Comments: Oxford Faith Debates: survey of clergy opinion

Seems I'm not random enough. Is that good or bad?

Posted by Fr Paul at Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 10:17pm BST

The link to the survey doesn't quite seem to work. It gives me an intro, but there appears to be no link to click to get into it. Or is it me?

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 10:21pm BST

Jeremy, it is only a link to a picture of the front page of the questionnaire, to give a hint of what is being referred to. The survey itself is not at present available online.

Fr Paul, the survey chose every third person from the database, so you are in the majority. No idea if that means good or bad :-)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 11:04pm BST

I tend towards the sceptical, but perhaps I'm over-influenced by Steve Bruce's passionate defence of secularisation theory. I tend to think there's a question whether Linda Woodhead's research is over-influenced by her desire to argue for a different kind of church which takes seriously the (to Bruce and others a vanishingly small group of) spiritual-but-not-religious

Posted by Doug Chaplin at Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 11:32pm BST

If it takes 10 to 15 minutes to fill in, it can't be very in-depth. Theology is a writing and speaking art-form that allows one kind of presentation to sound like one thing while meaning another, and clergy as preachers are quite skilled in this. Use of questions instead of statements, a referral back to history, use of technical language all helps. Perhaps anonymity and must be bullet points creates a clarity of expression that is unusual.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 2:17am BST

"Professor Woodhead is inviting any Anglican clergy who are listed in Crockfords to nominate themselves to participate in a panel"

Repeat after me. Selection Bias, selection bias, selection bias.....

Posted by Peter Ould at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 10:09am BST

Seems to me this is a sort of liberal (in varying degrees) fight-back. Jolly good.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 10:29am BST

Linda Woodhead is worth her weight in gold - to the whole of the Church of England.

She makes no secret of her liberalism, and correctly defends it as a legitimate philosophy with an important role to play in our national church.

But she is also a professional and honest collector and interpreter of independent data and this makes a truly priceless contribution to debates which are otherwise too often based merely on the personal and anecdotal.

She is definitely part of the solution for a Church of England which has been losing its way, and we are very lucky to have her.

Posted by badman at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 2:02pm BST

why selection bias?

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 3:51pm BST

'The research is gathering opinion on different aspects of the Church of England and its future direction from the people who serve it and know it better than anyone.'

'Selection bias' seems a very biased way of describing this cohort. And a survey of all C of E members would yield results even less congenial to PO.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 4:46pm BST

Peter and Erica: 'Selection bias': yes, if people are invited to invite themselves to take part, depending on where the survey is advertised, of course - but better described as 'SELF selection bias'.

But the original survey - every third name on the database - is surely not biased in its selection criteria?

Posted by peter kettle at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 7:52pm BST

The pool of possible respondents does not seem to reflect any bias, but there may in the long run be a bias based on who chooses to respond. It may be heavily weighted towards people who tend to respond to survey requests. ;-)

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 10:47pm BST

"It is carried out anonymously so that individuals can complete their answers and express their views with the guarantee of confidentiality."

it must be wonderful to know you don't have to be afraid of your bishop.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 11:12am BST

This does sound a wee bit like the Roman Catholic Survey of how members of that Church have responded to the more recent call to comment on matters of social, moral and liturgical concern in today's world. I guess this C. of E. initiative has about the same odds of producing an accurate picture of the view of clerics in the C. of E.
At least, there is the guarantee of anonymity for the clergy concerned.

Not sure how a survey of interested laity would measure up - considering the vociferous voices of the few who held up the process of ordaining women bishops not too long ago.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 28 August 2014 at 10:00pm BST

Father Ron, you said "Not sure how a survey of interested laity would measure up - considering the vociferous voices of the few who held up the process of ordaining women bishops not too long ago."

The organisation doing this survey did a survey of the views of the laity on gay marriage, with interesting results. To quote from their website

"Our YouGov survey found an overall majority (52%) in favour of same-sex marriage and an even split among religious people, with those who identify as Anglican and Catholic supporting it by a small margin despite the churches’ official opposition."

see -

It is clear that the strong public statements of near total opposition to gay marriage coming from senior levels of the CofE do not reflect the private opinions of at least 50% of church going Anglicans.

Such survey and polling data contributes to the overall debate and shows the benefits of doing this sort of research. And Linda Woodhead is a competent academic for whom allowing for selection bias and other statistical anomalies is an everyday part of her trade.


Posted by Simon Dawson at Friday, 29 August 2014 at 10:18am BST

I am one if the 'lucky' one-third, although I am part of the Church in Wales rather than the CofE. Some questions seemed biased to a liberal viewpoint, others to a conservative one. The multiple choice format is not subtle and there are too many questions where a 'good enough' answer had to be given. The questions on the nature of God and the route to salvation are far too simplistic, but there has to be a limit as write-in answers would not be helpful.

So, perhaps like an opinion poll, results may be helpful to show a general direction but not a detailed picture. My research colleagues suggest that a random sample, rather than a 'every third name' approach, would have been a more effective way of choosing participants.

Posted by Richard at Friday, 29 August 2014 at 9:04pm BST

Every third name from a directory is a random sample

Posted by Turbulent Priest at Friday, 29 August 2014 at 11:20pm BST

Richard, as a non research scientist can I ask how a random sample differs from choosing every third applicant?

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 2:25am BST

"The research is gathering opinion on different aspects of the Church of England and its future direction from the people who serve it and know it better than anyone".
The position of the laity to the clergy in the Church of England can nowadays be compared to the position of recipients of services/welfare to the public sector providers.
We also serve, you know, even if we are not members of your exclusive club. And I once thought we were all in it together.

Posted by Jill Armstead at Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 9:17am BST

Well said, Jill Armstead! I'm sorry to say that my former diocese's magazine, Crux, seems to contain almost exclusively stories about clergy, as if nobody else in the church mattered or did any work.

Posted by AndrewT at Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 9:34am BST

Thanks for commenting. You've answered all the questions yourselves, but just to reiterate:

-the current survey is a random sample (every 3rd name is a standard way of constructing such)

-we are also asking clergy who are willing to join a panel for occasional future surveys. This will be weighted in order to minimise bias

-we already surveyed the laity (and clergy) in two large population surveys last year, results here:

-there is indeed a limit to the theological and other depths that survey questions can probe, but this one is not just about theology

-all academics have their own views and opinions, and I am no exception. That is not a bar to presenting unbiased findings, nor representing views one does not hold oneself - nor, in general, to ascesis against the reality principle

-over my career I have done as much research amongst conservatives and fundamentalists UK and elsewhere as amongst 'liberals' (who tend to be less studied, esp relative to numbers)

-thank you badman for your generous encouragement.

-Thanks to all who have taken part. There's another week to run.

If anyone would like to be on the panel for future short surveys, please email

Posted by Linda Woodhead at Monday, 1 September 2014 at 9:44pm BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.