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[Herald Interview] Penalized pastor vows to continue his fight for LGBT people

Methodist pastor who was suspended from duties for blessing LGBT people thanks supporters, says the world will change for the better

Oct. 28, 2022 - 18:10 By Yim Hyun-su
Methodist pastor Lee Dong-hwan attends a church trial in Seoul earlier this month to appeal suspension for two years for blessing LGBT people at an event in 2019. (Yonhap)

Rev. Lee Dong-hwan’s fight to reverse the decision by the Korean Methodist Church to suspend him for two years for blessing LGBT people in 2019 came to an end last week.

The church upheld its earlier decision on the grounds that Lee’s action violated the teachings of the church.

“It is disappointing to be honest, not because of personal reasons but because it sets a precedent within the Methodist Church,” Lee told The Korea Herald.

“I’m afraid that this decision might create doubts and fears among pastors and church members who have held a positive view on LGBT people.”

But his fight for LGBT rights is not over, he said.

“I want to continue my work for the human rights of LGBT people. Working with Q&A, a human rights non-profit organization for LGBT Christians, for example, to help fight prejudice and perception about sexual minorities among Korean churches.

“I’ll also continue campaigns and movements to make the Methodist Church more LGBT-friendly and end the church’s unjust law that punishes homosexuality.”

Through the ordeal, Lee said he saw the need to have a tolerant attitude towards “differences” and a culture of listening to people’s stories and having a healthy discussion.

Despite the loss in the church court, he said he saw many possibilities.

“Though a small number, there have been people who came out as allies as well as those who were supporting me from a far because of their personal reasons. An anti-discrimination group has also been formed which takes part in many activities including changing the church’s law.”

When asked about the ruling, Lee said he was partly “expecting” the decision, given how extremely conservative judges were appointed. But he went ahead with the trial to start a conversation.

“I wanted to bring the conversation of LGBT people to the surface that had been brushed under the rug and spark a healthy debate. I also wanted to see where the Methodist Church stands in terms of understanding sexual minorities and how many allies there were,” he said.

Following last weeks’ ruling, Rev. Lee said he plans to start taking donations to pay an addition 4.3 million won in tribunal fees he was ordered to pay by the church court, in addition to millions of won he had to spend to appeal his suspension.

Responding to support he received from people including those from other countries, Lee said he used to pray that LGBT people wouldn’t get their feelings hurt while following his ordeal with the court.

“God is love and loves everyone as they are. I hope people remember that and stay strong. The world will change and when that day comes, we will be able to celebrate."