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Evangelical Christian Discourse in South Korea on the LGBT: the Politics of Cross-Border Learning

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The US political debate over LGBT rights and religious liberty is shaping a similar contest in South Korea (Korea). Stories of American Christians criminally fined for refusing to service same-sex weddings, or university students and faculty punished for expressing their conservative beliefs, are widely shared in Korea’s evangelical media. The victim narrative, prominent among American evangelicals, teaches their Korean brethren that the expansion of LGBT legal rights and social acceptance endangers religious liberties. The conclusion is that that they must politically mobilize to oppose LGBT demands in Korea, even though the local movement is nascent and weak. There is, however, a second, more complex narrative emerging from the United States. This is one of Christian empathy, including stories of gay Christians wrestling with their twin identities, and of heterosexual Christians providing love and support, rather than condemnation. The empathy narrative has limited visibility in current political debates, but it encourages personal dialogues between gays and non-gay Christians and is a consequential step to understanding and tolerance. Drawing on learning and emulation theories, and conducting an empirical study of evangelical media and gay/heterosexual evangelicals in Korea, we consider the effects of these two American narratives in Korea.

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  1. For evangelical media reporting of these examples, see Lifesite, “Swedish Pastor Sentenced to Month in Prison for Preaching against Homosexuality,” 5 July 2014; and Christianity Daily, “Christian Wedding Chapel Owners file Lawsuit to Defend Religious Freedom,” 21 Oct 21, 2014 (Korean translation, 23 October 2014).

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  4. Sexual minorities potentially encompass a wide variety of sexual orientations (e.g., zoophilia). This article focuses on the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender). We use “homosexual” or “gay” to describe persons with same-sex desires. They do not necessarily consummate or practice such desires, and, whether to do so, is a key question for gay Christians. Koreans commonly use the English loanword “gay” (게이) as short-hand for LGBT, and this article also does so.

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Correspondence to Joe Phillips.

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Yi, J., Jung, G. & Phillips, J. Evangelical Christian Discourse in South Korea on the LGBT: the Politics of Cross-Border Learning. Soc 54, 29–33 (2017).

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