[INTERVIEW] Pastor suspended for blessing LGBTQ questions meaning of love in church

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Instead of delivering sermons and rubbing shoulders with his congregation, Rev. Lee Dong-hwan, a Methodist pastor in Suwon south of Seoul, spends most of his time these days discussing legal plans with his attorney and strategizing with a group of activists who banded together to support him.

Lee has been accused by the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) of disobedience and an ecclesiastical tribunal upheld that allegation, suspending him from being a pastor for two years. His crime: holding a blessing prayer at the Queer Culture Festival in the western port city of Incheon two years ago.

"If holding a blessing prayer for sexual minorities can be a punishable sin, why doesn't the church punish those pastors who blessed Chun Doo-hwan, who was behind the May 18 massacre? Why doesn't the church punish a male pastor who raped many female churchgoers? I don't think blessing can be a sin in any case," Lee, pastor of Glory Jeil Church in Suwon, told The Korea Times in an interview, Friday.

The Korea Times interviewed Lee to ask about the Korean church and its disciplinary process, his own beliefs and sexual minority issues.

Lee was referring to the Gwangju pro-democracy uprising in 1980 in which soldiers fired on protesters leaving an estimated 600 people dead.

The 41-year-old pastor has found himself in conflict with his denomination, the KMC. At the first tribunal, it found Lee guilty of "supporting and agreeing with homosexuality" by attending the festival held on Aug. 31, 2019, and holding a blessing prayer for the people there while wearing his religious robe. Such an act is a punishable offense based on the church's Book of Doctrines and Discipline according to the KMC. Lee, however, has been claiming that offering blessings is a pastor's duty and cannot be a sin.< p/>

On Oct. 15, the tribunal ended up suspending Lee of his duty for two years, which is the third-highest punishment in a five-tier system, for violating the regulation on homosexuality. He has filed an appeal and is waiting for a date to be set for it.