbian people can be freely and openly involved in every aspect of the church’s life, including lay leadership roles. A conscious effort is made specifically to include LGBT people and to affirm the equality and worth of their lives and relationships with explicit referencees in, for example, intercessions or sermons. LGBT Christian or secular posters can be displayed on church noticeboards. The church has already or would be willing to make a public declaration of its open and welcoming character through registering with a body such as Inclusive Church, Changing Attitude or a similar organisation.

OK, where to start?

  • The first flaw with the survey is that the category titles allocated by CA were not made public when the survey was sent to church leaders. If you knew what the titles that were going to be used were (“Condemning” in particular is a highly emotive title – CA would have been better to use the kind of gathering titles that Andrew Sullivan used in “Virtually Normal” which were not value loaded) you might have been minded to not return the survey or to give a different answer.
  • The survey options themselves make a number of assumptions that could be challenged. For example, the phrase “openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people” carries with it in this survey an assumption that such a person would themselves be affirming of gay relationships. This is simply not the way things are. The survey disregards the scenario of an openly LGBT person operating at the highest levels in conservative churches and yet being celibate and affirming that sex is only to be conducted within the marriage of a man or a woman. This means that the subtlelty of views on this issue (which is very important, since charicatures of positions lead to misunderstanding)  could not be analysed. One might even go as far as to suggest that the wording was deliberate in order to impose this assumption in the wider debate that “openly LGBT” automatically means affirming revisionist positions.
  • Perhaps a better way to survey would have been to present a number of different options on the different areas of interest. There could have been different options for theology, inclusion and ministry based on different combinations of sexuality and sexual practice, and open affirmation. This would have allowed churches to indicate in far greater detail their particular stance and would have enhanced the reporting of the results.
  • There was no indication in the letter that accompanied the survey that Church’s individual written comments (rather than just their rating of their church) would all be publicised. This is very poor practice.

What is good about the survey? Well, it confirms what a lot of us know already, that the Brighton and Hove area has a large LGBT population and that many churches are accomodating to that population. That, however, is all it does tell us, and given that that’s something we’re already aware of, one wonders what the point really was.

On top of that, some of the language of the press release is pure hyperbole. For example, Dr Keith Sharpe is reported as saying,

There is clearly a vast gulf between the official views of Church leaders and the reality of the lived experience of gay Christians in actual congregations.  This must surely mean that in time the Church will have to recognise the full humanity of LGBT people.  These findings are of national significance.  The outcome is so overwhelmingly positive it cannot be dismissed as just a Brighton phenomenon.

Just ridiculous. No-one in the conservative camp denies the “full humanity” of LGBT people – this is just posturing. And as for the results of one town with a hugely disproportionate LGBT population when compared to the rest of the country being “of national significance” and “so overwhelmingly positive it cannot be dismissed as just a Brighton phenomenon”, well that’s just so ludicrous that it can be safely discounted. Seriously – such a small skewed sample can’t be taken as a viable indicator of the rest of the country, and to argue so just makes you look uninformed.

The most damning statement of misinterpretation however is this.

“A notable finding is that not a single church ticked the condemning box which represents the traditional teaching on homosexuality and which continues to be the official doctrine of the Church of England”.

Many of those who ticked (2) will have agreed with the official CofE doctrine and it is likely that even some who ticked (3) may have agreement with doctrine in principle, if not in practice. The only way to find out whether clergy do or don’t hold to the official doctrine of marriage is to ask them directly, without adding on a number of presumptions which this survey does.

What do you think?

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14 Comments on “The Brighton and Hove Changing Attitude Survey is Flawed

  1. Dr. Sharpe's words here are very ugly indeed. Accusing anyone of believing that people are less than human is nearly as bad as insinuating that someone is less than human. We tend to hold the recognition of humanity as one of the most important aspects of human and humane ethics. I would suggest that the Church of England does not need the teachings of a person who will insinuate that some amongst us are so utterly bereft of humanity; I am quite sure that Dr. Sharpe himself is fully human and capable of recognizing the full humanity of others, but that he is struggling with a dire form of hatred.

