Presybterian minister to be tried

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 09 2003 11:00 PM ET

A minister who testified at a closed trial before Presbyterian Church (USA) officials that he has performed marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples said he does not regret his actions. "I am here today because I have tried to walk a path that is open, honest, and true to my understanding of the Gospel," the Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken said in a statement that he read at his trial Tuesday before a Cincinnati Presbytery court. The 75-minute hearing in Cincinnati was open only to ministers and elders, but Van Kuiken's statement was read to more than 100 supporters holding a vigil outside the church during the proceeding.

Van Kuiken is the first minister to be tried on accusations of performing such ceremonies as a result of complaints filed by Presbyterian activists in about 20 locations around the country. They demand that the 2.5 million-member denomination require its ministers and congregations to obey the
Presbyterian constitution. Van Kuiken also admitted to the charge that he has ordained as deacons and elders gay people who do not adhere to a Presbyterian requirement of chastity for unmarried lay ministers.

Van Kuiken, 44, is pastor of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati and has been a Presbyterian minister for 19 years. If he is convicted by a two-thirds vote of the court's seven members, he could be publicly rebuked, temporarily suspended, or removed from the ministry. An official with the Cincinnati Presbytery, Yvette Dalton, said denomination leaders would not comment on the case before the ruling, which is expected in about two weeks. After the hearing Van Kuiken told supporters that he does not know what the verdict will be but that he would appeal a conviction. "It would be a bombshell if they say this is not a violation, but we'll see," he said.

He also said that he will continue to ordain gays and lesbians as elders and deacons and to marry same-sex couples. "This is a position from which I will not be rehabilitated," he said in his statement, adding that he has two same-sex weddings scheduled within the next several weeks.

Both the investigative committee, serving as prosecutors, and Van Kuiken read formal statements at the trial, which did not include witnesses or rebuttals, the minister said. Similar complaints against other ministers were investigated and dismissed for lack of evidence. Others are pending before various presbyteries, which are regional clusters of churches.

The Presbyterian Church, headquartered in Louisville, Ky., follows the biblical interpretation generally held by major Christian denominations that marriage can be a covenant between only a man and a woman. The highest Presbyterian court ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same-sex unions but cannot marry such couples.

Van Kuiken, a married heterosexual originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., knew of Mount Auburn's liberal reputation when he came to the congregation more than three years ago from the Church of the Apostles in suburban Minneapolis. His wife, Debbie, said she and their two children are prepared for the possible consequences of his policies and fully support them. "It's scary to think that he might be removed from the ministry, but it helps to have so much support from the community and the congregation," she said.

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