The First Test Case?

You’ve got to love Andrew Cain. He’s good value.

Revd Andrew Cain
Revd Andrew Cain and his partner. Photo Church Times.

ON St Valentine’s Day last Friday, the Revd Andrew Cain got engaged to his partner, Stephen Foreshew.

The following day, he saw the House of Bishops statement (reproduced in full below), which repeated the ban on blessings in church for same-sex unions, and ruled out same-sex marriage for clergy or for anyone seeking to be ordained.

Mr Cain’s marriage plans remain unchanged, he said on Tuesday. “I have always believed in equal marriage; so it would seem very odd, as someone who supports it, not to take advantage of it.

“I am aware of clergy wanting to get married who now feel unable to do so, and have been very upset about that. They are saying ‘Why should I now stay in the Church?” And I am saying ‘You have to stay, and you have to get married, because it is our equal right to do so; and if we believe in it, then we should do it.'”

The statement from the Bishops reads: “Getting married to someone of the same sex would . . . clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity.

“The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same-sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition, it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage.”

The statement ends with a warning that, although “the C of E has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly”, the Bishops expected their clergy to honour the vow of obedience made at ordination.

In the hours that followed its publication, gay clergy expressed hurt and anger. The Revd Rachel Mann, Priest-in-Charge of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, in Manchester, wrote: “I actually cried when I read the statement: wept. I am an emotional person, but I was surprised.”

On Tuesday, Mr Cain, Vicar of St Mary with All Souls’, Kilburn, and St James’s, West Hampstead, said the statement had come as a shock, especially after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address at the General Synod on Wednesday. Archbishop Welby had spoken of the search for “good disagreement”, in the facilitated conversations on sexuality recommended in the Pilling Report and elsewhere.

“Many thought we might have finally reached a place where we could have a proper conversation about gay clergy in the Church,” Mr Cain said. “This [statement] has killed the conversation dead. . . It is such a shock and such a disappointment, because all bishops know good and faithful gay and lesbian clergy and lay people.”

Mr Cain and his partner have been together for 14 years. They had their relationship blessed by a priest, eight years ago, in a garden. “We have always been very open about our relationship,” he said. “Before all this blew up, I emailed our PCC and said we had got engaged, and the response has been delighted.”

When asked whether he expected gay clergy to be disciplined for going ahead with same-sex marriages, he said: “They will have done something which is a legal right, so do bishops really want to be seen to be taking action against clergy who are taking up a legal right; and wanting to live faithfully with their parnters for life?” His own bishop had, to date, been “very supportive of gay clergy, and created a safe environment for us”, he said.

3 Comments on “The First Test Case?

  1. It was to a Jewish audience, whose forbears had strayed away from the faith of the patriarchs of Israel, that Jesus spoke the following words:

    “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ (Matt. 5:13)

    Even if his earlier pronouncements seemed paradoxical, this one made perfect sense. However, instead of the usual reference to the Laws as being the ‘salt and light of the world’, it was they, ordinary people, who Christ said would perform that task, permeating and infiltrating the world with God’s preservative insight.

    Yet, this was not a reference to the pure salt that we use today. As one writer comments: ‘Salt itself, sodium chloride, is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavour. The most common explanation for this is that what would have been called salt in that era was quite impure, containing a wide array of other compounds. Of the substances in this mix the NaCl was the most soluble in water and if exposed to moisture the NaCl would disappear leaving a white powder looking just like salt, but not having its flavour or its preservative abilities.’ (Source: Wikipedia)

    The real danger then is dilution, for that would leach away its salinity leaving it neither able to preserve, nor enhance palatability.

    How was the post-exile revival of devotion to God’s revealed will under Ezra’s leadership grind to a halt? Dilution. How did St. John the Baptist’s prophetic revival lose momentum? Dilution.

    And it’s the same for the CofE. The church has a great spiritual legacy arising from her great prophetic heritage, but what’s clear is that the current administration is not part of that greatness, that ability to transcend its era and speak to generations beyond. The pastoral statement is a positioning statement of sexuality that places it close to Laodicea; somewhere between the hot springs of Hierapolis and the pure water of Colossae. It is unpalatably tepid.

    The warning from scripture is clear: ‘It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ This is a time when fake discipleship and impiety in authority is being challenged and exposed with scorn heaped on the perpetrators. This a time for the shameful things of dishonesty to be dragged into public light.

    If the church can’t find a backbone, the CofE salt is leached away by the dilution of false example, the worthless admixtures of human origin will become an object of contempt, trodden underfoot by secular culture.

    I wonder what is will take to see this leadership repent. What sort of loss will be unbearable, provoking tears of regret.

    A great hymn-writer, overwhelmed with attempts to undermine the validity of the scripture, sought to capture the importance of the ninth article of the Apostle’s Creed. In the midst of the controversy, Samuel J Stone penned these immortal words:

    Though with a scornful wonder,
    Men see her sore oppressed,
    By schisms rent asunder,
    By heresies distressed:
    Yet saints their watch are keeping,
    Their cry goes up, “How long?”
    And soon the night of weeping
    Shall be the morn of song!

    They are as apt as ever on one of the saddest days in Christendom.

  2. Peter, please help me to understand this Father Cain thing.
    He joins the clergy, presumably knowing the church’s stance on same sex marriage (and at that time presumably in – what – a gay but celibate relationship?). Then, the second that same sex marriage becomes legal, he thumbs his nose at them and says “waddya gonna do, defrock me?!”.

    I’m struggling to see how this is not a stunning lack of honesty or integrity. It makes it even more confusing when he (and others mentioned in the article) play innocence harmed. “I wept”, “It’s a shock and a disappointment.” Really? You mean you didn’t know what the church taught about marriage and sexual relationships when you joined?

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