Korean Methodists excommunicate minister for performing blessings at LGBTQ+ pride events

Posted on : 2024-03-05 17:17 KST Modified on : 2024-03-05 17:17 KST
Lee Dong-hwan said the decision would be a “black mark” on the history of Korean Protestantism
Rev. Lee Dong-hwan appears with his representative at the tribunal of the Korean Methodist Church on March 4, where he awaits his sentence for having blessed attendees of an LGBTQ+ pride event. (Kim Jung-hyo/The Hankyoreh)
Rev. Lee Dong-hwan appears with his representative at the tribunal of the Korean Methodist Church on March 4, where he awaits his sentence for having blessed attendees of an LGBTQ+ pride event. (Kim Jung-hyo/The Hankyoreh)

Lee Dong-hwan, a minister who gave his blessing to LGBTQ+ people at several pride festivals in Korea, was ultimately excommunicated by the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) on Monday, the harshest disciplinary step available. Lee slammed the church’s decision as a “laughable” one that will “leave a black mark on the history of the Protestant church” and promised to continue his struggle to return to the ministry in the secular courts.

The KMC’s general tribunal rejected Lee’s appeal in a hearing held at the Methodist Building in Seoul’s Jongno District on Monday morning.

Lee was suspended from his pastoral duties for two years after church members complained that he’d blessed LGBTQ+ people at the Incheon Queer Culture Festival in 2019, but he gave similar blessings on several subsequent occasions. Then in December 2023, he was sentenced to be excommunicated from the KMC for violating Article 3(8) of the Korean denomination’s Book of Doctrines and Discipline, which prohibits pastors from “advocating or sympathizing with homosexuality.”

In Lee’s appeal, his attorneys argued that his excommunication was unfair given LGBTQ+ human rights abuses and procedural issues in the initial ruling by the church’s Gyeonggi Annual Conference, but the tribunal rejected all of their arguments.

“Even under a strict interpretation, the fact that [Lee] sprinkled flower petals and presided over a blessing ceremony for sexual and gender minorities amounts to ‘advocating or sympathizing with homosexuality,’” the tribunal found.

The general tribunal also dismissed a procedural objection raised by Lee’s attorneys concerning the fact that Lee had been reindicted by the first church tribunal without a complaint being filed. “It seems unlikely that this caused actual harm to the defendant or that the error was deliberate in any meaningful sense,” it ruled.

Lee and his supporters sharply criticized the tribunal’s decision. Following the hearing, Lee said, “The tribunal’s decision and its level of understanding are embarrassing. Excommunicating [a minister] for blessing LGBTQ people is a laughable decision that will leave a black mark on the history of the Protestant church.”

In a statement, an action committee supporting Lee said that the tribunal’s decision “will not only cause Christian faith to be seen as antisocial and unreasonable, but will also formally link the Methodist denomination to the discrimination and hatred that are currently recognized as serious issues in our society, and all in the name of faith.”

“I believe that Jesus’ love isn’t about inflicting pain and hardship on other people. On behalf of Lee and everyone who is praying for him, I hope to see the day, whenever that may come, when the Methodist Church will apologize and repent of its wrongdoing,” said Soju, a member of the executive committee of Rainbow Action Against Sexual-Minority Discrimination.

Lee’s attorneys said he refuses to accept the tribunal’s decision to excommunicate him and that he’s looking into filing a suit in the secular courts to reverse the KMC’s disciplinary action against him.

Lee already filed a suit in the Seoul Central District Court last year to reverse the two-year suspension that followed his blessing of LGBTQ attendees at the Incheon Queer Culture Festival in 2019. That lawsuit is currently in progress.

“Love will carry on. Going forward, I will be focusing on my struggle to be reinstated so that I can return to the church,” he said.

By Chai Yoon-tae, staff reporter

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