What are your thoughts on the Outcome survey results?

Posted on 10/18/14 in Articles, No Comments

Now that the results are in from our supporters survey (available here if you’ve not seem them: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-5PJLFSJL/ ) the Co-ordinating Group is keen to get on with finalising and implementing our strategy for the next two years. We had a fantastic response to the survey (over 40% of our known supporter base responded). So, it provides a strong foundation for our future work if we take proper account of the results.

It therefore seems appropriate to pause briefly and reflect on what the survey results are really telling us and to invite others to join in some debate and discussion. I’m always a little cautious of taking things at face value or accepting the obvious or straightforward conclusion when I look at survey results. The line, often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli is lurking at the back of my mind as I write this: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

So, here are five themes that the survey results have made me ponder:
• How do we balance ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ within Outcome?
• The challenge of the age profile
• Acceptance & homophobia within the Church
• Power and the ‘glass ceiling’
• Where should we focus our efforts and resources?

How do we balance ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ within Outcome?
Having never conducted a survey before, we could only make assumptions about the make-up of our supporters, based anecdotally on what we know about who turns up to public meetings, residentials etc. So, it’s really helpful to understand a little more about who we are! 31% of us are straight; 58% of us identify as gay or lesbian. This raises the issue of how we balance ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ in our work. Clearly, there is a stated need for us to provide the facility of being a support, networking and fellowship group for those within Methodism who identify as LGBTQI. However, it’s fantastic to see that many straight people are actively supporting us. If we’re going to achieve traction on the headline issues that concern us, it’s clear to me that we need to do more to court what I call ‘supportive straights’ within the Church. We need to be a broad movement that can influence majority votes at Church Councils, District Synods and Conference. That will only be achieved through the extensive support of straight people, not alone by those who identify as LGBTQI. So, what do we need to do to engage better with straight people within the Church? And is it possible for one organisation to engage actively with all people in order to advance our cause whilst also providing a safe, supportive space for LGBTQI people?

The challenge of the age profile
32% of our supporters are aged 60+. Our next most populous age categories are those in their 50s and 40s (28% and 19% respectively). Only 4% of our supporters are under 30. Following the recent ‘Statistics for Mission’ report and the widely reported shrinkage in membership figures over the past decade, this is perhaps unsurprising. It would suggest the age profile of our supporters is roughly representative of the profile of Methodism generally. However, surveys around attitudes to sexuality within the general population tells us that levels of acceptance of LGBTQI people generally have an inverse relationship with seniority (i.e. younger people are more accepting). So, what should we do to engage with children and younger people within the Church? We could focus our efforts and resources on those who will be voting in Church Councils, District Synods, Conference, etc. in order to effect change. Largely, that won’t be children and young people. Would we be missing a trick if we didn’t proactively engage with children and young people as part of our strategy? (As an aside, 7% of our supporters said they work with children or young people within the Church).

Acceptance & Homophobia within the Church
Just how accepting or homophobic is the Methodist Church? The evidence appears to be mixed. 62% of people told us their church is completely or mostly welcoming and accepting of LGBTQI people. However, we should bear in mind that this figure includes 31% of our supporters who are straight. The qualitative evidence (i.e. comments left with some question responses) was equally mixed. It was encouraging to read:

“We have and greatly value our small number of gay members, we are a small congregation (40 plus) but our 4 openly gay members are fully involved and loved.”

It was depressing to read comments such as:

“As a local preacher its appalling I can’t find a church to call home.”

Everyone will have their own experiences and anecdotal knowledge of acceptance and homophobia within the Church. My own experience of homophobia (inside and outside the Church) is that it is often quite subtle and sometimes more entrenched and acerbic as a result. For example, I’ve experienced people making homophobic comments in private that they wouldn’t make in public. I’ve heard homophobic comments apparently made acceptable because they have been veiled with a veneer of humour (“I’m only joking!”) And I’ve experienced off-the-cuff comments that reveal people’s true, underlying attitudes (e.g. that it was, “a shame and such a waste” when someone discovered that I am gay!)

I wonder how many Church Councils have taken the initiative this autumn to discuss and pass a resolution that they would happily provide an act of worship for a gay couple who have got married? (Following Conference’s decision this year, this can be done, when both the Church Council and the Minister are happy to do so).

There is clearly still a lot of homophobia in the Church. How do we address this effectively? Would it be too outrageous and polemical to suggest the Methodist Church is institutionally homophobic?

Power and the ‘Glass Ceiling’
It probably is a bit outrageous (and likely to be at best provocative, and at worst antagonistic) to suggest that the Methodist Church is institutionally homophobic. However, this does link to my next issue which concerns power, authority and a ‘glass ceiling.’

We asked a question about who holds an ‘office’ within the Church. A significant 95% of supporters do. However, only one person identified themselves as a District Chair and only one person said they were a Superintendent. Only 5 lay people identified that they hold an office at Circuit-level (as opposed to Church-level offices). Interestingly, we recently sent our response to the ‘marriage report’ to every District Chair, the President, Vice-President etc. Only one person replied and no one else even bothered to send a simple acknowledgement that our thoughts had been received.

This all seems extraordinary. Are we experiencing a ‘glass ceiling’ in Methodism on the issue of LGBTQI inclusion and equality? Or could there be reasons why those in positions of authority who are sympathetic to our cause feel uneasy to speak out with confidence?

On the positive side, 55% of our supporters are either Presbyters or local preachers. So, we do have some power and influence in the pulpit. Should we therefore be doing things to mobilise this potential? (For example, producing resources for a LGBT History Month service?)

Where should we focus our efforts and resources?
Finally, the perennial issue of where a small group with limited resources should focus its efforts. Some of those issues we asked about got particularly high levels of support (e.g. supporting LGBTQI people at 84%; resources for dialogue and working towards equal marriage each at 78%). However, all the issues scored highly. In a sense, we have to work at everything all at once. As one respondent put it,

“These are inter-linked and so you cannot separate out homophobia and gender identity if you are using LGBTQI in full sense. If you are going to support people within the church you need resources facilitating dialogue and liturgy. In order to have liturgies used you need full recognition and implementation….and so I could continue.”

As a group who are representing the interests of a minority (the LGBTQI community), it is important that we don’t forget the issues affecting minorities within our own community. Although only 1% of our supporters identified as queer; 1% as transgender and we had no intersex respondents – we shouldn’t forget that some within our community face very particular and additional issues and challenges to achieve full equality and recognition. It’s important that we don’t just focus on the ‘big ticket’ issues like equal marriage.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Or are there other issues linked to the survey results which you feel are pertinent and worthy of further discussion? It would be great to stimulate some debate amongst our supporters as we shape our strategy for the next two years. We’re having some problems with the ‘comments’ function on our website just now. However, if you email any thoughts or responses to phil.east77@gmail.com we will add them to this blog post to enable some debate to get going.