Sunday Telegraph (England), Dec. 22, 2002
By Chris Hastings and Fiona Govan
More than a quarter of Church of England clergy do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ, according to a survey carried out by The Telegraph.
A poll of 500 clerics found that 27 per cent privately reject the traditional story of Jesus’s birth, which forms a vital part of the Nativity.
The view of a Hampshire vicar was typical. “There was nothing special about his birth or childhood – it was his adult life that was extraordinary,” he said.
He declined to be named, saying: “I have a very traditional bishop and this is one of those topics I do not go public on. I need to keep the job I have got.”
The survey will dismay traditionalists inside and outside the Church of England.
Many of the sceptics who took part in the survey, one of the biggest ever conducted by a newspaper, said that the story of the virgin birth was a product of poor biblical translations and literary tradition rather than divine intervention.
The Rev Dr Keith Archer, who is based in Salford, said: “It is not particularly important because it is a debatable translation of a Hebrew prophecy which first appeared in Isaiah.”
Another vicar added: “Writers at the time used to stress a person’s importance by making up stories about their early life. I think that is exactly what has happened here.”
Most of those who cast doubt on the virgin birth admitted that they would be presiding over traditional Christmas services which stressed the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth.
Dr Archer said: “We will be having a traditional service because that is what people expect and enjoy. There are times and places for this debate.”
A colleague added: “I do not believe in the virgin birth but I would not argue for that point of view in a sermon because I simply don’t believe it is that important an issue.”
The Gospel according to St Luke recounts how Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel and told she would give birth to the son of God.
When Mary questioned how this could be because she had no husband, she was told: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the son of God.”
Traditionalists seized upon the survey’s findings as evidence of a Church in decline.
John Roberts, an evangelical preacher who heads The Lord’s Day Observance Society, said: “If you take away the virgin birth you might as well take away the entire Christian message. The miracle of the Christian faith is that God came down to us. If you lose that miracle you lose the resurrection and everything else.”
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