Methodists protest UMC bishop for terminating 3 theologically conservative Korean pastors

Protestors rally against the reassignment of three Korean pastors in the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church on May 21, 2021. | Ben Lee

A group of Methodists in California are protesting against a regional body of the United Methodist Church, accusing its leadership of mistreating three theologically conservative Korean pastors by terminating their appointments.

The Rev. Jonathan Lee of San Diego Korean United Methodist Church, the Rev. Jae Duk Lew of the Valley Korean United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Nak In Kim of the Bell Memorial United Methodist Church each had their appointments as senior pastors terminated.

The three pastors fell under the jurisdiction of the UMC California-Pacific Conference, a largely theologically progressive regional body headed by Bishop Grant Hagiya.

Nearly 50 people demonstrated outside the conference offices in Pasadena on Saturday, protesting against Hagiya, who they've accused of bullying the pastors for not aligning with his views on the schism debate within the UMC.

For decades, the UMC has debated whether to change its biblically-based stance on marriage and sexuality, as outlined in the denomination's Book of Discipline that identifies homosexuality as a sin, bans the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals, and prohibits the blessing of same-sex marriages.

The Rev. Glen Haworth, president of the California-Pacific chapter of the theologically conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association, was part of Saturday's demonstration.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Haworth explained that he believed Bishop Hagiya “targeted three Korean-American pastors for their activities with the Wesleyan Covenant Association, in preparing their congregations to disaffiliate from the UMC once the Protocol for Separation is approved by the General Conference of the UMC.”

“These pastors were doing nothing wrong. The bishop felt they were being ‘disloyal’ to him, and so he simply removed them from their churches,” Haworth said.

“They serve thriving, vibrant congregations that are doing significant ministry. There was no purpose to removing them except to further the bishop’s own agenda.”

Protestors rally against the reassignment of three Korean pastors in the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church on May 21, 2021. | Ben Lee

Haworth also told CP that the WCA chapter he leads sent a letter of protest to the bishop, with others emailing local churches, accusing the bishop of “racist actions.”

“Bishop Hagiya is Japanese-American, and there is a long history of racist actions by Japanese against Koreans,” he explained. “We plan further protests, and well as a possible boycott of the Episcopal Fund in the denomination, from which bishops are paid.”

Haworth said Saturday’s demonstration “went extremely well,” noting that the private security guarding the UMC offices commended them for being civil in their protest.

The Christian Post reached out to the California-Pacific Conference for a response to the accusations of mistreatment, but they did not return comment by press time.

The Korean Caucus of the Conference also started an online petition demanding that the bishop “openly provide an understandable explanation for causing frustration and harm inflicted on the Korean church due to this situation.”

Helena Kim, co-chairwoman of the California-Pacific Conference’s Korean Caucus who was involved in the demonstration, told CP that she believed “Hagiya is abusing his authority as a bishop to essentially harm the pastors' ministry, their credibility [and] the three churches.”

According to Kim, the pastors and their churches “have taken a legal action by jointly filing a complaint with the UMC Judicial Committee against bishop Hagiya and his superintendents.”

“The Cal-Pac Korean Laity Network has drawn up a resolution citing the unjust actions of the bishop and demanding the withdrawal of his wrongful decision,” she added, noting that around 3,000 had signed the resolution.

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