  2. It was highly disingenuous to use a loaded word like "equality" here when the word is used in such differing ways. I.e., "do you believe in full equality? Then how come I don't get to be the Archbishop of Canterbury?" Here "equality" is being used in a deliberately obfuscatory manner in the style of advocacy journalism. This survey is HIGHLY flawed and the tendency behind it should be condemned – it is like emotional blackmail.

    Consider sending out a survey regarding attitudes in churches whether Christians "should accept the authority of Scriptures" and drawing conclusions from this on some ethical matter – if someone labeled this as "right-wing blackmail" I would be very much inclined to agree.

    • James, I agree equality is a word that can be loaded in the way it is used. Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, he who crowned the queen, asked whether he thought all men were equal, responded: "All men are equal in the love of God, but not necessarily in the sight of God". Was this profound, or a cop-out?

      • Hmm, interesting Tom – I think I can see the Archbishop's line of reasoning in putting things that way; certainly all moral choices are not, at least in some sense, equal. Aristotle's Politics is perhaps one of the most classic texts regarding problems in framing the issue of "equality." One always finds that in trying to make one thing equal or justly proportionate in one sense, other senses of equality and just proportion are disturbed. This does not mean that we should not evaluate situations and strive for justice; but that simplistic formulations can be a great bane to civilized and understanding discourse.

  3. I believe that the church should treat LGBT people exactly the same as everyone else, whether they are in sexual relationships or not. That said, I agree with you, Peter. The survey is very seriously flawed.

    With regard to “denying the full humanity” of LGBT people, what could that be taken to mean? Difficult to define precisely, but I can give a recent example. A couple of weeks ago a gay friend of mine, whom I will call Paul (I change names and locations to protect privacy) died in a tragic accident. I went to his funeral a few days ago. As we were going out of the cemetery chapel afterwards, a straight friend of both of us, whom I will call Robert, reported to me a conversation that he had had earlier in the day with a colleague at work. Robert had told the colleague that he was taking time off in the afternoon to go to a friend’s funeral, and the colleague asked, “Was he one of your mates from the Black Bull?” “Yes,” replied Robert. “Was he gay?” asked the colleague. “Yes,” said Robert. “Don’t bother to turn up, then,” said the colleague. (I won’t give Robert’s reply here, because you’d delete this post if I did.)

    Is that the kind of attitude that any church would encourage nowadays? I hope and believe that it is not. Is it the kind of attitude that some in the church have endorsed in the past? I’m afraid that the answer has to be “yes”. I can still recall now a case where an Anglican vicar, having agreed to conduct a funeral, gave backword on discovering from the local press that the deceased had been a gay rights campaigner. His friends tried every clergyman in the area, and all refused. Eventually, when it seemed as though the quest was a hopeless one, they found one who, in full awareness of the facts, said that he would and did. Although I now regard myself as a pretty marginal RC, I’m proud to be able to say that the honourable exception was a Roman Catholic priest.

    • Thanks William. I think it would be a very rare (and stupid) clergyman who wasn't willing to give a deceased person the dignity of suitable funeral and farewell for those who loved him, regardless of their views. I mean, I bet some of the people I've done funerals for were incredibly wrong in what they believed, but when it comes to their farewell that's hardly the point.

  4. """"The survey options themselves make a number of assumptions that could be challenged. For example, the phrase “openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people” carries with it in this survey an assumption that such a person would themselves be affirming of gay relationships. This is simply not the way things are. The survey disregards the scenario of an openly LGBT person operating at the highest levels in conservative churches and yet being celibate and affirming that sex is only to be conducted within the marriage of a man or a woman. This means that the subtlelty of views on this issue (which is very important, since charicatures of positions lead to misunderstanding) could not be analysed. One might even go as far as to suggest that the wording was deliberate in order to impose this assumption in the wider debate that “openly LGBT” automatically means affirming revisionist positions.

