The Church of England’s General Synod may have passed an adjournment motion last Monday, to send the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure back for further episcopal review, but a majority of the general public seem to favour the idea of women bishops, according to two opinion polls released this week.
The first survey was undertaken by ComRes, on behalf of the Bible Society, with online fieldwork on 4 and 5 July 2012 among 2,117 Britons aged 18 and over. It was published on 9 July, to coincide with the anticipated (but unrealized) final vote on women bishops in General Synod. The full data tables have been posted at:
ComRes discovered that support for women bishops hovered around the three-quarters’ mark, depending a little upon question-wording. Thus:
- 74% thought that the Church of England should allow women to become bishops;
- 73% considered that the fact there was a debate at all showed the Church to be out of touch with society’s expectations of gender equality;
- 79% contended that, as women could already be appointed as vicars, they should also be able to become bishops;
- 77% said that it would be wrong not to allow women to become bishops just because of their sex
Opposition to women bishops ran at 12% overall, peaking at 19% among the over-65s and 17% for professed Christians (against just 4% of those with no religion). 15% were undecided, including 25% of non-Christians.
On the other hand, opinion was finely balanced about whether the issue of women bishops was sufficiently important for the Church of England to be spending time discussing it at the moment. While 43% said that it was, 42% deemed it to be a lower priority for the Church than other topics. Scots (50%) particularly took the latter view.
Although 67% claimed that the debate suggested there were many Anglicans who were sexist, 44% (rising to 51% of Christians) agreed that opponents of women bishops were merely following a traditional interpretation of the Bible, rather than being sexist, and society ought to respect their values.
The second poll was conducted by YouGov and published today. The sample comprised 1,721 adult Britons, who were interviewed online on 8 and 9 July 2012. The results are available at:
YouGov posed only one question. Reminding respondents that ‘the Church of England is still considering how to accommodate the appointment of female bishops’, it asked whether the Church should allow such bishops or not.
The proportion opposed was the same as in the ComRes study (12%), but the number in favour was reduced to 55%, mainly because there was an explicit ‘no opinion either way’ option, which attracted 30% of the total vote (and 40% in Scotland).
Meanwhile, the mind of practising grass-roots Anglicans on the subject of women bishops has been tested by Christian Research for Forward in Faith (which describes itself as ‘a worldwide association of Anglicans who are unable in conscience to accept the ordination of women as priests or as bishops’).
1,125 regular Anglican churchgoers (95% attending services once a week or more) were interviewed online between March and May 2012. The sample was unweighted but was said by Christian Research to align closely with the composition, in terms of age and churchmanship, of the Church of England as a whole.
48% of these Anglican worshippers wanted to see the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England as soon as possible, 22% within the next 5-10 years, 15% when a consensus is reached among all other churches, and 16% never.
Churchgoers were mostly sympathetic to the position of those who could not, in conscience, support women bishops. 44% said that such persons should not be forced out of the Church, 31% wanted some form of compromise to enable them to remain within the Church, and 7% even thought they should have the right to veto the introduction of women bishops.