Why the left-wing bias of so many Anglican clergy?

(Photo: Unsplash/Aaron Burden)

The Bishop of St Davids, Joanna Penberthy, seems to be in trouble over her 'never trust a Tory' tweet but the left-wing bias of Anglican clergy in the UK is hardly hot news.

Giles Fraser, who resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral in 2011 in support of anti-capitalist Occupy protesters threatened with removal from the cathedral steps, is not exactly a tub-thumping Colonel Blimp. Yet in February this year he wrote an article in Unherd asking: 'Why is the Church so woke?'.

He cited a recent Savanta ComRes survey revealing that only 6% of Church of England clergy admitted to voting Tory in the December 2019 General Election, whereas 40% voted Labour.

He wrote: "If these new figures are anything to go by, the majority of the clergy of the Church of England must surely find the people who sit in the pews, listening to their sermons, a considerable disappointment to them. For whereas it seems that only a handful of clergy voted Tory at the last election, over 47% of the population did. And while there is no breakdown for how Church of England members themselves voted in 2019, two years earlier some 58% of them voted Tory — and that is quite some disconnect."

Back in 2014, a theological college student training for ordained ministry in the CofE, wrote an article in The Spectator in which he said he was "scared to admit to being a Tory in today's CofE".

He wrote: "I am a trainee vicar, if you will. I am also a Conservative, which puts me in an extremely small minority and quite a tricky position. At my college, there are approximately 60 ordinands in full-time residential training. Of those 60, there are no more than three or four who would describe themselves as Conservative and the overwhelming majority would call themselves (proudly) socialist. There is also a sizable minority of Marxists.

"Any overtly Tory priest-in-training would quickly learn the error of his ways. I have not, in two years here, heard anything other than left-wing bias in preaching, either from the staff or from visiting speakers. We are fed a constant diet of propaganda which assumes that all Tories are evil and that they exist solely for the benefit of the rich."

So, why are Anglican clergy in the UK mostly men and women of the political Left? The short answer would seem to be because that is the way of the world. Or at least the world of this country's institutions, from the BBC to the police, to the educational establishment, to the National Trust, since the 1960s.

Britain's institutions, including the CofE, are now run by men and women who absorbed the left-wing doctrines that were becoming predominant in the universities they went to in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly the belief that the State is the most effective agent of human betterment.

That is not to suggest that the Right is always right from a Christian perspective. How can any man-made political ideology claim a monopoly on virtue? But surely scepticism about what politics can achieve in this fleeting world of fallen humanity is healthy.

Because historic Christianity stresses "the resurrection of the body, And the life everlasting" - as the Apostles' Creed concludes - the kingdom of woke, in which humanity can achieve a rainbow utopia in this world, is fundamentally opposed to the kingdom of God and of his Christ.

Ironically in view of the left-wing worldliness of many CofE clergy, the distinction between the temporal and the eternal is beautifully expressed in the Prayer of Saint Chrysostom in the Anglican Church's historic liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer:

"Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting."

But perhaps that is not so ironic. The watering down of the CofE's historic biblical teaching since the 1960s is arguably the reason why it has become so woke.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Morecambe, Lancashire.