    Come on Peter, this blog is pointedly "Post Gay" – in part because you, like many conservatives, regard 'gay' as an unbiblical false identity (one reason why the "Christian" Institute prefers "homosexual" instead). A marker of the pro-gay church is allowing posters for LGBT organisations. I used to joke that the evangelical church I go to should inform parishioners of the LGBT group at the Cathedral up the road, until such a time as we get our own. Clearly evangelical churches would not recommend such a group – despite the fact that LGBT Church groups tend to involve bible study, talks by bishops and the like, not the stereotypical casual sex and drug use supposedly omnipresent in the "gay community". I accept the fact that conservative, evangelical churches regard LGBTQ as ideological. Are we really to believe that someone who self-describes with such terms (as opposed to " celibate" or "ex-gay") will end up in leadership in evangelical churches? To be frank, I don't even think that a celibate ex-gay would stand much of a chance, given the importance of "The Family" in evangelical circles

    As for "No-one in the Conservative camp [tautology? ;-)] denies the full humanity of LGBT people

    No-one? Really? Would people now in polite company talk of "The Jew Lobby" or "The Negro Agenda" ? No. Yet the likes of the 'Christian' Institute trade in intrinsically dehumanising agenda on 'homosexuals' or the 'gay agenda' , such as their headlines on the B&B case that pointedly demonise "homosexuals" as a group.

    • Let me address some of these issues Ryan.

      Post-gay – I'm not sure I go as far as you suggest in not wanting to ever use the word "gay". I'm quite happy to use it as a descriptor of one's sexual and emotional orientation, but I just don't think it's a categorisation that can be seen as a valid Christian identity in that we believe "this is how God made us". And that's the key issue, because as you quite rightly point out, some people *do* take such an identity and make is such a core, non-negotiable part of their lives that they prevent the possibility of God ever doing a transformative work of some kind in their lives. If I might be so bold to suggest, at the moment you are one such person.

      As for the celibate gays in leadership in the church, I know of several just in the Church of England alone. We have the famous Archbishops for whom "sexuality is a gray area" and the not so famously known bishops (I can think of two off the top of my head) who are more than happy to live celibate lives. On top of that we have a large number of parish clergy who take the same stance. One or two are very open about their desire not to marry (as it were), others aren't, but all of them made sure that the key people involved in appointing them understood what their position and life-style choices were.

      And yes, I am as uncomfortable as you are with the idea of a "Gay Lobby", but that is not a dehumanising concept, it's simply not. Yes, it is wrong for some groups to use titles of stories that can be read conglomerating all gay people, but that is a far cry from seeing such people as less than human.

  5. Hi Peter,

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the whole questionnaire and report is based on a person ticking one of those options? I have rejected papers that based their finding in much better methods and questionnaires! Although they had a high response rate (at least 80%), the study design isn't available. The statistical power of such sample reduces external validity, hence, generalisation to the whole CoE is dangerous.

    Formulation of questions is an art, and these are biased towards one point of view or perspective. I wonder if they don't have any good advisor on such issues? I was thinking that if I were to answer the questionnaire, I could not choose ever for 1, for the simple reason that despite my struggles, I am in leadership! But we hold fully to the authority of the Bible and the traditional/orthodox teaching on human sexuality! Furthermore, we will never go to be affirming of alternative interpretations of the Scripture! Actually, the answer would have been an empty questionnaire returned…

    And I support you regarding the "labels": those who organised the survey should provide clear definitions of what they call e.g. gay/lesbian etc. just to avoid any confusion for the respondent. Otherwise, there are many confounding factors that were not controlled for in the survey.

      • Hey, I'm still in the room! ;)

        Sorry, busy day. Apologies if I gave the impression that I was either ignoring or not fully engaging with the responses from yourself and Armando.

        However, I note that Armando does not self-describe as "gay" in the response above but does refer to his "struggles", which arguably supports my point on the general evangelical objections to the ideological presuppositions of the "gay" label. You, Peter, refer to Bishops who call their sexuality a "grey area". That's the language of closet-case obfuscation, reflective of the C of E's (then? You're of course much better judged than me on the current situation) Don't Ask, Don't Tell climate and policies, wholly contrary to the self-identifying and affirming nature of coming out as Gay. Also, +Gene Robinson says that he's firmly Orthodox on most non-sexual issues; wouldn't you agree that , if there are those who self-identify as "Gay" or "LGBT" or "Queer" Evangelicals that they're liable to be closer to the liberal position than your understanding of Orthodoxy? I should say that I'm not arguing some radical liberal point, just concerned about how language is actually used. For example, the Rt Rev Derek Rawcliffe, former Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway (aka, See of Peter aside, the World's Best Diocese ;-)) recently died. He did 'come out' – but after he had left the post. At no time did he self-identify as a 'gay bishop' *whilst* at Glasgow, which – even though if he *had* it would suit liberals like me – is surely important. Is your opinion that 'gay' has some uses as a label really reflective of evangelicalism generally in the UK? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm assuming that you used the term "post-gay" *prior* to being married – for good reason, as evangelicals generally do find the term gay ideologically fraught. Can you name specific evangelical churches that have – currently- leaders who would self-describe as gay? At the very least, would it not be a gross misrepresentation of evangelical teaching on homosexuality to (if forced to choose as with the survey above) summarise the views as "No Problems with LGBTQ people in Leadership positions"? The presence of *formerly* LGBTQ people within evangelical churches is surely a negation of the whole gay identity view; why capitulate to the liberal view on the analogy between sexuality and race/gender?

