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May 2005 Newsletter
Equal Marriage Rights
The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
The Trial of Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken
On April 21, the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of the
Presbytery of Cincinnati
rebuked Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken of
Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church
for marrying same-gender couples, and found him not guilty of ordaining
sexually-active gay and lesbian church members as deacons and elders. Rev.
Van Kuiken, while pleading not guilty, had informed the PJC that he has
officiated at the weddings and ordinations in question and will continue to
do so. He has announced he will appeal the guilty verdict on the marriage
charge. Rev. Van Kuiken is the first
minister to be charged with ordaining elders and deacons in violation of
section G-60106B of the book of order and marrying same-gender couples in
violation of the General Assembly PJC's Benton decision. The not-guilty
verdict on the ordination was based on the technicality that while as
minister he is the moderator of the church's session, the session as a whole
approves elders and deacons for ordination. The rebuke was the lightest
possible sentence that could be imposed on
the guilty verdict for performing the marriages. Both sentences were
consistent with predictions that the PJC would do whatever it could to avoid
On April 8, one-hundred-twenty-five people, including dozens of
supporters from around the country and representatives from
That All May Freely
stood in a Soulforce vigil for three hours outside Rev. Van Kuiken's
ninety-minute closed-door trial, which was preceded by a Soulforce-organized
press conference in front of
Clifton United Methodist Church,
across the street from
Immanuel Presbyterian Church,
the trial site.
Soulforce executive director Rev. Mel White led non-violence training at
Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church for about seventy people on the evening of
April 7, and Soulforce board president Jimmy Creech, the former
minister who was defrocked for performing holy union ceremonies for
same-gender couples, led a spiritual preparation on the morning of April 8.
The sign in front of Clifton UMC said, "We are all equal in the eyes of God,"
(the same message as the Soulforce banner) on one side, and, "We support Rev.
Stephen Van Kuiken," on the other. Clifton UMC opened their doors to people
on the vigil line, hosted a pre-trial press conference on their front lawn,
and a post-trial gathering where Rev. Van Kuiken read his trial statement to
Press conference speakers included Rev. Van Kuiken, Jimmy Creech, Rev. Sharon
Dittmar of the
First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati,
and Rabbi David M. Horowitz, a Soulforce supporter from Akron. Rev. Paul
Peterson of TAMFS-Michigan presented a list of over 350 ordained clergy,
elders and deacons who support Rev. Van Kuiken and the ordination of gays and
lesbians in the PCUSA.
The pre-trial events, the vigil, the post-trial gathering and/or the verdict
were covered by four Cincinnati television stations, the
Cincinnati Post, the
Cincinnati Enquirer, the
Gay People's Chronicle,
OUT Columbus, the Advocate and the Associated Press.
Excerpts from Rev. Van Kuiken's Statement
A few paragraphs from Rev. Van Kuiken's
seven-page statement to the Cincinnati PJC are included here.
"I want to be clear at the outset that I do not hold any ill will toward Mr.
Paul Rolf Jensen and the Rev. Charles A. Wilkerson, who filed accusations
against me. Nor do I harbor any bad feelings toward my Investigating
Committee, which has filed the charges and is prosecuting this case. In
fact, I have grown to like and appreciate the members of this committee. Nor
do I resent being judged by the Permanent Judicial Commission; they have a
job they must do. Do not misunderstand me, each bears personal
responsibility in the decisions they make. "Just following orders" or
"enforcing the law" has never been a valid justification. But I acknowledge
that we are all in a difficult position. The problem I have is not with
these people; it is with the unfair and unjust provisions in our
denomination's church law."
"While it is true that living with these secrets is apparently not a problem
for some people, there are many who would not choose to live so secretly.
For them, this imposed silence is damaging and oppressive. The inability to
be open with their brothers and sisters prevents them from living more full
and authentic lives. Many experience the forced silence caused by our church
laws as diminishing and painful. The message of these church provisions
contributes to abuse and discrimination of gay and lesbian people in our
society outside the church, as well. I cannot be even partially silent
on the matter any longer."
"While the Prosecuting Committee's sympathy certainly is not lost on me, 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 "non-repentant, 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.
In fact, I have two same-sex weddings scheduled within the next several weeks.
I want to be as clear as possible about this with the Permanent Judicial
"Finally, the provisions, G-60106b, W-4.9001 and Benton prevent me from
following my call as a Pastor and my vows of ordination as Minister of Word
and Sacrament. These provisions prevent me in my life to "seek to follow the
Lord Jesus Christ;" they prevent me from "serving the people with energy,
intelligence, imagination and love;" they prevent would prevent me from
"proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith and caring
Reactions to Rev. Van Kuiken's Verdict
press release quoted Rev. Van Kuiken: "This is a sad day for the
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...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."
Rev. Mel White added, "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. 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."
Rev. Van Kuiken's actions prompted
columnist Denise Smith Amos to come out as the sister of a lesbian whose
holy union service she attended fourteen years ago.
columnist Peter Bronson wrote one of the most obnoxiously heterosexist
columns we have ever seen, in which he used the PJC's lack of serious
sentencing as an excuse to call for an Ohio Defense of Marriage Act, and
referred to marriage supporters as "a rowdy crowd in the back pews [throwing]
gay marriages at the pulpit."
