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Korean pastor excommunicated over gay rights

Lee Dong-hwan engaged in activities in support of gay rights and held blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples
This picture taken on March 4 shows South Korean pastor Lee Dong-hwan (center) speaking during a rally against the ruling of the Korean Methodist Church to excommunicate him for having engaged in activities in support of gay rights, in front of the church in Seoul.

This picture taken on March 4 shows South Korean pastor Lee Dong-hwan (center) speaking during a rally against the ruling of the Korean Methodist Church to excommunicate him for having engaged in activities in support of gay rights, in front of the church in Seoul. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 05, 2024 05:11 AM GMT
Updated: March 05, 2024 06:38 AM GMT

South Korea's Methodist Church has excommunicated a pastor for advocating gay rights, according to a church verdict obtained on March 5 by AFP.

Nearly a quarter of South Korea's population of 51 million are Christian and the religious community holds significant political sway, with many evangelicals staunchly opposing gay rights.

Gay marriage is not recognized in South Korea, social pressure keeps many people from being open about their sexuality, and Seoul's annual Pride celebration attracts vicious Christian-led opposition.

More than a dozen attempts to pass broad anti-discrimination laws have failed over the past 16 years in the face of strong opposition from conservative churches and civic groups who say the law will pave the way for legalization of gay marriage.

Globally, many religious groups have taken steps to embrace LGBTQI rights, with the Vatican recently approving Catholic blessings for same-sex couples.

But South Korea's Methodist Church upheld a lower church ruling to excommunicate pastor Lee Dong-hwan for having engaged in activities in support of gay rights, the verdict showed.

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

Reverend Lee had attended Seoul gay pride events and also held blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

"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," the verdict said.

The verdict is final within the church, and Reverend Lee has no way to contest it.

The 43-year-old pastor told AFP that the church's decision was "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.

He said he was considering bringing the case to a civil court.

South Korea's Methodist Church has 1.2 million followers under its wing with 6,700 churches in and outside the country and 1,300 missionaries, according to its website.

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