Pro-gay Presbyterian minister faces new charges

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 04 2003 12:00 AM ET

Heresy and blasphemy are the latest accusations being made against a Presbyterian minister who was convicted in a church court of violating denomination law by marrying same-sex couples. A church activist who is demanding that the denomination crack down on members who disobey its laws filed the accusations with the Presbyterian Church (USA) against the Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken of Cincinnati. In the filing last week, activist and attorney Paul R. Jensen said Van Kuiken willfully and deliberately violated his ordination vows and an April order of censure directing the minister to stop performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The highest Presbyterian court ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same-sex unions but cannot marry the couples. The church follows the biblical interpretation generally held by major Christian denominations that marriage can be a covenant between only a man and a woman. Van Kuiken performed what was billed as a Christian marriage service for two women on May 17, said Jensen, of Laguna Beach, Calif. "The accused [Van Kuiken] has also stated that he will, in future, continue
to defy the constitution in similar ways," Jensen added.

Van Kuiken, pastor of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, said he is following the teachings of Jesus by marrying gay couples. "It saddens me, but it's not surprising," he said Monday of the new accusations. "What I'm trying to do is bring Jesus back into the church."

Van Kuiken, 44, a minister for 19 years, has continued to marry same-sex couples even after a Presbyterian court told him to stop. He is appealing the ruling within the church. The Cincinnati Presbytery, a cluster of Presbyterian churches in the area, must investigate Jensen's filing and determine whether Van Kuiken should be tried on the new accusations.

John Adams, editor of The Layman, a publication of the Presbyterian Lay Committee in Lenoir, N.C., said serious allegations like heresy and blasphemy usually are handled by the administration, not through church courts. The Presbyterian Lay Committee is an independent Presbyterian group that promotes traditional biblical values.

Jensen filed allegations last year with about 15 presbyteries nationwide urging action against church officials he said were violating the denomination's constitution. Van Kuiken's trial in April was the first to result from those charges. Van Kuiken said the church is discriminating against homosexuals and that he feels an obligation to continue pressing for equal marriage rights.

The Cincinnati Presbytery court that tried Van Kuiken in April gave him the mildest form of punishment: a public rebuke directing him to marry men to women only. He could have been suspended or removed from the ministry. The court acquitted Van Kuiken of a companion charge that he ordained as deacons and elders gay people who did not adhere to a church rule of chastity for unmarried lay ministers. The court said local congregations and their ruling boards select lay people for ordination and it would not convict Van Kuiken of something not under his authority.

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