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Protestant churches to create welcoming communities for LGBT Koreans

Mainline Protestant churches and church councils from Asia, Europe and North America issued “Choosing Life: Creating Communities of Welcome”, a statement outlining concrete steps for Korean churches in addressing the discrimination and inequality experienced by LGBT individuals and communities in Korea.

“Unfortunately, the Korean society, where the Confucian patriarchy and the authoritarian structure of long military dictatorship are deeply rooted, especially the Korean Protestant Church which has grown rapidly since its foundation, has remained in place without any change in its perception toward sexual minorities,” said Rev. Dr. Song Jin-Sun.

The pro-LGBT statement was a product of the Ecumenical Consultation on Gender and Sexuality hosted by the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) last May 17-18, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. The NCCK cited that the main forces that promote homophobia in Korean society are right-wing politicians and Korean fundamentalist/conservative churches.

“Fundamentalist conservative Christianity has strengthened its discrimination of and hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community, and they have been strategically combining conservative politicians and conservative civic groups to strengthen homophobia and their logic of exclusion. Most sexual minorities are silent in church or they have left the church or been kicked out of church, or they have been turning their backs to the church and looking for their own God,” said Rev. Dr. Song Jin-Sun.

The statement hopes to counter this conservative perspective by stating, “God’s dream is for church communities that are welcoming and affirming of all God’s people. In making God’s dream a reality it is necessary that all forms of discrimination, hate and exclusion be eliminated… it is important to discern how churches and societies can work together to live God’s dream of welcome.”

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Experiences on ministries with the LGBT+ communities were shared by The Methodist Church in Britain, Evangelical Kirche in Deutschland, United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ (USA) The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, United Church of Japan, World Student Christian Federation Asia Pacific, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

“The journey to inclusion of LGBTQ and two-spirit (2+) persons for the United Church in Canada (UCC) began over 30 years ago and is an ongoing process and reality in the life of the church. Today, because of its commitment to inclusion, the church welcomes ministers/clergy and lay members from other denominations who are seeking safe places to live out the who they are as LGBTQ2+,” said Rev. Michael Blair of UCC.

During the gathering, Outrage Magazine‘s John Ryan Mendoza, NCCP’s representative, shared key points from the gender and sexuality consultation “Love, Diversity & Justice” that gathered church leaders from nine Philippine mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic Churches in Quezon City last August 2017.

“NCCP’s member churches affirmed that everyone was created in the image and likeness of God no matter the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Sin is universal, although similarly universal is the love of God, so that churches are challenged to become a welcoming/affirming/caring /community to provide ministry for all. Members also affirmed the need to focus on human dignity, justice, and gender equality to highlight harmony in diversity,” said Mendoza.

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He added, “even with these affirmations, churches continue to struggle, particularly with changing contexts. These challenges deal with faith traditions, as well as with Biblical and theological grounding/interpretation of texts particularly on issues of sexuality and gender. With heteronormativity continuing to be the widely accepted norm, churches now have to grapple with such issues as the ordination of women into the priesthood, and restructuring of traditional concepts of marriage.”

The statement acknowledged that change in civil and religious systems and structures are urgent, and encouraged the churches in Korea to engage in the following urgent tasks:

  1. Advocate and support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals and communities in civil society by opposing all discriminatory laws and practices which  prohibit  the right to equality as specified in the Constitution  on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity within the legal system; advocate for anti-discrimination laws and other national policies to be passed to prevent discrimination against gender and sexuality minorities, and educate for the eradication of discrimination.
  2. Conduct a three (3) year program (2018-20): to provide a framework for ministries with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals and communities including a study program with the congregation members, visits to partner churches, developing guidelines for LGBT ministries in the church communities.
  3. Open itself to the gift of transformation by creating safe spaces of healing and strive to welcome and embrace LGBT individuals and communities without prejudice and eliminate all restrictions and discrimination in the church structure.

Further, the participants of the Ecumenical Consultation on Gender and Sexuality encourage the National Council of Churches in Korea to:

  1. Give leadership to the three-year (3) program for providing a framework for ministry with and among LGBT individuals and communities.
  2. Request the accompaniment of partner churches through a Joint Task Force
  3. Develop theological resources for the Korean church communities to appreciate a fuller understanding of sexualities and gender identities as a God given gift.
  4. Gather the stories and narratives of the lived experience of LGBT persons both in the church and civil society as an educational resource.

Participants of the ecumenical consultation ended by encouraging the churches and the NCCK to continue to create safe spaces for conversation and respectful dialogue. As well as commit to ongoing accompaniment and the sharing of resources and materials from their civil and religious contexts.

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Rev. Lizette Tapia-Raquel of Union Theological Seminary-Philippines and The United Methodist Church said, “We use the word ‘inclusion’ as if we are being generous, or compassionate. But actually, when you talk about inclusion, who includes? “

“Are we saying that as a Church, we can really exclude anyone? It is not us as a Church but is God who welcomes us all. Maybe we should change our language and stop talking about inclusion but start talking about welcoming, as God welcomes,” she ended.

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