Korean Methodist Church excommunicates pastor who held LGBT blessing ceremony

Two male groom figurine cake toppers sit atop a same-sex marriage wedding cake with a rainbow flag in background.
Two male groom figurine cake toppers sit atop a same-sex marriage wedding cake with a rainbow flag in background. | Getty Images/YinYang

South Korea's Methodist Church has excommunicated a pastor for his participation in LGBT activism, according to a church statement provided to media this week. 

The Korean Methodist Church upheld its lower church ruling to excommunicate pastor Lee Dong-hwan after it discovered the pastor's involvement in pro-LGBT activities in a country where gay marriage is not recognized, according to AFP

"The church doctrine stipulates acts of agreeing or sympathizing with homosexuality amount to rules violations," the church said in a verdict.

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"Participating in and officiating a blessing ceremony to bless sexual minorities by scattering flower petals, performing a performance waving a large rainbow flag in the square in front of Seoul City Hall, proposing a blessing ceremony for homosexuals ... are all acts of approval or agreement with homosexuality."

Almost a quarter of South Korea's population of 51 million inhabitants identify as Christians, with many holding a traditional biblical stance opposing same-sex marriage as sinful. 

The pastor was subject to a church tribunal after praying a blessing for LGBT individuals. On Monday, the Korean Methodist Church's General Assembly Tribunal Committee rejected his appeal of the church's Dec. 8 ruling that he violated canon law by engaging in "pro-homosexuality and sympathy activities." Lee was also accused of slandering the church in media interviews. 

According to the Korean daily newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun, the Gyeonggi Provincial Council of the Korean Methodist Church's General Assembly Tribunal defrocked Lee, the denomination's most severe form of disciplinary action. 

Lee will not be given the opportunity to appeal Monday's final decision. 

The 43-year-old pastor called the verdict "shameful." 

"Excommunicating a pastor for blessing sexual minorities will go down in history of Protestantism as dark history that will only invite laughter later," Lee told AFP.

Lee is considering legal action to contest his excommunication. 

Attempts to enact measures to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation have failed in the last decade and a half amid opposition from churches and civic groups. 

The global methodist body has been divided over the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT clergy.

In the United States, over 7,000 churches have left the United Methodist Church in the last two years over denominational leaders' refusal to enforce its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy ordination. 

In April 2022, the regional body of the United Methodist Church based in Eastern Europe voted to leave the UMC. In March 2023, the UMC Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference opened the door for regional church bodies to pursue departures from the denomination. 

While thousands of congregations across the United States have disaffiliated from the UMC, some congregations had their disaffiliation votes rejected by their regional conferences or faced other obstacles in their bid to leave.

Some of those churches have filed legal action against their respective conferences, accusing them of either not correctly following the disaffiliation process or arguing that the process is unfair.

In early November 2023, a court in Alabama ruled against 42 congregations trying to leave the Alabama-West Florida Conference, concluding that, as a secular court, it did not have the authority to intervene in the churches' complaints.

Thousands of congregations that disaffiliated from the UMC have joined the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination launched as an alternative to UMC launched in 2022.

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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