We are engaged in two main projects at the moment. One is about the treatment of sex offenders by medical as well as psychological intervention, and we can't really talk about that, for contractual reasons.
The other project is a university research project as summarised in the following proposal:
One Church; two cultures – the composition and cultural reproduction of contemporary Anglicanism
It appears from media reports that the Church of England is currently experiencing a time of great division. Controversies such as the ordination of openly gay bishops and women are very publicly pitting evangelicals against liberals. But although the two wings are roughly equally represented in the Synod, there is reason to believe that, in terms of membership and finances, one tradition, conservative evangelicalsm, is flourishing and the other, progressive liberalism, dwindling. Preliminary enquires reveal that although the church keeps records of numbers of communicants and on electoral rolls, no figures are kept on which parishes are of a liberal or evangelical orientation. One aim of the proposed study will be to analyse the composition of the Church of England, in terms of these traditions, at the same time as providing a critical interrogation of these categories. A second aim will be to assess the nature and extent of polarisation between these groups. A third will to examine the success and manner with which the two traditions seek to generate membership and to retain existing members.
The recent controversies over the ordination of openly homosexual and female bishops have caused certain key church figures to suggest that there are virtually two churches in the C of E right now; two churches at loggerheads with each other. However although the differences between the leaders of the respective traditions are public and widely reported, the views of rank and file members of the church are harder to ascertain.
This is in part because although the Church keeps records and statistics on membership and finances, none of these keep track of the respective traditions. Nor is there much data available on religious attitudes within the two traditions. In this study I am hoping to provide the first analysis of the C of E according to tradition; I will be looking to provide a statistical breakdown as well as an analysis of background and attitudes, and to provide some kind of account of how the two traditions pass themselves on.
As the current controversies throw the divisions in the church into sharp relief, I am hoping to use this to clarify the positions and attitudes of certain key members of the church. From my experience as a journalist, I have spoken to many such persons and am well positioned to obtain interviews.
My experience so far has indicated that the two camps are becoming increasingly entrenched, particularly in their attitudes to the Bible – from which many other disagreements arise.
A more literal or more contextual approach to the Bible helps define what it is to be, respectively, an evangelical or liberal Christian. The process of definition or characterisation is made easier in the case of evangelicals as they tend to define their belief in written materials, and in statements of faith. The liberal tradition is less well defined and possibly less homogenous. But, we can reasonably expect Liberal Christians to be united around notions of social progression, individual subjective experience, a non-literal interpretation of the Bible, and the freedom of individuals to hold beliefs outside of an accepted orthodoxy.
(NB I am going to be careful not to ignore the existence of groups such as Anglo Catholics who do not quite fit the idea of a Liberal/Evangelical divide.)
The heart of this project is to find out in detail who comprise the rank and file members of the traditions.
I wish to know the size of the congregations and equally what sort of people make up their numbers, and what the dynamics are leading to one tradition fading and the other growing.
In terms of gathering data, I will be helped by the fact that most churches are readily identifiable as belonging to one tradition or the other. Simply asking in the parishes will start to bring in information and this can quickly be cross-checked with membership of groups like the evangelical alliance and Alpha, and information published on various websites.
This survey by parish will create a map of liberal and evangelical Britain. From this I will select churches that we think are representative of their area, in which I will distribute survey questionnaires. The survey will look at things such as age, background, and moral and religious beliefs. From this we hope to build up a more complex picture of the demographics of the competing traditions.
The final objective of the project will be to analyse how the traditions reproduce membership, and how successful are they.
The liberal tradition is, for instance, reasonably well represented in C of E schools, private education and colleges. Evangelism is better represented in clubs in schools and colleges; typically these groups are called Christian Union or Christian Fellowship and are linked to out of school groups such as the Crusaders, and evangelical festivals and events like Spring Harvest, and Green Belt.
One phenomenon I will pay particular attention to is the Alpha course.
Created in the 1990’s out of Sandy Millar’s and Nicky Gumble’s experiences in North America and particularly the Pentecostal, so-called “Toronto Blessing”, Alpha has become enormously successful.
Statistics in 2004 showed that Alpha’s Holy Trinity Brompton attracted 6000 people each Sunday. At that point over 6,000,000 people had completed the Alpha course. Although Alpha’s theology is classically evangelical, interestingly it is used by traditions outside of the Church of England and by liberal Church of England churches desperate to boost numbers.
Alpha uses many of the tools of modern marketing, something liberal churches seem reluctant to do.
Of course the word evangelism means spreading the gospel, and the notion of liberalism involves respecting the choice of others, and this will always influence the vigour with which the traditions pass themselves on.