That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS)
More Light Presbyterians (MLP)
issued a joint press release/statement that mentioned Amos' column and
"Ms. Amos was right. The time for secrets is over. The time for silence is
over. The time for don't-ask-don't-tell is over. The time for postponing
justice to wait for the next study committee, the next task force report, the
next call to earnestly study the issue, is over. The time for
church sanctioned pastoral and ecclesial violence against LGBT people is
over. The Boards of Directors of That All May Freely Serve and More Light
Presbyterians reiterate our support for radical acts of obedience to the
inclusive gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. We continue to stand in solidarity
with those who are led by conscience, as informed by God's Spirit, to refuse
to cooperate with policies and structures of exclusion and oppression within
the church. God calls us to begin living out the gospel not tomorrow, not
next year, but today. We extend our thanks to the Rev. Steve Van Kuiken for
reminding us once again that when we take that brave step, God goes with us
and often showers us with unexpected support."
Day of Silence
Though Religious Right opposition remains strong, the annual
Day of Silence
largely received favorable coverage. Positive coverage was in papers in
Athens, OH; Denver, CO; Fond du Lac, WI; Geneva, NY; Muncie, IN;
Poughkeepsie, NY; Vineland, NJ; and Waltham, MA, and in the Penn State,
University of Colorado at Boulder, Northern Arizona University, University of
Illinois, Illinois State, University of Pittsburgh, University of Wisconsin,
and Western Michigan University campus papers.
The Indiana State University Indiana Statesman
and University of Virginia
ran favorable editorials;
the Juneau (AK) Empire
ran a teacher's positive guest opinion; a USC
column equated campus thefts of rainbow flags with silencing; an AP story
told of a Florence, AL principal supporting participants but forbidding them
to pass out explanations of their silence due to a school-hours ban on
distribution of issues-oriented information. An article in
Greater Milwaukee Today mentioned several Milwaukee schools, including
Catholic Memorial High School, whose principal said, "We made a very clear
distinction to allow them to [show their support of the rights of others]
but we do not encourage that type of lifestyle;" she allowed flyers to be
posted that did not contain information about bisexuality or "transgendered
Dalles (OR) Chronicle
ran a mostly positive article with carefully worded opposition from some
parents. ("We sincerely hold no prejudice and only believe this should not be
established in the high school.") The
Alton (IL) Telegraph story mentioned protests from parents and
students chanting, "Gay is Not OK;" and students who wore buttons saying,
"United Adam and Eve Not Adam and Steve." The
Sacramento Bee reported that school district administrators
"told teachers…not to cooperate with the event's central element;"
members had protested two weeks earlier.
The Denver Post
ran an anti-Day-of-Silence column from anti-gay columnist Al Knight.
In their weekly email to supporters, the
Traditional Values Coalition
said, "The underlying goal, of course, is to recruit new sexually confused
kids into a lifestyle that can kill them," and advertised available
anti-Day-of-Silence "educational materials for students to distribute on
their campuses and hand out to school officials."
The Liberty Counsel
sent an email telling readers to contact school officials to voice
opposition to the Day of Silence, and to hand out tracts from
Stephen Bennett Ministries.
The email also touted the organization's sales-associate relationship with
Gay Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches
The Los Angeles Times
reported on the "small but growing number" of gay evangelical and
Pentecostal churches, focusing on the local
which they characterized as a "Bible-believing, Jesus-praising, hymn-singing
evangelical church" and the
Alliance of Christian Churches,
which currently lists sixty-seven affiliated ministries on its website in
eighteen states, Puerto Rico, and Colombia.
Topeka Interfaith Statement
According to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal, forty-two clergy
from several faith traditions, including
United Church of Christ,
signed this public statement of faith:
We affirm that there is a oneness in the universe that connects and unites
all of creation.
We affirm all persons as children of God, created in God's image with
nherent value, and deserving of respect.
We believe that sexuality is a gift from God, calling human beings into
relationships of love and mutuality.
We acknowledge that there is a rich diversity of faith traditions,
scriptures and texts by which our decisions are informed, and through which
God's creative process continues to reveal light and truth.
We share a concern over the use and interpretation of scriptures and sacred
writings to selectively deny human rights.
We agree that peace in the community is accomplished only when we treat all
people with fairness and respect.
We advocate the enactment of public policies that uphold the human rights of
We oppose the discrimination of persons on the basis of sexual orientation,
gender identity or expression.
We encourage the community to engage in loving dialog in order to work toward
an understanding of our differences.
The ELCA News Service reports that the Church Council of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
transmitted a progress report on the church's studies on sexuality to the
2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. A subcommittee of the task force has been
appointed to produce study materials on homosexuality for ELCA
congregations. The materials, to be available by the end of this summer,
will serve as the second part of the church's study and will include
baptismal identity, vocation of the "priesthood of all believers," moral
deliberation, reflections on options for mission, interpretation of scripture
Massachusetts Marriage Poll
The Boston Globe reported that a poll run by the
Globe and WBZ-TV found that Massachusetts residents are in favor of
legal recognition of the marriages of same-gender couples 50-44 percent. The
same poll found that they favor civil unions 58-35 percent. The Massachusetts
Supreme Court is still deliberating a marriage case.