Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Rebuke doesn't stop pastor

2 women wed at his church

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

He's done it again.

Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church Pastor Stephen Van Kuiken has performed another same-sex marriage, this time wedding two women Saturday at his church.

The wedding is significant because it is the first Van Kuiken has performed since being found guilty in an ecclesiastical trial of performing same-sex marriages. The Presbytery of Cincinnati ordered the 44-year-old pastor to stop officiating such weddings, which they say violate Scripture and church law, or he could be removed from his ministry.

But the Presbytery's "judicial commission" did little in the way of punishing Van Kuiken after the trial, settling instead on a simple "rebuke" by a 6-1 vote. The rebuke was the least severe of possible punishments. Still, Van Kuiken has appealed that ruling to a regional Presbyterian council, made up of pastors from Michigan and Ohio. If that appeal fails, Van Kuiken can appeal the ruling to the national Presbyterian Judicial Commission.

Van Kuiken said the rebuke didn't make sense to him because he told the commission standing in judgment of him that he would continue performing same-sex marriages.

"I was kind of amused by the decision because I told them ahead of time," that he wouldn't stop, Van Kuiken said. "It's like they wanted to warn me one more time. So I told them (Tuesday) that we did it again. I'm not hiding it."

Van Kuiken has said his conscience won't allow him to stop performing the marriages, or call them by another name such as "holy unions" as the church would like. He said they are real marriages in every sense, and homosexual people want them to be recognized and celebrated as such by the church.

Rev. Melissa Sevier, moderator of the Presbytery of Cincinnati, said it is unclear exactly what recourse the church has. She said there probably won't be enforcement action taken against Van Kuiken until his appeal has run its course. If the church holds up the ruling against the pastor at each level, then a new complaint will likely have to be filed against him before any action is taken.

That means, she said, a new trial and a new conviction before any new punishment.

"This is a very unique situation," Sevier said. "I don't know that it's ever happened in the church, and certainly hasn't happened in memory at our Presbytery. A lot of people are going to be trying to answer the question of what to do next. But my guess is that we would have to go through the entire process again after a new complaint is filed."

Then, as before, the range of punishment could be anything from rebuke to suspension to dismissal from his congregation.

Van Kuiken said the first trial failed to resolve the issue and he's hoping for some resolution in the near future. What, exactly, is he hoping for?

"I don't know," Van Kuiken said. "But I'd just as soon get this resolved. If they (continue) to look the other way, it's like something hanging over my head that could fall at any moment, and that's not a good feeling."

During the trial, Van Kuiken repeatedly reminded his jury of Martin Luther King, Jr., saying an unjust law is no law at all.

The issue of homosexual marriages, and appointment of homosexuals to leadership positions in the church, has been a lightning rod for the church. More than 20 complaints have been filed against pastors nationwide for performing those acts. And more than a dozen churches, including Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, have signed statements of defiance to the church law that prohibits those actions.


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