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

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Abstract

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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Notes

  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).

  2. Yong-Pil Lee. 기독교 정당 국회 입성 실패! [“Christian Party fails to enter into the National Assembly!”] Newsnjoy, 14 April 2016 [Korean]. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=202943202943.

  3. Although only 18% of the population adheres to Protestantism, Korea sends more missionaries abroad than any other country, after the United States, and hosts the world’s largest Methodist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal congregations. Pew Research Center. “Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project: South Korea,” 2010. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.globalreligiousfutures.org/countries/south-korea/religious_demography; Byung Joon Chung, “A Reflection on the Growth and Decline of the Korean Protestant Church,” International Review of Mission 103, no. 2 (2014): 319–333. Up to 95% of Protestants in Korea are theologically conservative or evangelical in their beliefs. Timothy S. Lee, “Beleaguered Success: Korean Evangelicalism in the Last Decade of Twentieth Century,” in Christianity in Korea, eds. R. E. Buswell, Jr. and T. S. Lee (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007), 330–350. Moreover, Koreans commonly use the term “Christian” (기독교 gidoggyo) for non-Catholic (Protestant) Christian and “Catholic” (천주교 cheonjugyo) for Catholic. In common linguistic practice, “Christian” refers to a conservative or evangelical Protestant.

  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.

  5. John Cho (Song Pae), “The Wedding Banquet Revisited: ‘Contract Marriages’ between Korean Gays and Lesbians.” Anthropological Quarterly 82, no. 2 (2009): 401–422.

  6. YD Bong, “The Gay Rights Movement in Democratizing Korea,” Korean Studies 32 (2008): 86–103.

  7. Cho, “The Wedding Banquet Revisited.”

  8. Junghoon Yang, “Homosexuals and the Contemporary Gay Rights Movement in Korea: Movement Participation and Collective Identity,” Master’s Thesis, University of Roehampton (2013).

  9. Hansook Oh, “Gay Rights Activists in Korea Step Up to Support LGBTQ Youth,” KoreaAm Journal, 16 February 2014. Accessed 25 May 2015. http://iamkoream.com/february-issue-gay-rights-activists-in-korea-step-up-to-support-lgbtq-youth/.

  10. Korean Herald, “Gay Couple Appeal Marriage Ruling,” 26 May 2016. Accessed 27 May 2016. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160526000797.

  11. Frank Dobbin, Beth Simmons and Geoffrey Garrett, “The Global Diffusion of Public Policies: Social Construction, Coercion, Competition, or Learning?” Annual Review of Sociology 33 (2007): 449–472.

  12. Beth Simmons, Frank Dobbin, and Geoffrey Garrett, “Introduction: The International Diffusion of Liberalism.” International Organization 60 (fall 2006): 781–810.

  13. Christianity Daily, “Korean Christian Filmmaker Sets Out to Tell Stories of ‘Ex-Gays,’” 29 May 2016. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.christianitydaily.com/articles/7461/20160107/korean-christian-filmmaker-sets-out-tell-stories-ex-gays.htm.

  14. In analyzing Christianity Today (English edition), Thomas and Olson (2012) used multiple keywords: homosexuals,” “homosexuality,” “gay,” “gays,” “lesbian,” “lesbians,” “lesbianism,” or “same-sex.” In our analysis of the Korean editions of Christianity Today and other news sites, the Korean term for “homosexuality” [동성애] is sufficient to generate all articles related to the LGBT.

  15. Jeremy N. Thomas and Daniel V. A. Olson, “Evangelical Elites’ Changing Responses to Homosexuality 1960–2009.” Sociology of Religion 73, no. 3 (2012): 239–72.

  16. Thomas and Olson, “Evangelical Elites.

  17. Hae-Ri Lee [이혜리], “Christian Couple Vow not to Host Same-Sex Weddings in their Illinois B&B Despite State Fines, Penalties,” April 4, 2016 [(original) Jonah Hicap, April 1, 2016]. Accessed 20 May, 2016. http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christian.couple.vow.not.to.host.same.sex.weddings.in.their.illinois.bb.despite.state.fines.penalties/83052.htm.

  18. Paul Choi, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Global Anti-Christian Movement.” Global Alliance Newsletter, May 2013. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.intercp.org/2013/05/same-sex-marriage-and-the-global-anti-christian-movement/.

  19. Tong-hyun Kim, “Crusade on Gay Legislation,” Korea Times, 14 April 2013. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/culture/2013/04/135_133912.html; Tong-hyun Kim, “LGBT Forum in Korea Faces Resistance,” Korea Times, 29 October 2013. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/culture/2013/10/316_145136.html.

  20. Jeong-ju Na, “Dilemma for Park Won-soon,” Korea Times, 28 January 28 2015. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2015/02/164_172589.html.

  21. Pew Research Center, “Most U.S. Christian Groups Grow more Accepting of Homosexuality,” 18 December 2015. Accessed 20 May 2016.

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/18/most-u-s-christian-groups-grow-more-accepting-of-homosexuality/.

  22. Joseph Yi, Joe Phillips and Shin Do Sung, “Same-Sex Marriage, Korean Christians, and the Challenge of Democratic Engagement,” Society 51 (July/Aug. 2014): 415–422.

  23. Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  24. Joseph Yi, et al., “Same-Sex Marriage, Korean Christians.”

  25. Czarina Ong, Christian Today – UK, [Korean], April 9, 2016 (Translated into Korean, Christian Today, April 11, 2016). Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.christiantoday.com/article/behind.lgbt.peoples.seething.hatred.and.anger.is.a.massive.open.wound.that.needs.treatment.says.michael.brown/83575.htm.

  26. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, “My Train Wreck Conversation,” Christianity Today, 7 February 2013. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/my-train-wreck-conversion.html.

  27. Stephen Samuel, “Christian Leader with Same-Sex Attraction says Parents must Show Love for their Gay Children,” Christian Post, 30 October 2014. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-leader-with-same-sex-attraction-says-parents-must-show-love-for-their-gay-children-128837/

  28. Christopher Yuan, “Why ‘God and the Gay Christian’ Is Wrong About the Bible and Same-Sex Relationships,” Christianity Today, 9 June 2014. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/june-web-only/why-matthew-vines-is-wrong-about-bible-same-sex-relationshi.html.

  29. ‘David.’ Coming out to my Old Friends. REALHUNGRY, 9 April 2016. Accessed 10 May 2016. http://realhungry.com/231/coming-out-to-my-old-friends/.

  30. Rachael Lee, “Korean Christian Filmmaker Sets Out to Tell Stories of ‘Ex-Gays.’” Christianity Daily, 7 January 2016. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.christianitydaily.com/articles/7461/20160107/korean-christian-filmmaker-sets-out-tell-stories-ex-gays.htm.

  31. Sue Ann Skipworth, Andrew Garner, and Bryan J. Dettrey, “Limitations of the Contact Hypothesis: Heterogeneity in the Contact Effect on Attitudes toward Gay Rights,” Politics & Policy 38, no. 5 (2010): 887–906.

  32. Democracy Now, “As Anti-LGBT Laws Sweep U.S., How Did GOP-Led Utah Pass a Landmark Nondiscrimination Bill? 19 April 2016. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.democracynow.org/2016/4/19/as_anti_lgbt_laws_sweep_us.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-016-0096-3

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