Pastor found guilty of performing gay marriage, but church lets him off the hook
It's hardly a surprise that a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) court found Stephen Van Kuiken guilty of violating church law by performing marriages for homosexual couples. After all, during his April 8 trial, Van Kuiken proudly admitted that he performed "services of Christian marriage for same-sex couples," and promised to do more of them.
The PCUSA's Book of Order explicitly says that marriage is "between a woman and a man."
"It would be a bombshell if they say this not a violation, but we'll see," he said before yesterday's verdict.
Still, both conservatives and Van Kuiken agreed that by choosing to "rebuke" him—the lightest of the four punishments it could impose—the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of Cincinnati Presbytery made a mockery of the verdict.
Van Kuiken called the penalty encouraging but confusing. "The PJC already knows that this is not a position from which I will be rehabilitated," he said in a written statement. "This only leaves me and others in a state of limbo, with more accusations and trials facing us in the future. Any substantial resolution has been pushed into the indefinite future."
The lone dissenter on the Presbyterian Court, Charles H. Brown III, agreed. "The rebuke will not bring resolution and is thus inherently unfair to the Reverend Van Kuiken, his family and the church, since all of us will be forced to go through this exercise again. Consequently, I am convinced that nothing less than a censure of temporary exclusion … will resolve this case."
What's much more of a shock than the "slap on the wrist" for gay marriage is that Van Kuiken was found not guilty of ordaining homosexuals who won't adhere to the church's constitutional mandate of "chastity in singleness"—even though he admitted doing so. The court said that local church governing boards (called sessions), not ministers, have the authority to ordain and install elders and deacons. "While the minister is required to officiate at the service of ordination and installation, it is only to describe the nature of the offices of elder and deacon, to ask the Constitutional questions, and to pronounce their ordination and installation," the court said (PDF). "Thus, if Rev. Van Kuiken had not officiated, it would have been an offense against the Constitution."
Brown disagreed. "Van Kuiken had the right, power, and obligation to step aside and decline to preside at the ordination and/or installation of elders and deacons that he knew could not and would not comply with" the denomination's requirements, he wrote.
The case—the first in the PCUSA to actually get to trial and verdict on the issues of ordaining and marrying unchaste homosexuals—comes just weeks before the denomination's General Assembly, which is scheduled to debate exactly these issues.
"Now the question before the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is, will it enforce its standards?" Parker Williamson, chief executive officer of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which publishes The Layman. "Will it require compliance?" If the Cincinnati Presbytery's decision is any indication, the answer is "Um, er, ahem, well, you see … "
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