Pro-gay Presbyterian minister ousted from church

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 17 2003 11:00 PM ET

A minister ousted from the Presbyterian Church (USA) for violating a church order to cease performing marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples says the struggle for acceptance of same-sex marriage will continue despite his removal from the ministry. "This is an issue that is going to stay at the surface of the Presbyterian Church," the Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken said after a church council voted Monday night to remove him from his ministry and membership in the Presbyterian Church. Van Kuiken, who was the minister at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, said he will miss his congregation but that he doesn't regret following his conscience. "The fight is worth it despite getting beat up and despite the pain and the struggle and the hardship," he said. "It is important for me to be true to myself and to what my beliefs are about God and what it means to follow Jesus."

The voting body of the Cincinnati Presbytery, a cluster of Presbyterian churches in the Cincinnati region, voted 119-45 Monday night to approve a ministry committee's recommendation that Van Kuiken be found to have renounced the constitution and governance of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by refusing to abide by a church court order. Four presbytery members did not cast votes. The court that tried Van Kuiken in April publicly rebuked him and directed him to officiate at ceremonies for opposite-sex couples only. Van Kuiken said at that time that he would continue to marry same-sex couples, and he presided at a ceremony for another gay couple last month.

About 500 people packed into the pews of Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Fort Mitchell, Ohio, on Monday as the motion to renounce Van Kuiken was debated. Van Kuiken and several of his supporters spoke against the recommendation. Van Kuiken told the presbytery that the issue is much larger than whether a single pastor had disobeyed a church rule. "It is about whether there is room in the Presbyterian Church for interpretations of the Bible that do not regard the practice of homosexuality as
a sin," he said.

After the vote, several of Van Kuiken's supporters from the 280-member Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church left the meeting in tears. "He was only enforcing the policy of our church," said a tearful Jennifer McKettrick, 37. "This action is really a defrocking of our church." Van Kuiken married McKettrick, 37, and her gay partner three years ago. "I am deeply saddened, and I cannot imagine staying in a Presbyterian church that doesn't want me," McKettrick said. "The fact that I am homosexual does not affect my great faith in Christ, but there is no church for us." About 30 members of Soulforce, a national pro-gay advocacy group that lobbies religious organizations, held a candlelight vigil outside the meeting in support of Van Kuiken.

The highest Presbyterian court ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same-sex unions but cannot marry the couples. The denomination follows the biblical interpretation generally held by major Christian denominations that marriage can be a covenant only between a man and a woman. Van Kuiken, a minister for 19 years, says he is following the teachings of Jesus by marrying same-sex couples. He said he is considering filing a complaint with the Presbyterian synod, the next highest legislative body in the church, charging that he was denied due process by the vote Monday night. "I'm going to take some time to reevaluate things before I decide what to do next," Van Kuiken added.

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