Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Pastor: Rebuke won't halt gay ordinations

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Supporters hold a list in Clifton on Tuesday of church leaders across the country who support pastor Stephen Van Kuiken (center) of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church.
(Steven M. Herppich photos)
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The Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken isn't mad at his accusers, who say he is guilty of violating Presbyterian Church rules by marrying same-sex couples and ordaining gays and lesbians.

Nor does the pastor of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church hold ill will against the seven-member jury sitting in judgment of his actions, which can remove him from his ministry if he is found guilty.

But Van Kuiken did have a message for them all: He will continue violating church laws he sees as unjust.

The 44-year-old pastor and father of two was put on trial before the Presbytery of Cincinnati's Permanent Judicial Commission Tuesday. It is a trial with national significance, as churches across the land struggle with the issues of gays and lesbians in their congregations.

Although the proceedings were closed to the public, Van Kuiken's 20-page statement to the commission was read aloud outside Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Clifton, where the proceedings were held.

Van Kuiken gave his statement after the case was laid out against him, including a signed statement in which he admitted to the charges.

Van Kuiken said the church's bylaws are secondary to God's law, which the pastor believes he is following.

"For much of our church's history, the (church's) constitution mandated subjugation of women and nonwhite persons, even in support of slavery," he told the commission. "Today, we would all agree that such codifications were always contrary to the Scriptures. I am certain we are in the same position with regard to sexual orientation."

The hearing portion of the trial concluded Tuesday. The commission will begin deliberations today, a process that could last two weeks. Martha Cross Sexton, chair of the commission, said there is a lot to discuss.

[photo] Supporters of Van Kuiken march in front of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Clifton Tuesday afternoon,
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When asked how much leeway the commission has in the case, particularly given the fact that Van Kuiken has admitted to the facts of the case, Sexton responded: "That's precisely what we must figure out. It's a matter of interpretation."

Punishment could range from rebuke to removal from his ministry. Van Kuiken often quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his statement, saying disobeying unjust laws is necessary for reform and progress.

He said the church is in a state of "crisis" over deep theological differences and a growing intolerance and a "lack of forbearance of those differences."

The pastor said that he will not change, no matter what the commission's verdict.

"I will not accept a guilty verdict, for I am convinced beyond doubt that the actions of which I have been accused are not wrong," he said. "Nor will I accept any degree of censure, for this would imply my acceptance of a guilty verdict.

"If I am found guilty, a rebuke will not bring resolution. Indeed, I am convinced that there will only be more accusations and more charges against me.

"This will happen because I will continue to participate in the ordinations of 'nonrepentant, practicing homosexuals,' and I will continue to officiate and participate in services of Christian marriage for same-sex couples. This is a position from which I will not be rehabilitated."

More than 75 people lined the sidewalk outside the church in support of the man they call "Pastor Steve." Some came from as far away as Seattle, in affiliation with a group called Soulforce, which is an interfaith organization fighting for the spiritual rights of gays and lesbians. Many held signs that read: "Stop spiritual violence" and "We are all equal in the eyes of God."

Cars driving by on Clifton Avenue continually honked at the group.

Karen Weldin, director of operations for Soulforce, said much of the violence perpetrated against gays and lesbians can be traced back to intolerance by the church.

"I am a lesbian and I believe we are silenced and made invisible," Weldin said. "When the public hears their churches condemn gay and lesbian people, it can lead to physical assault and sometimes death."

Rev. Yvette Dalton, associate general of the Presbytery, said it will take agreement of five of the seven members of the commission to reach a verdict.

"I think everyone has their particular opinion on this subject," Dalton said. "Right now, we're looking at possible violations of rules in our Book of Order. We're not talking about spiritual violence."

As he left the church, Van Kuiken said he felt relieved.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm just glad to have that part done. Now I just have to wait."

Removal of Van Kuiken from his ministry is a punishment the 280-member congregation of Mount Auburn, which is about one-third homosexual, has said it won't recognize.


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