Associated Press, 6 Nov 99

Presbyterians Review Gay Case

By AMY WESTFELDT
Associated Press Writer

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Graham Van Keuren first knew he wanted to be a minister when he was 10 years old. Soon after, he knew he was gay.

Van Keuren says he was ``called'' to both the ministry and his homosexuality -- and was meant to live out both callings to the fullest.

Now his candidacy to become a Presbyterian minister has thrown a new twist into a long-running debate about gays being leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Church leaders heard arguments Friday over a challenge to Van Keuren's status. A decision is expected next week.

The West Jersey Presbytery accepted Van Keuren, 27, from the Christ Presbyterian Church in Marlton as a candidate for the ministry, although it acknowledged that he could never be ordained because of his intention to have sexual relationships with men.

Van Keuren told ministers he intended ``to participate in a fully sexual way in any future relationship.''

Last June, church delegates rejected a measure at their annual meeting that could have led to the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

Six New Jersey churches in the presbytery and 11 pastors objected to Van Keuren's candidacy, saying it lowered the church's standards.

The church shouldn't accept someone who plans to flout the rules, said Gary Griffith, an attorney representing the objectors.

But John Reisner, an attorney for the presbytery, said candidacy is not the same thing as being ordained.

``Candidates do not have to meet all the tests that ordained individuals need to meet,'' he said.

Van Keuren said he began a relationship about a month ago with another man. ``We are not sexually active, but it is a romantic relationship,'' he said Friday.

He said he decided to be open about his sexuality because he feels he was called to both the church and to be in a relationship with a man.

``It's in the way I feel God's presence when I am in a relationship,'' Van Keuren said. ``I feel that's a reflection of God's love.''

The hearing is taking place before a Synod, or governing body of the church.