Church Puts Gay-friendly Pastor on Trial
[CINCINNATI, OH] - After a church trial on Tuesday, the fate of an Ohio Presbyterian pastor is hanging in the balance on charges of officiating gay marriages and ordaining gays as deacons and elders in the church.
Following the hour-and-a-half-long session, the seven-member Cincinnati Presbytery court said judgment in the case of Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, 44, would be made public in about 15 days.
The proceedings were open only to ministers and elders. Denomination leaders have been prohibited from making any comment until the decision is announced.
Van Kuiken said his trial is the first of its kind for the stated charges. Complaints have been filed in 20 different U.S. locations, however, against gay-friendly Presbyterian pastors on charges of violating the church constitution.
"The accusations against Van Kuiken were ordaining active and unrepentant homosexuals as elders and deacons and officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies," Rev. Harold Porter, predecessor of Van Kuiken at the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, told the Gay.com / PlanetOut.com Network.
Porter had himself been charged with ordaining gays as deacons. "No trial has been set yet. But it may happen," he said.
Across the road from the Presbytery court, in front of the Clifton United Methodist Church, members of Soulforce and Mount Auburn Church, plus other progressive pastors and rabbis, kept vigil in Van Kuiken's favor, said Laura Montgomery Rutt, communications director of Soulforce, an interfaith group that advocates equal rights for GLBT people at their places of worship.
"There was over 100 people, some coming from far-off U.S. cities," said Rutt.
Van Kuiken represented himself during the proceedings, while outside the church a supporter read his 20-page statement: "We are here today because there is a crisis in the Presbyterian church. ... And of course, this is about real people -- sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, who deserve love, respect and dignity."
If five of the seven members so decide, Van Kuiken faces one of three punishments: a public rebuke, temporary suspension or loss of his job. According to Van Kuiken, a father of two, it would be a "bombshell" if he is honorably exonerated. In case he is sentenced guilty, the Presbyterian minister of 19 years said he will appeal.
Soulforce spokeswoman Rutt accused groups like the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Southern Baptists, United Methodists and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of hush-ups and spiritual violence against GLBT people.
"Spiritual violence is telling people God does not love them because they are gay. It hurts a person's soul, leading them to suicides," Rutt said.