LGBT forum in Korea faces resistance

Attempts to discuss Christian attitudes toward gay people at the World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting held in Busan were derailed by resistance to engaging with the issue, according to one of its key organizers on Tuesday. In a country where a number of protestant groups continue to be a source of high-volume bigotry, the setback will be described by some as an inevitable outcome.

A group of Christian leaders who had been pushing for the issue to be discussed, including Dr. Gabriele Mayer of Germany, Rev. Catherine Christie of Canada and Rev. Lim Bo-rah of Korea, are now preparing an international LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) gathering in the Highwon Village Building in Yongsan, Seoul, to be held on Saturday and Sunday. They intend to explore an answer to the question they hoped would have been considered by those present in Busan: Should churches be considered as communities of just heterosexual men and women?

”During our preparations for Busan we felt some resistance,’’ Mayer, coordinator of the European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Christian Groups, told The Korea Times.

”Our application to hold a workshop at Madang Hall (part of the BEXCO center in Busan) was declined, in spite of much encouragement from various people having offered workshops at earlier WCC assemblies. It seemed that some churches opposed the topic from the way that they put pressure on the WCC headquarters in Geneva. There is also a group from Jakarta coming here who were offered an exhibition space but with their name changed, with LGBT having been deleted.

”We do not know from where the pressure was coming, but there was pressure.’’ Mayer did not give an example of how pressure might have been exerted.

The issues involving churches and sexual minorities had been discussed at previous WCC meetings, including the 1998 general assembly held in Harare, Zimbabwe, the 2006 assembly at Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the 2011 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, Mayer said. On this issue, what happened in Busan amounts to regression.

LGBT organizations from 10 countries are expected to participate at the two-day event in Seoul. They will announce a joint statement on Sunday calling on countries to take a harder look at the plight of sexual minorities and be more active in eliminating prejudice and misunderstanding.

Although their panel at the current WCC general assembly was canceled, Mayer and her colleagues are planning a number of events on the sidelines of the meetings at BEXCO to keep the dialogue alive. One of them includes a session to be delivered by senior Christian leaders from African nations, who will share their experiences of fighting for the inclusion of sexual minorities within their churches.

”We invited them as authentic voices from Africa, because many churches in Africa are still very much opposed to the issue of homosexuality. They can speak as Africans, and not be accused as lobbying for Western import (values), but rather from their own reflection, observation and advocacy.’’

Homosexuality has always been a divisive issue within Korean churches. The Christian Council of Churches (CCK), the country’s most influential protestant organization, representing more than 45,000 churches with a combined 12 million followers, has boycotted the WCC meeting. It accuses the inter-church organization of running counter to Christian values for its willingness to discuss religious diversity and acceptance of sexual minorities in churches.

The CCK has also been an unyielding wall of resistance that has derailed the country’s efforts for equality legislation. At the start of the year, opposition lawmakers Kim Han-gil and Choi Won-sik of the Democratic Party submitted draft anti-discrimination laws, seeking to prohibit the singling out of individuals for less favorable treatment based on certain traits, including sexual orientation.

This provoked furious complaints from the CCK, which continues to assert that criticizing a person on the basis of their sexual orientation is a right. After being openly threatened by CCK head Hong Jae-chul and being bombarded by phone calls and online comments, the lawmakers withdrew their proposed bills.

By Kim Tong-hyung
Source – Korea Times