Bishops care more about global warming than adultery

Survey reveals Synod members are more exercised by Third-World issues t han the earthy concerns of the tabloids and Sky
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The Independent Online
For years, the the Church of England's General Synod has reproached itself for being a middle-aged, middle-class, elitist organisation, more at home preaching politics than morality. Now, an extensive survey of its members proves it was right all along.

Synod members were profoundly dissatisfied with the Church's performance on personal morality, but did not think it an important issue.

Third World problems, unemployment, environmental issues and racial disharmony all seemed more significant to Synod members than abortion, homosexuality, or extra-marital affairs.

Around 60 per cent of lay synod members thought the Church gave inadequate answers to moral and social problems, to questions of family life and to spiritual needs. The clergy were slightly more satisfied, but with a higher proportion of "don't knows".

The bishops were least dissatisfied with the Church's answers, and had the highest proportion of "don't knows" in the whole Synod. And even among the bishops, only 44 per cent professed themselves satisfied with the Church's answers to moral problems. Fewer thought the Church's performance satisfactory on family life and spiritual needs, though only 7 of the 37 bishops surveyed were dissatisfied with the Church's stance on social problems.

This did not stop Synod members believing they had a duty to speak out, even on matters they thought unimportant: 35 bishops believed that the Church should speak out about homosexuality, though none thought it an important issue.

The survey was carried out before 10 bishops, 3 of them Synod members, were "outed" as homosexuals. Two bishops believed that the church should not make public pronouncements about extra- marital affairs. This is likely to reflect fastidiousness rather than moral equivocation, however.

The survey shows that the Synod exists at a vast distance from the loud certainties of popular culture. Only one bishop and two clergy members of Synod have satellite TV; Synod members listen overwhelmingly to Radio 4 and Radio 3. They read broadsheet newspapers, usually the Independent or the Times. Only four of the Synod's 547 members admitted to reading the Sun; two read the Daily Mirror. Only one bishop reads the Daily Telegraph. Two have no televisions at all in their palaces.

Traditionally privileged backgrounds are less important for success in the Church than once they were: only 60 per cent of the bishops now have public school backgrounds, as opposed to 85 per cent in the Sixties. Three bishops, among them the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, left school at 15; four Synod members were educated in comprehensive schools.

Slightly more than half of the House of Laity were women, and 20 of these gave their profession as "housewife". Seven members of the House of Laity worked in manufacturing industry: 39 were retired and 134 worked in service industries.

Spirituality is rather more difficult to measure or quantify. The survey says that "bishops appear to be more liberal in their spirituality than the clergy, and the clergy more liberal than the laity". However, the dominant party is clearly the evangelicals. "Members of the House of Laity indicating open evangelical sympathies are the group least likely to be excluded from committees," says the survey.

Politically, the Synod is mostly Liberal Democrat or Labour in its sympathies, and has moved slightly to the left since the early Eighties. One bishop is a member of the Liberal Democrats.

The survey was produced by Dr Grace Davie, of Exeter University, whose department had carried out three previous sociological surveys of Synod membership.

The findings largely reflect the make-up of the wider Church, according to the report, though they are not completely up to date: the Synod elections last November have changed the composition of the assembly slightly.