From hurt to welcome: an interview with Rev. Bora Lim, South Korea

Karina Schumacher‎, a German advocate from the Ecumenical Mission Service, interviews Rev. LIM Bora, pastor of Hyanglin Seomdol congregation in Seoul, South Korea. Hyanglin Seomdol means “stepping stone”. Since 2007, Rev. Lim and the congregation have been campaigning for the rights of sexual minorities.  Earlier in 2016 we featured the congregation and their witness at Seoul Pride.

Reverend LIM, your congregation welcomes sexual minorities. What’s special about your congregation?

Our congregation has about 70 members. About a quarter are LGBTs and their relatives. Since 2007, when conservative Christians strongly campaigned against an anti-discrimination law, I started to support the rights of sexual minorities. I want to be a counterbalance to these Christians and I want to show everyone that not all Christians are like this. At the moment, I am part of a coalition of Christian and civil society groups who is working on an educational campaign.

Rev. LIM Bora, by Keith Hall.
Rev. LIM Bora, by Keith Hall.

In your opinion, what are the major topics that need to be addressed when it comes to the situation of sexual minorities?

In the past twenty years, the awareness and knowledge of sexual minorities has strongly increased. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of educational work that needs to be done. Benevolent disinterest is not enough. Many people still think all homosexuals are gay and all gays are HIV positive. Therefore, the vague fear of infection leads to homophobia.

In South Korea, there are conversion centers of the “ex-gay movement” following the example of conservative Christians in the US. In Kyeongki province close to Seoul, there is a treatment center where Christian parents send their LGBT children. These therapies are brutal and senseless. But still, there are so-called ‘success stories’ floating around. “Cured” sexual minorities enthuse about the power of the Holy Spirit working in them.

What should the Korean churches do about that?

Sumdol Hyanglin church and Rev. Lim at Seoul Pride 2015. Photo by Andrew Cheng.
Sumdol Hyanglin church and Rev. Lim at Seoul Pride 2015. Photo by Andrew Cheng.

There are “affirmative” churches in the US and in Canada. These congregations are

welcoming of sexual minorities. In Korea, we are still far away from this. One of the rare examples is the Rodem Namu (Broom Tree) church. This congregation has existed since 1996. They meet for worship on Saturday evening as most of their members attend “regular” congregations on Sunday – many of them haven’t revealed their sexual orientation.

Most of the Korean churches are struggling with a decrease in members. The Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) is afraid to take the lead role in advocating for human rights of sexual minorities because they worry about additional loss of members, even though they usually like to see themselves as pioneers. I think taking on this matter and openly advocating for the rights of sexual minorities would enrich the profile of PROK. It might even bring new members. Many LGBT Christians are hurt and deeply disappointed by the church and they are longing for a congregation that welcomes them as they are.