Thinking Anglicans

Few British Anglicans believe same-sex relationships 'always wrong'

Savi Hensman has written this article, published by Ekklesia: Few British Christians think same-sex relationships ‘always wrong’.

Only a sixth of British Anglicans agree with the Church of England’s official view on same-sex relationships, the 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey reveals. Opinions among other Christians too have shifted hugely.

Just 16 per cent of Anglicans now believe that sex between two adults of the same sex is always wrong. The percentage is even lower among Roman Catholics – just 13 per cent, similar to the average of 12 per cent for all faiths and none.

This rises to 19 per cent for other Christians and 37 per cent among other faiths, while it is just five per cent for those of no religion. However Natcen, which carries out the survey, warns that the numbers of Catholics and non-Christians surveyed was low, so their figures may not be wholly reliable.

The wording of the question is also unclear, making it harder to interpret the results. People are asked whether sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are always wrong, mostly wrong, sometimes wrong, rarely wrong or not wrong at all.

But choosing ‘mostly wrong’, ‘sometimes wrong’ or ‘rarely wrong’ might have nothing to do with gender. For instance some Christians might opt for ‘sometimes wrong’ because they disapprove of casual sex or infidelity, for opposite-sex or same-sex couples…

The original press release from the National Centre for Social Research is here: British Social Attitudes reveals Britain wants less nanny state, more attentive parent which includes the following:

…Free to love: Britain’s sexual liberalisation continues unfettered with views on everything from sex before marriage to same-sex relationships and adult films becoming more liberal than ever before. Most striking has been the shift in the views of Britain’s Christian population and the closing of the gap in views between younger and older people.

  • Sex before marriage: Three quarters (75%) now say sex before marriage is “not wrong at all”. This stood at under two thirds (64%) in 2012. 73% of Anglicans agree that sex before marriage is not at all wrong, up from 54% only four years earlier and around double the proportion who said this in 1985. In 2005 the gap between the youngest and the oldest people on whether sex before marriage is “not wrong at all” was 53 percentage points, it has now halved to 25 points.
  • Same-sex relationships: Attitudes towards same-sex relationships have become significantly more liberal with 64% of people now saying that they are “not wrong at all”, up from 59% in 2015, and 47% in 2012. Over half (55%) of Anglicans say same-sex relationships are “not wrong at all”, up from 31% only four years previously.

And the full text of the relevant chapter of the study is downloadable from here.

Two tables which show the more detailed breakdown referenced by the Ekklesia article can be seen here.


  • If 55% of British Anglicans think same-sex relationships “are not wrong at all”…

    then the Church of England spokespeople and leaders who say otherwise, and appropriate the whole established Church as if it believes in their position, are in fact denying the actual beliefs of the majority, and projecting a fantasy world of ‘what the Church of England believes.’

    In a way they are hijacking the Church of England in a partisan manner, trying to control what is allowed, trying to dominate other people’s consciences.

    This cannot hold.

    The idea that there is uniformity in the Church of England, that ought to be imposed, Covenant-style, or Primate-style, is a fantasy, and it’s singing Gafcon’s song.

    If local churches, and Chrstians, and PCCs, and priests, and communities, think there is “nothing wrong at all” about lesbian and gay relationships, as the data suggests, then who is the Archbishop of Canterbury to tell them they can’t make their own local decisions, and listen to their communities, and follow their own consciences and beliefs in good faith?

    Increasingly, the Alice-in-Wonderland world that we live with in the Church of England is actually wearing thin, because people know it’s not true. The Church of England – if we mean the people not the buildings – does not condemn gay sexuality. Leaders just say it does.

    To placate conservatives and African bishops.

    We can’t live with this delusion much longer. It’s a false assertion, and an affront to so many truth-seekers outside the Church walls. It’s an obsession with sex. And control. And a quasi-fundamentalist approach to the Bible, which has to be right, always, and for all times, and in all cultures… even though its authors crapped and scratched like the rest of us, were fallible, were human, writing from within their own conventions, their own time, and its scientific and cultural limits.

