Trust in Clergy and Other News

While waiting for the first tests of public opinion to the sudden resignation of Benedict XVI as Pope, here is a batch of six recently-published sources of British religious statistics on a miscellany of subjects.

Trust in clergy

Clergy/priests are the sixth most trusted group in a list of seventeen read out by Ipsos MORI in a telephone survey of 1,018 Britons aged 18 and over conducted on 9-11 February 2013 and published on 15 February. Clergy/priests were trusted to tell the truth by 66% of the sample, a figure exceeded only for doctors (89%), teachers (86%), scientists (83%), judges (82%), and television news readers (69%).

As might have been anticipated, the list was propped up by estate agents, MPs in general, bankers, journalists, and politicians in general; in each of these cases seven-tenths or more of adults stated that they did not trust these groups to tell the truth. However, 27% also said the same about clergy/priests, with 7% expressing no opinion.

The truthfulness of clergy/priests was not subject to major demographic variations, but it is interesting to note that some of the highest scores came from the 18-24s (72%), owner occupiers (70%), Scots (74%), intending voters for the Conservatives (76%) and UKIP (72%), and from those satisfied with the Coalition Government (75%).

For both topline and detailed data, go to:

Although clergy/priests might well take comfort from their relatively positive performance in this poll, they should not get too complacent. An Ipsos MORI time series clearly shows that trust in them to tell the truth has fallen fairly steadily from 85% in 1983, with the level of distrust rising from 11% in the same year. See:

Beginning of life

People of faith are more likely than those without religion to say that human life begins at conception. Overall, a plurality (44%) of Britons takes this view, but the proportion rises to 50% among Anglicans and Muslims and 60% among Catholics and Baptists, whereas for the ‘nones’ it falls to 34%. For the ‘very religious’, it is higher still: two-thirds of those who say they get some guidance in life from God, religion, religious leaders, or religious teachings. This same set of groups is also three times more likely than the norm to want to see abortion banned altogether: one-fifth or more as opposed to 7% for all respondents.

For adults as a whole, life is thought to start at some point during pregnancy by 30% but not until the baby is born by 17%, both options being selected by an above-average number of persons professing no religion (36% and 21% respectively). Don’t knows amounted to 8%, including one-third of those who preferred not to declare what their religious affiliation was.

The data come from the YouGov survey of 25-30 January 2013 for the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates, the abortion aspects of which we have already covered in our post of 12 February. The full data tables for all these questions were released on 14 February and are available at:

Lenten intentions II

Further to the coverage in our post of 9 February, YouGov has conducted a second online poll about the intended observance of Lent this year. Fieldwork took place on 10-11 February 2013 (before the start of Lent on 13 February) among 1,691 adult Britons aged 18 and over. Of these 27% said that they had plans to give something up for Lent, not dissimilar to the 24% recorded in the earlier poll. Full data tables (which also cover the anticipated consumption of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday) are available at:

Religious affiliation

The latest survey to collect information about religious affiliation was conducted by ComRes for Marie Curie Cancer Care on 6-8 February 2013. A total of 2,601 Britons aged 18 and over was interviewed online. In reply to the question ‘which of the following religious groups do you consider yourself to be a member of?’ 53% said Christian, 8% non-Christian, and 37% none, with 2% preferring not to say.

The number professing no religion peaked among the under-45s (49% for the 18-24s, 46% for the 25-34s, 43% for the 35-44s), falling to 22% with the over-65s. There was also an above-average proportion of ‘nones’ in the lowest (DE) social group (42%), among private sector workers (42%), in the North East (42%), and in the South East (44%).

People who reported that somebody close to them (a relative or friend) had died in the last three years were somewhat less likely to declare themselves to have no religion (35%) than those who had not been bereaved on this timescale (39%); they were also more prone to say that they were Christian (55% against 52%). Perhaps the proximity of death still exercises a marginal pull towards the religiosity end of the religious-secular spectrum? For more detail, see Table 43 in the dataset at:

Inflated churchgoing

The tendency for respondents in sample surveys to exaggerate the frequency with which they attend public religious services is a well-known fact. It is described, somewhat euphemistically, as ‘measurement error’.

