Korean Methodists debate whether to sever ties or remain after UMC General Conference’s change on homosexuality

By CDI Staff |
UMC General Conference 2024
Over 700 delegates to the 2024 United Methodist General Conference work on church business in Charlotte, N.C. Friday May 3, 2024. | Larry McCormack / UM News

As the United Methodist Church (UMC) recently made decisions at its general conference regarding the ordination of homosexual pastors, among other issues, it has stirred repercussions in Korea. Among Korean-American Methodist pastors, there are divergent reactions.

On the one hand, some pastors within the Korean Methodist Church argue that the church should sever ties with the UMC. Voices advocating for this stance have been growing within the Korean Christian Holiness Movement (KCHM), including the Methodist Holiness Movement Conference (MHMC), the Movement to Rebuild the Methodist Church (MRMC), and the Wesleyan Holiness Movement Headquarters (WHMH).

In a statement issued after the UMC General Conference, they expressed, "Homosexuality cannot be accepted until the Lord returns. This is not an emotional issue but a matter of unchangeable truth. Homosexuality is clearly a sin." They further stated, "This is an issue concerning the sanctity of life that the church must teach correctly, without compromise. Therefore, the Korean Methodist Church cannot continue to associate with the United Methodist Church, which supports homosexuality."

Demanding that the Korean Methodist Church clearly express its opposition to homosexuality through administrative procedures, they warned, "Otherwise, both internally and externally, the Korean Methodist Church will inevitably be treated similarly to the United Methodist Church."

Recently, the MHMC held an Emergency Seminar and Meeting in Response to the UMC Crisis at Incheon Sungui Methodist Church, where Pastor Nak-in Kim (retired from Lord's Church in Southern California) lectured, highlighting the pro-homosexual trends within the UMC.

On the other hand, pastors from the Korean-American UMC Conference expressed concerns about recent decisions at the UMC General Conference while suggesting considering the different circumstances in the U.S. and Korea. Currently, there are approximately 220 Korean churches within the UMC, with around 800 Korean pastors and about 30,000 Korean congregants.

One Korean-American pastor from the UMC Conference mentioned that most Korean pastors within the UMC either received their ordination from the UMC after studying in Korea or were ordained in Korea before coming to the UMC. He explained, "In other words, pastors trained according to Korean church tradition are serving within the UMC."

He emphasized the need to consider the situation in the U.S., likening it to the passage of anti-discrimination laws in 2015, which made it a legal requirement not to inquire about one's sexual orientation.

He argued that "the recent decision at the UMC General Conference regarding homosexuality is not about promoting or instigating homosexuality but rather removing discriminatory language aimed at prohibiting the ordination of homosexuals."

"While it's true that deleting this clause removes questions about sexual orientation, it doesn't necessarily lead to an increase in homosexual pastors or have a significant impact on Korean churches."

He added that "even in this situation, Korean churches can surely uphold the traditional faith we have maintained and protect the church, as laws have been passed to support this within the UMC."

At the recent General Conference, the UMC allowed individual churches to refuse the appointment of homosexual pastors and to autonomously decide on the hosting of same-sex marriages or related ceremonies.

Expressing his main concern, he said, "What we are most worried about is still the possibility of turmoil and division within Korean-American Methodist churches, which could threaten and divide the church. The exploitation of this UMC General Conference decision for malicious purposes cannot be overlooked."

UMC held its General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, from April 23 to May 3. During this period, decisions related to sexuality were made, including supporting the equal rights, freedoms, and protections of all people regardless of sexual orientation (amendment to social principles), removing the mandatory penalty of unpaid leave for over one year for clergy convicted of performing same-sex marriages or ceremonies, and removing the prohibition on the ordination of homosexual pastors.

This General Conference was overshadowed by many churches within the denomination leaving over the past four years due to perceived pro-homosexual tendencies within the UMC. It is reported that the number of churches that have withdrawn so far amounts to approximately 7,600, about a quarter of UMC churches in the U.S.

Originally published at Christian Daily Korea. Translated and edited by Christian Daily International staff.