    The reason I advocate ‘Unity in Diversity’ is to try to offer respect of good conscience to conservative Anglicans in a world where they are getting left behind, or fenced in within a stockade. Since the Church demonstrably does not believe gay sex is wrong (it is simply divided) freedom of conscience has really to be allowed to celebrate it if people wish to.

    Anything else is bullying and domination by a clerical minority.

    And that is where we’re at, and it impacts on our lives and dignity.

  • Drew_Mac says:

    I presume that the “clerical minority” to which you refer is the House of Bishops who appear to be largely responsible for the maintenance and imposition of the present policies. Generally the parish clergy, outside of most but by no mean all of the Evangelical parishes, tend to agree with the majority views now popular in the pews.

  • I don’t like the language of liberalizing when applied to sex. Of course there are people, hetero and homosexual alike, whose attitudes to sex are very liberal but there are also many, again hetero and homosexual alike, for whom sexual relationships are serious matters. I am really encouraged by the youngsters I know who are deeply reflective about all things sexual.

  • Fr John E. Harris-White says:

    Yet another census treating same sex loving human beings as mere numbers in this endless debate which has gone on for far too long. Being used by one side or another in a long winded debate.
    When will the bishops of the Church of England tell their Archbishops that they are living in the past, and need to recognise that the body of christians that make up the church believe and think differently to them.
    Let the christian family act as it believes in God’s love for alll human beings, regardless of seual oriantation.
    Let the church free of its Archbishops get on with living the gospel with their fellow human beings,and making them welcome into the church family life.
    We need in some way to again have archbishops who love the English people for who we are.

    Fr John Emlyn

  • crs says:

    “not always wrong” is an interesting threshold for a question…

    But even at that, it isn’t the same as “not wrong at all” — oy vey!


  • James Byron says:

    And the rebuttal comes, “Church isn’t a democracy: truth isn’t decided by majority vote, but is handed down by God.”

    Realistically, truth is decided by majority vote, but change will only come to the CoE if a majority’s passion for change matches their professed beliefs. Right now, since it doesn’t affect them, the majority are indifferent, so the bishops can carry on as they are.

    Where the numbers are useful is in emboldening activists, and in turn, those within the hierarchy. If just one “liberal” diocesan breaks ranks, and refuses to enforce discipline against LGBT people, the whole edifice could crumble.

  • Ceige says:

    Unfortunately James the majority isn’t always right, and nor do collective opinions always reflect truth. One doesn’t have to go far politically or socially to realise this. So for the Christian the Bible is the benchmark, when interpreted alongside context and with guidance from Jesus (the truth) through the Holy Spirit.

    The introduction to the topic of sex before marriage is interesting to me. I was living with my boyfriend when I returned to church and although I knew it ‘was not quite right’ was unable to leave. Distressed about it and praying a lot one day I received a word of knowledge at church which was basically, “it’s not the best thing.” So I have no doubt on matters of sexuality that no person should be outright rejected by Christians or anyone for this reason, but nor do I think God necessarily endorses all behaviour and that we ought to preach that he does.

  • Interested Observer says:

    “change will only come to the CoE if a majority’s passion for change matches their professed beliefs”

    There are two outcomes for the CofE in twenty years’ time. In one alternative future, the CofE manages to look like a welcoming place for people born after 1950, and therefore survives, flexible, pragmatic but changed.

    In the other alternative future, the CofE doubles down on the prejudices of a certain sold of old person and continues a policy of exclusionary hatred towards gay, trans and gender-fluid people. This horrifies cis- and straight people who don’t want to hang out with bigots, so saying “I am a member of the Church of England” has, amongst those born after 1950, roughly the same impact as admitting membership of the BNP. As its ageing congregations die, the church dies with them.

    Decision time, I think.

  • S Cooper says:

    Trouble is the bishops care most about the churches attracting the hundreds of young people on a Sunday evening …. they’re most interested in youth and large churches

  • T Pott says:

    “If local churches, and Christians, and PCCs, and priests, and communities, think there is nothing wrong …. (why can’t they) make their own local decisions”

    If same-sex marriage in church, or blessing of other inter-personal covenants, were introduced then it seems only fair that individual vicars, at least if already in post, could refuse to officiate. But that would mean that couples who happened to live in one parish would have the right to marry but those in another parish would not. I think there would have to be some arrangement to ensure that all couples had the same rights. How would this work? Too often the rights of the clergy are put ahead of the rights of parishioners, whether or not they attend church regularly.

