Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, minister of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church (USA), was found guilty April 21 of violating the PCUSA Constitution, which requires ministers to discriminate against gays and lesbians in marriage. He will be rebuked for his actions.
The Permanent Judicial Council of the Cincinnati Presbytery, which heard the charges against Rev. Van Kuiken, found him guilty of violating the PCUSA constitution’s prohibition against marrying same-gender couples, but not guilty of violating the ordination standard of fidelity in marriage/chastity in singleness, due to a technicality. Rev. Van Kuiken preformed marriage ceremonies and ordained as elders and deacons sexually active gays and lesbians.
“This is a sad day for the Presbyterian Church,” declared Rev. Van Kuiken. “The PJC has decided that my actions — performing ceremonies for same-sex couples that are Christian marriages or their equivalent — are a violation of our church law.”
Rev. Van Kuiken says the rebuke is somewhat encouraging as the penalty could have been more serious but leaves him in limbo, as he will continue to perform marriages for couples regardless of sexual orientation. He plans to appeal the guilty verdict because he believes that the decision of the PJC is theologically wrong and contrary to Scripture.
“The Presbyterian Church constitution is every bit in conflict with the Holy Scriptures today as it was when it mandated the subjugation of women and people of color, and supported slavery,” said Rev. Van Kuiken. “I believe that my refusal to be complicit in committing spiritual violence and my resolve to challenge the unjust laws that subjugate gays and lesbians, demonstrates the utmost regard for the Scriptures and for the Presbyterian Church.”
A complaint was filed against Rev. Van Kuiken last year because he publicly stated that he will not abide by the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) constitution’s ordination standard of fidelity in marriage/chastity in singleness, or the denomination’s prohibition against marrying same-gender couples. An anti-gay member of the PCUSA has filed more than 20 complaints against Presbyterians for these reasons all over the country. These are the first complaints to result in a trial.
“Rev. Van Kuiken is carrying on the work of people like Martin Luther King, who stated that one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty,” said Rev. Mel White, director and founder of Soulforce, Inc. “We applaud his courage, his commitment to justice and his willingness to stand firm and stand tall when faced with tremendous pressure to compromise his integrity and conform to church politics. We are glad that he will continue to work for justice.”
Soulforce, a national interfaith organization committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, organized a press conference and vigil during the trial. The event included dozens of supportive clergy and more than 100 people from Cincinnati and places as far away as Seattle and Philadelphia.
Activist and ally Laura Montgomery (Rutt) Williams has served as executive director of Equal Partners in Faith, communications and media coordinator for Soulforce, and media, publicity and logistics coordinator for the United Methodist Church trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech, who was defrocked in 1999 for marrying same-sex couples. She is also co-founder of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable for LGBT Equality.