Korean pastor suspended for blessing LGBTQ+ people takes his fight to court

statue of Jesus on a crucifix in front of a rainbow

A Korean Methodist pastor is fighting his church’s decision to suspend him after he blessed gay people at a festival.

Reverend Lee Dong-hwan visited the Incheon Queer Culture Festival in 2019, where he blessed and prayed with LGBTQ+ people.

For Lee, God’s love doesn’t discriminate according to sexuality, and blessing people no matter their background is an important part of his duty as a pastor.

But as a result of his inclusivity, for the last three years Lee has been suspended from the church, and he’s been fighting in the Korean Methodist Church’s court to get the decision reversed.

In 2015, the Korean Methodist Church made changes to its Book of Discipline, reclassifying supporting homosexuality as a vice on par with doing drugs or gambling, both of which are illegal in Korea.

It decided that breachers of these rules must go on trial to “protect the Book of Discipline and prevent crime.”

But Lee disagrees with the church’s decision to suspend him, saying: “To pray and give blessings at queer cultural festivals is almost like duty given by God that pastors are obliged to fulfil.

“I don’t believe giving blessings is equal to supporting or agreeing with homosexuality.”

“God’s love does not discriminate so I don’t think what I did was wrong or sinful.”

During his suspension, Lee won an award for pursuing the virtue of “reconciliation and love” from Amnesty International.

Lee has also earned a following of supporters who disagree with his suspension, many of whom are Methodists themselves.

As he arrived at a courtroom on Thursday (6 October) for part of the hearing, Lee was greeted by a crowd of these supporters, bearing rainbow placards that read: “Pastor Lee Dong-hwan, who said prayers to bless sexual minorities, is innocent.”

His supporters have also formed a committee to aid his case, consisting of activists, colleagues, and Methodist theological students.

Kim Yu-mi, a member of the committee, said: “Many young people were there and I believe it is because they see what has happened to minister Lee as not just a personal problem but something that can affect all of us in the future.”

The committee claims that the church had delayed Lee’s trial several times.

Lee’s lawyers expect the verdict to be announced in two weeks, with Lee saying: “I’m confident I’ll be found not guilty and hope to see a ruling that will show that we can still be proud of the Methodist Church.”