        So there's not necessarily anything flawed or underhand in CA summarising the #1 position as "opposed to LGBT people in leadership roles".

        Gay Lobby : I'd maintain that understanding specific groups of varying human beings as not, well, specific groups of varying human beings, but as part of an "agenda" or "lobby" with stereotypical and malevolent intent is indeed dehumanising language.

        • Hi Ryan,

          I was thinking a couple of days on how to answer your post. Actually, I want to ask you what is the meaning of "gay", then I would be able either to self-describe me better. There are so many opinions on the matter, from the simplistic "if you are a boy and like boys you are gay" to the more elaborated concepts depending on where you score on the Kinsey scale and the ideological support for gay rights and so on and so forth. Furthermore, there are so many ways to classify, you see, for UN System, it is the label MSM (Men who have sex with men), the most accurate to describe people at risk of HIV. So, could you please be so kind to tell me what do "you" understand as "being gay" and I would be better able to self-describe myself.

  6. Hi Armando. I don't mind giving my own views, although I'd maintain that evangelicalism generally objects to the term 'gay' as a label for believers to describe themselves. This isn't a slur : I agree that, if you accept Gagnon's exegis (for example) then it's far more logical to talk of homosexuality acts and the tendency towards them as more analogous to a taste for (say) adultery than a benign characteristic like race. Personally, I think 'gay' means thinking about the same-sex the way straight people do towards the opposite one. I remember the term "MSM" from my own bi-yearly HIV test days, but thought it was given as an option for people to self-describe with, alongside "gay" "bisexual" and others? I think 'gay' involves a romantic component. 'Bisexual invisibility' (not, alas a superpower! ;-)) means that there's bisexual people who are assumed to be either straight or gay (i.e. if you see a guy holding hands with a girl you assume he's straight – not bi. So too with gays). The Kinsey scale is useful in that context. Someone who enjoys sex with other men need not be strictly 'gay' – although they're not exactly straight, either! I think people would say that same sex romantic feelings are less indicative of homosexuality than actual homoshenanigans, but I'm not sure. Adolescent boys might experiment with same sex, but a permanent, enduring, erotic (but not solely so) love for another man analagous in feeling to that of a husband to a wife is surely a greater and central proof of a 'gay' identity. One swallow doesn't make a summer, after all (although, as Frank Skinner pointed out, it can certainly make an evening. I'll get me coat… ;-))

    This might be a good Ask Peter topic. Oscar Wilde famously cited his passions as being part of the 'noblest form of affection' of love between men, such as between Jonathan and David. The conservative Christian would reject the link between same-sex love and same-sex sex, but surely they'd also maintain that the love of Jonathan and David as qualitatively different from that of two gay men in a monogamous relationship (so it's not just a case of taking out the sex?) ? Surely a man loving another man in the way a man loves a wife – even in a perfectly chaste relationship – is wholly problematic from the evangelical perspective?

    But aside from "I'd take a bullet for him" sentiments, I'm not entirely sure on how to elaborate a *primary*, completing-feeling same-sex love that's wholly outwith the territory of 'gay'.

  7. A small point of order- David was married. Anyone using David and Jonathan as a biblical example of a same sex exclusive monogamous relationship cannot for the same reason I wouldn't use David and Bathsheba as a biblical example of an heterosexual exclusive monogamous relationship. This is true whether or not they were doing
    more than just kissing.

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