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Korean Congregations Leaving The United Methodist Church

By Kim Roberts
korean american methodist UMC
Korean Americans participate in a United Methodist Church worship event. (Video screengrab)

Majority-Korean Methodist churches, which tend to be more conservative and evangelical than other congregations within the United Methodist Church denomination, are finding it difficult to disaffiliate for fear they will lose their land and leaders.

More than 100 of the 244 Korean-language UMC congregations have started the disaffiliation process, former executive director of the Association of Korean Churches in the UMC Keihwan Kevin Ryoo told Christianity Today.

Of those 100 churches, 40 have successfully left the UMC and joined the more conservative Global Methodist Church, while the rest are either waiting for their disaffiliation to be approved by the annual conferences or are still moving through the process, Ryoo explained.

The UMC did not expect such a large number of Korean churches to leave the denomination. According to Paul Chang, executive director of the Korean Ministry Plan, it expected 40 churches and 60 pastors to disaffiliate from the UMC.

Church property and assets are held by the denomination, so it can often be expensive for a church to disaffiliate.

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korean american methodist UMC
Naperville Korean United Methodist Church. (Photo via social media)

Some churches have changed course from disaffiliation after realizing they could not afford to pay the property value required by the annual conference as part of the terms to leave. Others said they’ve faced losing their pastors as part of the process.

Last March, South Suburban Korean UMC in the Chicago area voted 162-25 to disaffiliate from the UMC because of concerns over the appointment of homosexual clergy in violation of the denomination’s Book of Discipline.

When the church notified the district superintendent about the decision to disaffiliate, the church’s pastor, Hogun Kim, said he was forced to resign after being told his appointment as pastor of South Suburban Korean UMC would not be renewed, and he would not be appointed to pastor any other UMC churches. The church was also required to pay $2.2 million if it wished to disaffiliate and keep its 10-acre property.

The UMC Northern Illinois Conference disputed that Kim was forced to resign. It claimed he submitted a letter of withdrawal and left the UMC to “unite with another denomination.”

The congregation kept its pastor but left the building and denomination behind. Members started the Center Church of Truth, which has not yet affiliated with any other denomination but is considering the Global Methodist Church.

It meets in space it rents from a Lutheran church on Sundays and then uses a space at a Baptist church for meetings during the week.

“We feel really loved by these Christians from other denominations,” Kim told Christianity Today. “They understand what we went through. They have been Good Samaritans to us.”

The Naperville Korean UMC — another suburban Chicago church that voted to disaffiliate — was sued earlier this month by the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC. The lawsuit claims the church “abandoned the disaffiliation process, blocked conference authorities from entering the property, and a breakaway faction took possession of the parsonage, church building, and church financial accounts.”

A New Jersey congregation, Bethel Korean UMC, experienced difficulties in its disaffiliation also. According to Pastor James Lee, he was removed from leading the 1,000-member congregation in 2021 after it voted to disaffiliate from the UMC in order to join the more conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association.

The Greater New Jersey Conference claims the pastor was removed due to problems going back several years.

Ryoo believes Korean congregations face unique challenges in disaffiliation because of cultural and language barriers that make them more reticent to speak up at large denominational gatherings. But they also feel a deep loyalty to the denomination because of relationships and historic missionary movements that brought the Gospel to Korea.

This article originally appeared at MinistryWatch

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctor from Baylor University. She has homeschooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.

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4 Responses

  1. Good for them! I witnessed a purge of evangelical UMC pastors in Northern California around 2000. It was terribly painful for them to be forced out of their churches over adherence to the Bible. A few moved over to the Wesleyan denomination. It’s heartening to see the churches making these decisions for themselves this time around.

  2. Anyone named Christian should praise God when a biblical body of believers leaves the church apostate. Many once mainline churches have drifted apostate over the last decade and lost nearly half their memberships – namely, the ELCA and RCA and TEC (Episcopal) and UCC and PCUSA.
    There is neither grace nor mercy when it comes to disaffiliation from the apostate church.

  3. If you have to go out penniless and meet in the open, it’s preferable to meeting in comfort and compromising the gospel to please the culture. Thank God for churches willing to depart.

  4. The ugly truth about the Methodist breakup is that the trouble mongering gay-affirming minority staged a successful coup. They refused to follow Church law that forbids the marriage or ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” Many conservatives have chosen to leave amid a growing defiance of those bans in many U.S. churches and conferences. PBS gives a good summary here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/united-methodists-lose-one-fifth-of-u-s-churches-in-schism-over-lgbtq-rights

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church?” by Skye Jethani.