The court of the Presbyterian Church of Korea ruled early Tuesday that a megachurch pastor’s succession to the post previously held by his father was invalid, in what is seen as a warning about the widespread practice of hereditary leadership in Korean churches.
Rev. Kim Sam-hwan, the founder of Myungsung Church in southeastern Seoul, which has a membership of 100,000, named his eldest son, Rev. Kim Ha-na, as his successor in 2017, giving him control over the church’s massive finances.
After much controversy and many protests, the religious court ruled that the church had violated the Presbyterian Church of Korea’s constitution, which disqualifies from church leadership a retiring pastor’s spouse, children and children’s spouses.
Myungsung Church contends that the younger Kim’s leadership shouldn’t be a problem because he was appointed two years after his father retired.
The church said the ruling was difficult to accept and that it will state its official position later.
Observers say Myungsung Church may ask for a retrial, file a civil suit with the court, or even withdraw from the Presbyterian Church of Korea.
Tuesday’s ruling is seen as a wake-up call for many rich, powerful megachurches, where rules are often circumvented to allow leadership roles to pass from pastors to members of their families.
“The latest ruling showed that attempts by Myungsung Church to delete the clause that prohibits hereditary succession were clearly wrong, and opened our eyes to the severity of its corruption, which it sought to cover up through an illegal succession,” Rev. Pang In-sung, co-chairman of the Coalition for Church Reformation, told Yonhap News.
“It is also a stern warning of the dangers of megachurch money and power damaging the Korean church.”
Founded in 1980 with some 20 members, Myungsung Church grew into the largest church in the Presbyterian Church of Korea under Rev. Kim Sam-hwan.
In March 2014, Myungsung set up a branch church in Hanam, southeast of Seoul, and named Rev. Kim Ha-na as its pastor.
The elder Kim retired in December 2015 and Myungsung Church passed a motion to merge with its Hanam branch in March 2017, leading to the younger Kim’s appointment as pastor of Myungsung Church eight months later.
In August last year, the Presbyterian Church of Korea court ruled in favor of the decision to appoint Kim.
The Presbyterian Church of Korea’s general assembly refused to accept the decision, replaced all 15 court members, and took the case back to the religious court.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com