  • Interested Observer says:

    “Trouble is the bishops care most about the churches attracting the hundreds of young people on a Sunday evening”

    The number of “young people” attending evangelical gay-bashing churches is infinitesimal compared to the amount of money required to keep running a Church of England which looks anything like its state today. Most of those people will grow out of gay-bashing; they will find that once they try to live a life outside the bubble of their gay-bashing church they are social pariahs, and if their children in ten years’ time start parroting their parents’ bigotry they will be expelled from school. And today’s fifteen year olds are not tomorrow’s twenty-five year old evangelical gay-bashers, as there has been a profound, profound change in schools and amongst school children; the problem of homophobia is not solved, far from it, but is now completely unacceptable.

    Pandering to elderly bigots is not a long-term business plan, but it declines (generally) only with the death rate — although, of course, a fair number of people are finding they have to choose between bigotry and attending their children’s and grandchildren’s weddings, and are picking the latter. But pandering to young bigots doesn’t even have that slow decline, as it’s a ten year, maximum, strategy. The argument from some African leaders that if they are “soft” on gays people will switch to Islam may or may not be true; I don’t know as I don’t know anything about African religious demographics. But it sure as anything isn’t true in England: converting to Islam just isn’t a thing in more than single-digit volumes.

  • Savi Hensman says:

    Certainly the majority is not always right, Ceige. But a strong theological case that has been made over the past century by numerous scholars for affirming same-sex partnerships. It may now be hard for bishops to ignore this on the grounds that the laity would be upset by a shift towards greater acceptance

  • Strongly agree with you Andrew Lightbown. There is a way of ‘liberalising’ that is closer to ‘trivialising’. It lacks thought and depth and therefore wisdom. The writer Adam Phillips memorably describes contemporary culture as ‘living on the compass of its excitement’.

  • David Emmott says:

    S Cooper: ‘Trouble is the bishops care most about the churches attracting the hundreds of young people on a Sunday evening …. they’re most interested in youth and large churches’

    I suspect this (or rather the financial implications of this) is the chief motivation behind the bishops’ attitude. But I would be very surprised if a majority of these young people flocking to evangelical shrines go along with the hardline views of many of the ‘leaders’. Bluff needs to be called.

  • James Byron says:

    Agreed, David.

    Most kids are indifferent to gay rights, as they’re indifferent to ethics in general. Popularity’s their god, and they do whatever gains peer approval. In schools, where homophobia’s routine, they persecute LGBT people without mercy; the moment they graduate and enter college, they turn on a dime, and become fervent advocates of social justice.

    Wherever the crowd goes, they follow.

    Bleak as this shallow amorality is, it does allow youth-heavy churches to change position with close to zero pushback from their congregations.

  • Anthony Archer says:

    If the survey could have conveyed the important concept of a covenanted relationship, the percentage of every group holding that same sex relationships are always wrong would be extremely low indeed.

  • Garry Lovatt says:

    “Certainly the majority is not always right, Ceige….”
    Dom Gregory Dix, no less, observed that it doesn’t much matter what the bishops want, the laity always gets its way in time.

  • S Cooper and David Emmott I would expect any Bishop in today’s church to be prioritising the work of reaching out to young people as a matter of urgency – and to enabling churches to grow. Why these priorities spell ‘trouble’ escapes me.

    I would also love to know where these churches are where Bishops are wilfully neglecting their other duties and hanging out ‘hundreds’ of young people in evening services.

