By Lisa Cornwell
The Associated Press
A Mount Auburn minister's ouster over marrying same-sex couples could become a turning point for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in its debate on gay issues.
David Neff, editor of Christianity Today magazine, said he believes the ouster of Stephen Van Kuiken could eventually bring the dispute between liberal and conservative factions in the denomination to a head, with the church forced to go in one direction or another.
"Just the fact that they followed through with the ouster after just admonishing Van Kuiken shows that some are serious enough about what it means historically to be Presbyterian," Neff said.
Theological conservatives in the church of 2.5 million members object to what they say is the refusal of many church officials to discipline ministers and congregations who disobey Presbyterian laws, especially those forbidding marriages of same-sex couples and ordination of noncelibate gays. Theological liberals want the laws changed to allow same-sex marriages and gay ordinations.
Neff suggests the issues could lead to a "hemorrhage" in church membership.
"If this (Van Kuiken removal) turns out to be an isolated case, conservatives could make a major exit," Neff said. "If it proves to be the first of a number of victories for conservatives, then it probably would cause a liberal exit."
Conservative activist and attorney Paul R. Jensen, of Laguna Beach, Calif., filed the disciplinary action against Van Kuiken that led a Cincinnati Presbytery court to order the heterosexual minister to cease marrying same-sex couples.
The highest Presbyterian court ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same-sex unions, but cannot marry the couples. When Van Kuiken, the minister at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, continued to marry same-sex couples, the Cincinnati Presbytery last month found he had formally renounced church jurisdiction and removed him from the ministry.
"This was a tremendous victory for those of us who want to take our church back from heretics who seek to destroy it," said Jensen.
He said that he and a group of 20 ministers and elders around the country will file disciplinary actions by the end of July against 350 ministers who they believe have broken ordination vows and violated church law.
"The liberal ministers who defy church law will be kicked out of the pulpit or walk out of their own accord," he said. "They won't win."
Van Kuiken, who was a minister for 19 years, said he fears his removal will hinder efforts toward full inclusion of gays and lesbians.
"My fear now is that gays and lesbians in the church will feel that they have to hide and more individuals will become intimidated and scared," he said. "I think full inclusion is inevitable, but it may take a long, long time if middle-of-the-road Presbyterians don't take a stand for what is right."
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