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[Newsmaker] Church suspends pastor for blessing sexual minorities

Rev. Lee Dong-hwan sprinkles flower petals as he gives a blessing to sexual minorities during the Queer Culture Festival held in Incheon last year. (Jupiter)
Rev. Lee Dong-hwan sprinkles flower petals as he gives a blessing to sexual minorities during the Queer Culture Festival held in Incheon last year. (Jupiter)
The Korea Methodist Church slapped Rev. Lee Dong-hwan with a two-year suspension from work for giving a blessing to participants in a queer festival in August last year.

The judicial committee of the Korea Methodist Church’s Gyeonggi Province branch made the decision Thursday, immediately suspending Lee from his position as pastor at a Methodist church in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. He is also barred from making sermons, giving blessings and holding prayers on behalf of the Methodist Church.

Lee has been on trial since August on accusations of violating church doctrine, which opposes any action supporting or agreeing with gambling, drug use or homosexuality. Church members who violate the doctrine are subject to suspension, dismissal or excommunication.

It was the first time the Protestant church community put a person on trial for giving a blessing to members of the LGBTQ community. The Screening Committee of the Korea Methodist Church, which accused the pastor of breaching the rule, had sought his dismissal.

The judicial committee did not explain the reasoning behind its decision.

Lee participated in the Queer Culture Festival in Incheon on Aug. 31, 2019, and presided over a blessing ceremony where he and two others sprinkled flower petals on LGBTQ Christians and others attending the event.

During a trial hearing, Rev. Kim Moon-jo, one of the presiding members of the judicial committee, said Lee’s participation in the festival qualified as a violation.

The church has also said the fact that the pastor wore a rainbow-colored stole during the festival should be seen as a show of his support for the LGBTQ community and agreement with the LGBTQ rights movement.

The World Methodist Council, which Korea is registered with, has no official stance on sexuality, leaving the matter open to discussion among its member churches.

Lee’s lawyers argued that he did not explicitly express agreement with or support for homosexuality during the event but only said prayers and gave blessings. They brought in a laid-off worker as a witness to show that Lee had given blessings to diverse groups in the past.

His supporters said in a press briefing after the ruling that the decision was “difficult to accept,” lamenting that Korea’s Protestant church community lacks fairness. Pastors must always prioritize loving others and embracing those who are marginalized, they argue.

Lee said in press briefing following the verdict that he would appeal the decision. He added that he would campaign to amend the church’s doctrine during a central legislative meeting scheduled for next year.

The appeals trial will be at the judicial committee of the church’s central body.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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