Q&A: Rev. Steve Van Kuiken, new minister at Evanston’s Lake Street Church

Rev. Steve Van Kuiken preaches at Evanstons Lake Street Church. A staunch advocate for LGBT rights, Van Kuiken recently became the churchs senior minister.

Courtesy of Steve van Kuiken

Rev. Steve Van Kuiken preaches at Evanston’s Lake Street Church. A staunch advocate for LGBT rights, Van Kuiken recently became the church’s senior minister.

Jia You, Assistant City Editor

Rev. Steve Van Kuiken joined Evanston’s progressive Lake Street Church in late January as senior minister. The progressive pastor was once accused of heresy for marrying same-sex couples and was featured in the CNN documentary “Fight Over Faith” in 2004. Kuiken talked to The Daily about the heresy incident, his faith and what he brings to the Evanston church.

The Daily Northwestern: You have been a staunch advocate for same-sex marriage, which is an uncommon stance to take among Christian ministers. What informed your position?

Steve Van Kuiken: It was understanding of justice and fairness, essentially. I have always been a liberal minister, a liberal thinker … And the more I did this work, the more I got involved with the (LGBT) community, the more friends I had, it became much more personal.

The Daily: Why did you decide to join Lake Street Church?

Van KuikenLake Street is a really unique spiritual community. It’s rooted in the Christian tradition, but it’s much more inclusive. We have a number of people who also connected to other traditions. We have people here who are Buddhists, people who are Hindu. It’s a community that’s very diverse and inclusive.

The Daily: You delivered your first sermon at Lake Street Church two weeks ago. What was your message?

Van KuikenThe first sermon was entitled “Crazy Jesus.” It was basically about how Jesus and many other spiritual teachers like him are viewed by the establishment as being crazy, as being out of bounds. So it’s the subversive aspect of Jesus. The authentic religious movements are … in opposition to the way of the empire, the way of power. So if we’re going to take this seriously, we’re going to find ourselves living in a tension with the power of the current empire.

The Daily: When you served as a pastor in a Presbyterian church in Cincinnati, you and your congregation engaged in ecclesiastical disobedience. What did this entail?

Van Kuiken: The Presbyterian Church had church law that basically prevented gay, lesbian people from being full members … We basically said, this is not right, it’s unjust, so we have a moral obligation to challenge that. We were kind of following the tradition of Martin Luther King, who said we have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. And when you do that, you need to do it honestly and openly and with the willingness to accept whatever the consequences are.

The Daily: That caused you to be removed from office for heresy in 2003. How did you handle the change? 

Van Kuiken: It was hard on my own ego, you know, not to be able to have full-time work. For me, it was a time of personal growth, too. A lot of times personal growth happens when you’re going through suffering … I kind of lost everything. Everything was stripped away. But it was also a time of real happiness.

The Daily: How did you find happiness with everything that was going on?

Van Kuiken: In my tradition and in most of the spiritual traditions, they talk about contentment of happiness being at the heart of reality … Sometimes, when everything is stripped away, when you’re able to move beyond your ego, it’s when you’re able to find true happiness.

The Daily: When you were going through these conflicts with the church, what kept your faith in Christianity?

Van Kuiken: I have faith in God. I have faith in the divine that’s here in the world. I really feel like I want to be part of a different kind of Christian community.  A lot of times when people hear the word Christian, they have an image of the church that they won’t want to have anything to do with. It’s anti-science, it’s anti-other religious traditions, it’s anti-gay … I want to be part of a progressive Christianity that’s an alternative to that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.