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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
May 2003

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 PCUSA 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 the issues.

On April 8, one-hundred-twenty-five people, including dozens of Soulforce supporters from around the country and representatives from That All May Freely Serve-Michigan, 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 United Methodist 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 supporters.

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 Commission."

"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 for people"(G-14.0405b)."

Reactions to Rev. Van Kuiken's Verdict

A Soulforce press release quoted Rev. Van Kuiken: "This is a sad day for the Presbyterian Church. 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 Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Denise Smith Amos to come out as the sister of a lesbian whose holy union service she attended fourteen years ago. Enquirer 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) and More Light Presbyterians (MLP) issued a joint press release/statement that mentioned Amos' column and concluded:

"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 GLSEN-sponsored 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 Cavalier Daily ran favorable editorials; the Juneau (AK) Empire ran a teacher's positive guest opinion; a USC Daily Trojan 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 lifestyles." The 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;" Eagle Forum 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 Lands' End.

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 Christ Chapel, 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 Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, and Unity, 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 all persons.

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 and more.

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.









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