Two new publications from the Church of England report and analyse the responses received to the Living in Love and Faith process: Listening with Love and Faith is the report which is accompanied by more detailed analyses. Friendship and the Body of Christ is a reflective essay. These two publications are intended to 'support the bishops in their ongoing discernment process as they seek to discern what they believe God is saying to the Church of England today.' Both can be downloaded here.
In response, Church Society have published an analysis of Listening with Love and Faith: Responses in More Detail. You can download the whole report, and read the Executive Summary here:
This analysis of the LLF research is intended to aid PCCs, Incumbents and Synod Representatives as they engage in the LLF debates over the coming months.
What follows is a sustained engagement with Listening with Love & Faith: Responses in More Detail, the “more detailed technical report” issued in September 2022 alongside the summary report.
The aims of the LLF report are described in the introduction to “Listening with Love and Faith”:
“Perhaps the best way to describe the first aim of this report, is to see it as a mirror. Its aim is to reflect back – as faithfully, impartially and accurately as possible – what those who have engaged with Living in Love and Faith have said by means of the questionnaire, the focus groups and creative submissions … The second aim of the report is to ensure that the voices, perspectives and insights expressed through this churchwide engagement are listened to and heard by the bishops of the Church of England as they embark on the final stage of the journey in discerning a way forward for the Church of England during the autumn of 2022”.
Given this, it is essential that the research was academically robust and the survey reflective of the Church as a whole. The report has to be able to command confidence across the breadth of the Church of England, and be seen to be impartial. Unfortunately this is not the case. It is notable that there is no overall methodology running throughout the report, which reduces its dependability. NVivo coding was used at some stages, but this was not pursued throughout the work.
It is hard to see any link between the survey and the focus group questions, which is a serious weakness. There was no attempt to ensure that those who responded to the survey were within the Church of England, or that multiple submissions were not made by a single person.The data analysis is questionable given that quotes are unattributed and there seems to be little consideration given to balance. Nationally, 96.1% of the population self-identifies as heterosexual and yet 89.4% of whose who took part in the survey so identify. This is a statistically significant difference. When it comes to focus groups only 80.9% or those invited to participate were heterosexual. This was not addressed in the report.
The positionality of the researchers is not stated, but one comes from a denomination which has recently introduced same-sex Marriage, another was, until recently, a trustee of a LGBTQ+ campaign group and another worships in a registered Inclusive Church. A single recent book, Guyan’s Queer Data (2022), is used as a source for certain techniques such as amplifying areas on diagrams, and no contrasting positions were evaluated and compared before this approach was adopted. This all reduces the credibility of the work. One wonders why a well-established, independent firm was not used to conduct research which is supposed to bear the weight of guiding the bishops.
Most crucially it should be noted that the question of whether the church should adopt same-sex Marriage was not raised in the survey. Any conclusions which some may draw from this report are mere suppositions. It is impossible from this research to conclude that “most” either want or do not want same-sex Marriage.
The Church of England appears to have made no effort to assess how many churches or deaneries ran the LLF course, or how many individuals participated. The design of LLF - wordy materials, online portal, discussion groups - privileged those from more affluent areas, and those who do not have English as their first language were at a disadvantage. It is telling that if you live amongst the most affluent 10% of England you were over seven times more likely to take part in the survey than if you live amongst the poorest 10%. This really should give the Church of England pause: why are we mainly listening to the well off? Why were there no black or Asian participants in the Focus Groups? Is this really good enough?
Of course, it is worth asking the question: are we really supposed to carry out doctrinal change by SurveyMonkey? The ordinal reminds us that it is the bishops who are ordained to be “guardians of the faith of the apostles”, and General Synod is a body elected by the whole Church of England to represent views of the church. More fundamentally, Article XX reminds us that:
“THE Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”
Moreover, our Canons state that: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures” (Canon A5). This should be the starting point for our debates. In conclusion, even if the Church of England were to determine doctrine by survey, which is not its charism, this would not be the survey to use. It cannot command the confidence of the whole church. This is a real shame and an opportunity missed.
1. https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/living-love-and-faith/listening. Last accessed 22nd
2. Listening with Love and Faith (London: Church House Publishing, 2022), 6.
3. NVivo® is a specialist software package which facilitates the analysis of qualitative data by the
allocation of specific categories or codes to statements from respondents and subsequent synthesis.
4. The report simply cites the book: “The queering of data ... [has] implications for whose stories are
placed at the centre and on the margins” (p 24).
5. Brendan Research, who carried out the survey and assessed the independent submissions, was
founded in 2020 (p 142).
6. Three persons identified as “mixed/multiple” and one did not respond to the question.