Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Church tosses defiant minister


He refused to stop performing gay marriages

By Andrea Uhde
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT MITCHELL - The Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken was formally renounced by the Presbytery of Cincinnati on Monday for continuing to perform same-sex marriages.

The action, taken by a voting body made up of minister members and elder commissioners in the Presbytery, means the pastor of the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church can no longer serve as a minister and loses his church membership.

The vote was 119-45, with four voters abstaining.

"I'm sad, and I'm disappointed," Van Kuiken said after the vote. "This is a sad day. This is an issue that is going to continue to stay at the surface of the Presbyterian Church."

Van Kuiken was unsure of his next action. He said he will take some time to re-evaluate what he will do. He is considering filing a complaint with the Synod of the Presbyterian Church USA, claiming his due process rights were violated because he had an appeal pending on an earlier rebuke.

"It's important for me to be true to myself and be true to what my beliefs are about God," he said.

Van Kuiken's case has been closely watched across the country as Presbyterians - who also ban gay clergy - and other faiths continue to debate the roles of gays and lesbians in the church.

In the denomination's first ecclesiastical trial on the issue, Van Kuiken was found guilty in April of marrying gays and lesbians. He was given a public rebuke and told not to do it again. He wed two women on May 17.

The voting body met at the Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Fort Mitchell after a vigil supporting Van Kuiken.

"I just think it was unavoidable," said Howard Smith, one of the voters in favor of the renunciation. "His actions made the action necessary by the Presbytery unless they want to totally disregard the (church) constitution."

A number of members of Mount Auburn Presbyterian attended Monday's vote and the vigil.

"I think it's a travesty what they're doing," said Terrell Lackey. "Being a gay man and a black man, too, I can't believe the world is still the way it is. Cincinnati is sad."

About one-third of the 280 members of the Mount Auburn church are gay.

This is the first time the Presbytery of Cincinnati has removed a minister for performing same-sex marriages, and possibly the first case in any Presbytery nationwide.

Presbyteries don't have to report such cases to the Presbyterian Church USA, but the organization isn't aware of others, said Laurie Griffith, manager of judicial process and social witness at the Presbyterian Church USA in Louisville.

Van Kuiken's rebuke in April was the lightest of possible punishments.

He also faces accusations, including blasphemy, from a California lawyer who filed the original complaints against him.

Van Kuiken could become a church member again, but he would have to restart the process if he wants to be a minister again, said the Rev. Melissa Bane Sevier, Presbytery moderator.

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E-mail auhde@enquirer.com




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