The outcome of the ‘prestige effect’, whereby people are still reluctant to admit that they are not so ‘religious’ as they or society feel they should be, the gap between reality and aspiration can be clearly seen by comparing the number who attended church on a typical Sunday in the last (2005) English Church Census with those claiming to worship weekly in polls around the same time.

However, the phenomenon is by no means peculiarly British but can be found internationally, too, including in North America. Philip Brenner, a sociologist from the University of Massachusetts Boston, is one of the scholars who has studied it, with his most recent research reported in the Winter 2012 issue (Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 361-83) of Sociology of Religion: ‘Investigating the Effect of Bias in Survey Measures of Church Attendance’. It is far from being a light read and will win no prizes for linguistic accessibility! Although this is normally a subscription journal, Brenner’s article is, at the time of writing, free to view (apart from the three appendices) at:

Brenner’s approach is to compare the reports of churchgoing in time use diaries with claims made in national sample surveys between the 1970s and early 2000s. Fourteen countries are investigated (United States, Canada, and twelve in Europe). In the case of Great Britain, the evidence derives from a comparison of time diaries for 1974-75, 1983-84, 1987, 2000-01, and 2005 with fifteen multinational surveys of adults from 1975 to 2006 in which fieldwork was undertaken in Britain.

The author’s particular concern is to establish whether the over-reporting of church attendance in surveys is related to the individual demographic ‘predictors’ commonly associated with religious practice. He has therefore compared the replies of sub-groups with regard to Sunday churchgoing in both the diaries and the surveys by means of logistic regression models. The demographic variables employed were: gender, age, marital status, presence of children in the household, educational attainment, and household income. Religious affiliation was excluded through insufficiency of data.

The core of this analysis is to be found in Table 1, which is entitled ‘testing the equality of residual variation assumptions and equality of underlying coefficients’. His principal conclusion (to paraphrase) is that there is very little evidence to suggest that demographic sub-groups respond differentially when reporting churchgoing in sample surveys against time diaries.

The over-reporting of church attendance which Brenner presupposes to exist in North American surveys (but generally not in European ones) is said at one point of the text not to be rooted in demography but to reflect the tendency of North Americans to ‘view religiosity as a more central part of their identities’.

However, in the conclusion, it is admitted (perhaps somewhat contradictorily) that the gap between time diaries and survey results probably reflects differences in data collection method, between directive (in the surveys) and non-directive (in the diaries) techniques.

Anglican episcopate

‘Bishops are a touchy subject within the Anglican Church. They wield a lot of power and matter more than most people realise, but because of this their origins have rarely been studied in a dispassionate way nor their present functions honestly weighed up in the light of the needs of the Church within a modern society’.

In his new book, deriving from his D.Min. thesis at the University of Wales Bangor in 2009, Michael Keulemans (an associate priest of the Church in Wales) attempts to rectify these deficiencies. Bishops: The Changing Nature of the Anglican Episcopate in Mainland Britain (2012) is available in hardcover, softcover, and ebook editions from

Apart from a good deal of historical context, two major surveys are included in the work. The first examines the background and careers of diocesan bishops in England, Wales, and Scotland at twenty-year intervals between 1905 and 2005 (chapters 6, 7, and 8). The second, employing a self-completion postal questionnaire, looks at attitudes towards the bishop’s role of 255 serving clergy and 358 leading laity (churchwardens or equivalent) in four Anglican dioceses (two in England, one each in Wales and Scotland), and compares them with those of 25 bishops who retired between 2000 and 2008 (chapters 10 and 11).

Although now around five years old, the second survey inevitably touches on a couple of issues which remain (controversially) current in the Anglican Communion: practising gay and women bishops. On the latter, 72% of clergy, 67% of laity, and 84% of retired bishops endorsed female bishops. Respondents from the Scottish diocese (Edinburgh) were notably supportive (83% of clergy and 82% of laity). There was much less enthusiasm for practising gay bishops: 30% of clergy, 17% of laity, and 25% of retired bishops.


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