Few British Christians think same-sex relationships 'always wrong'

By Savi Hensman
July 1, 2017

Only a sixth of British Anglicans agree with the Church of England’s official view on same-sex relationships, the 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey reveals. Opinions among other Christians too have shifted hugely.

Just 16 per cent of Anglicans now believe that sex between two adults of the same sex is always wrong. The percentage is even lower among Roman Catholics – just 13 per cent, similar to the average of 12 per cent for all faiths and none.

This rises to 19 per cent for other Christians and 37 per cent among other faiths, while it is just five per cent for those of no religion. However Natcen, which carries out the survey, warns that the numbers of Catholics and non-Christians surveyed was low, so their figures may not be wholly reliable.

The wording of the question is also unclear, making it harder to interpret the results. People are asked whether sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are always wrong, mostly wrong, sometimes wrong, rarely wrong or not wrong at all.

But choosing ‘mostly wrong’, ‘sometimes wrong’ or ‘rarely wrong’ might have nothing to do with gender. For instance some Christians might opt for ‘sometimes wrong’ because they disapprove of casual sex or infidelity, for opposite-sex or same-sex couples.

In recent decades, a growing number of theologians have come to believe that the Bible does not rule out committed, self-giving same-sex love. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are also more visible. So people can judge for themselves the quality of relationships and human cost of refusing to bless couples.

Senior Church of England clergy have been afraid of offending those strongly opposed to accepting same-sex partnerships. However their numbers have dwindled. Meanwhile many non-churchgoers are put off by what they see as unjust and hurtful attitudes.

A new ‘teaching document’ is planned, which will look again at the issues. Some previous working parties have urged a more accepting approach but leaders have shied away from taking this forward, fearing a split. It remains to be seen whether they will be bolder now.

Recently the Scottish Episcopal Church (also Anglican) has embraced marriage of same-sex couples, if clergy feel led by conscience to celebrate this. Several other UK churches also now allow weddings or are moving in that direction, though others – the Catholic church included – do not.

It is clear though that few believers are still convinced by claims that same-sex relationships are always sinful.

* The NatCen report is here

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.