Pro-gay Presbyterian minister rebuked

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 23 2003 12:00 AM ET

A Presbyterian minister whose denomination has convicted him of violating church law by performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples says he will continue his defiance. The Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken said he feels an obligation to continue pressing the issue in hopes that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will stop what he calls its discrimination against gay men and lesbians. "The status quo in the Presbyterian Church is inflicting pain," the minister of 19 years said after a court of church officials announced its decision Monday. "So we need to ensure that that pain is addressed and the issue is not ignored."

In the church's first trial on the issue, Van Kuiken received the mildest form of punishment--a public rebuke directing him to officiate only for opposite-sex couples. He could have been temporarily suspended or removed from the ministry.

The court acquitted Van Kuiken of the charge that he ordained as deacons and elders gays who do not adhere to a church rule of chastity for unmarried lay ministers. The court said local congregations and their ruling boards select the lay people for ordination and that it would not convict Van Kuiken of something not under his authority.

Van Kuiken said he appreciated being spared stiffer punishment but admitted that more charges and trials could follow because he will continue to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies as pastor of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati.

He told the Cincinnati Presbytery court that he will not retreat from his position that same-sex marriages are Christian unions. "I intend to appeal the guilty verdict because I believe that this decision...is theologically wrong and contrary to the Scriptures," he said.

His appeal will go to the denomination's next highest level of courts, the permanent judicial commission of the synod that oversees Presbyterian churches in Ohio and Michigan, within 45 days. 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., joined Mount Auburn about three years ago from the Church of the Apostles in Burnsville, Minn. He said he performed a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple on April 12, four days after his trial, and he plans to perform another one in May.

Van Kuiken was the first minister to be tried on accusations of marrying gay men and lesbians, an action resulting from complaints filed by Presbyterian activists in about 20 locations around the country. Some complaints were investigated and dismissed for lack of evidence, while others are pending. The activists demand that the 2.5 million-member denomination, based in Louisville, Ky., require its ministers and congregations to obey the Presbyterian constitution. The Presbyterian Church follows the biblical interpretation generally held by major Christian denominations that marriage can be a covenant only between a man and a woman.

A guilty verdict required votes from at least five of the seven members of the Cincinnati Presbytery court. The vote on both charges was 6-1. The dissenting votes were cast by Charles Brown, an elder at the Wyoming Presbyterian Church in suburban Cincinnati. He said he agreed that Van Kuiken was guilty of the same-sex marriage violation but believed that the minister should have been suspended. He also believed that Van Kuiken should have been found guilty of the other charge.

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