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British clergy have doubts about virgin birth

December 23 2002,

More than a quarter of Church of England clergy do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ, a survey has found.

A poll of 500 clerics found that 27per cent privately reject the traditional story of Jesus's birth, which forms a key part of the Nativity.

The view of one Hampshire vicar was typical. "There was nothing special about his birth or his 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, carried out for the London Daily Telegraph, will dismay traditionalists inside and outside the Church of England. Many of the sceptics who took part in the survey said 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, of 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 doubt the virgin birth agreed they would be presiding over traditional Christmas services that 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."

Traditionalists seized upon the survey's findings as evidence of a church in decline.

John Roberts, 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."

The survey did find some comfort for traditionalists: 64per cent of those arguing against the idea of a virgin birth still believed in some sort of resurrection of Christ, whether physical or otherwise.

The Telegraph, London

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