    If you actually mean that the larger churches within the evangelical tradition tend to have conservative leaders in relation to beliefs about sexuality there is truth in this. It concerns me too. But may I make three points. 1. Please beware of generalising about the evangelical wing of the CofE. It is in the midst of significant transition. 2. It is true that some (not all) evangelical churches have conservative leadership on this issue while in many other ways enabling the growth, confidence and missional flourishing we all long for. It is always a mystery to me who God chooses to bless at such times. I suspect St Paul felt the same. But like Paul I hope I am grateful wherever it happens. [Phil 1.15-18 ‘Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill … out of love, for the defence of the gospel; others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice]. 3. I expect Bishops to be positively engaged with conservative churches and their leaders, seeking to shape their theology and approach. The last thing they need is isolating. The ones I know are doing just that. That too is good leadership.

  • crs says:

    “If the survey could have conveyed the important concept of a covenanted relationship, the percentage of every group holding that same sex relationships are always wrong would be extremely low indeed.”

    Mr Archer, just as it shows how very different perceptions exist on this issue, I doubt your point very much. “Covenanted relationships” is the kind of language and worldview espoused by those who have already positive views about LGBTQI matters. Those who don’t probably could care less.

  • David Keen says:

    Is ‘Anglicans’ those who are committed members of the church, or people who self-identify as CofE in surveys, Census etc.? If it’s the latter, it’s no surprise that they reflect the views of society in general. This may be as much the receding tide of cultural Anglicanism as it is a shift in attitudes within the church.

  • ‘Most kids are indifferent to gay rights, as they’re indifferent to ethics in general. Popularity’s their god, and they do whatever gains peer approval’

    Wow, that’s cynical!

    For what it’s worth, when I was a teenager in the 1970s I was extremely idealistic – more so than I am now. And for what it’s worth, I see the same idealism in my kids (who are now aged 36 down to 28). And they were quicker to embrace gay rights than I was.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “Most kids are indifferent to gay rights, as they’re indifferent to ethics in general. Popularity’s their god, and they do whatever gains peer approval. In schools, where homophobia’s routine, they persecute LGBT people without mercy”

    I don’t know where you hang out, but I don’t recognise this from any of the schools my children went to, nor from them and their friends.

  • Erika Baker says:

    Many of the conservative evangelical churches with “hundreds of young people turning out in the evening” have an official view about same sex sexuality but a very tolerant approach in practice.
    I know of same sex couples with children who feel welcome in some of our more conservative churches, same sex partnered teens and people in their twenties.
    I know of members of leadership teams who are hoping that their church will have the courage to be openly gay affirming in the not too distant future.

    Do not assume that stern words spoken from the top always reflect the reality on the ground.

  • Cynthia says:

    ‘Most kids are indifferent to gay rights, as they’re indifferent to ethics in general. Popularity’s their god, and they do whatever gains peer approval’

    FWIW, studies show that children have a very strong sense of fairness. That may not always be the same as ethics or being human rights champions, but it puts them on track.

  • Jo says:

    The description of teenagers and homophobia certainly matches my own time at school, but that was heading for 2 decades ago and attitudes have changed. Young people can still be vicious to each other, but homophobia and transphobia are not tolerated (or subject to statutory enforcement re: section 28) as they once were. Certainly the proportion of young people who are ardently pro-equality is small, but equally most are as appalled by displays of homophobia as they are by displays of racism.

  • James Byron says:

    Tim: ah, a cynic, what an idealist calls a realist. 😉

    Erika: my evidence is Stonewall’s report on homophobic bullying.* It remains widespread, and teachers’ response often inadequate.

    Cynthia: would be interested to read them. Did they compare the priority kids put on manifesting fairness with that they put on being popular?

    Jo: things have, undoubtedly, improved, but the essential nature of teenagers is timeless. Peer acceptance is, and will always be, alpha and omega to most. Much homophobia will be hidden from adults, although as the Stonewall report makes clear, far from all.

    It’s not hopeless, far from it: we should just guard against complacency, and remember that, for most (and I certainly include myself in this), ethics are learned, and require constant effort to practice.

    Put it this way: the church heirarchy’s made up of people who’ve devoted their lives to moral living, and spent years studying ethics. If they fall as short as they do, why would we expect kids to be better?


  • JCF says:

    “I received a word of knowledge at church”

    Meaning you *changed your opinion*, Ceige. Unless you’re purposely using this sort of Evangelical language to one-up the rest of us great unwashed, who have differing opinions?

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