The results of two modules from the winter 2013 Cpanel of churchgoers have been released by their sponsors this Eastertide, doubtless in a bid to grab the public’s attention at a time of year when religion has traditionally taken centre stage.
Premier Christian Radio module – image of the Church
Two-thirds of practising UK Christians believe that the Christian Church in the UK needs a new image, with only 14% saying that its current image is fine. This is according to a module from the winter Cpanel study by ComRes for Premier Christian Radio, which was published on 29 March 2013, and for which 535 churchgoers aged 18 and over were interviewed online between 18 January and 4 February 2013. Data tables are available at:
Although just 22% of practising Christians consider that the Church should spend money on advertising in a bid to improve its image, with 67% opposed, follow-on questions were still asked about an advertising campaign for the Church. Television (29%) and social media sites (17%) are viewed as being potentially the most effective places to carry the Christian message. Almost half (45%) accept that such a campaign would benefit from the involvement of a celebrity, but 34% disagree. A similar number (42%, including 61% of Anglicans) think that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, might help improve the Church’s image.
These practising Christians tend to cast the media as the villains of the piece. The overwhelming majority (83%) consider that the UK media unfairly represent the Christian Church, while 85% assert that the media portray the Church in a negative light. By contrast, hardly anybody seems to fault local places of worship; indeed, only 10% concede that they are unwelcoming, with 88% saying the opposite.
Coalition for Marriage module – same-sex marriage
The same sense of churchgoers feeling somewhat embattled is carried over into a second module from the same Cpanel study, this time sponsored by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M), which was published on 30 March 2013. The data tables for this can be found at:
There are a few general questions about the challenges perceived to be facing Christianity in the UK. A large majority (76%) of these practising Christians is critical of the Government for failing to give sufficient protection to the rights of Christians to exercise their freedom of religious expression, while 67% contend that they sometimes or often feel a member of ‘a persecuted minority’ because of constraints on religious expression (albeit 29% disagree). A similar proportion (71%) says that they will vote for a party or candidate promising to give more protection to the rights of Christians to practice their faith more openly.
However, the main purpose of the C4M module was to test the attitudes of churchgoers to same-sex marriage, on the eve of the Second Reading in the House of Commons of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales. This took place on 5 February, with the Cpanel fieldwork finishing the day before, so these data do not tell us whether churchgoing opinion has changed at all in the light of the very substantial majority for the Bill at Second Reading.
The newly-reported findings are broadly in line with those obtained in previous Cpanel enquiries on the subject, in June-July 2012 and October 2011, thereby suggesting that churchgoers are overwhelmingly against the legalization of same-sex marriage, although (strangely) an overt question along these lines was not actually asked. Some key results include:
- 92% disagree that people who oppose same-sex marriage are bigots
- 85% agree that marriage should continue to be defined as an exclusive commitment between a man and a woman
- 83% disagree that keeping civil partnership and marriage separate worsens public attitudes towards gay people
- 77% agree that legalization of same-sex marriage might lead to more cases of dismissal or demotion of employees who hold traditional views about marriage
- 76% agree that many people who would oppose same-sex marriage are reluctant to say so for fear of being called a bigot
- 73% disagree that once same-sex marriage is legalized most opponents will change their minds
- 53% want a national referendum to decide the issue
Attitudes of churchgoers towards Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party (for which 38% recalled they had voted at the 2010 general election) seem generally negative on account of the move to legalize same-sex marriage:
- 77% disagree that Cameron has been in listening mode on the issue
- 69% disagree that same-sex marriage will help the Conservative Party win at the next general election
- 67% think that Cameron’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage has more to do with making the Conservative Party look modern than stemming from his personal convictions
- 46% agree that they would have considered voting Conservative at the next election but will definitely not do so if same-sex marriage is legalized
Some may feel these implied ‘threats’ to wreak electoral ‘revenge’ on the Conservative Party at the next general election are rather disagreeable tactics for practising Christians to be identified with. Be that as it may, the ‘threats’ may well prove to be empty ones, for much psephological opinion seems to suggest that, whatever people may say between elections, few actually cast their vote at an election on the basis of a single issue.