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[Newsmaker] Court rules against megachurch pastor in internal dispute

The court ruled in favor of members of a megachurch in Seoul’s Gangnam district who sought to strip the senior pastor of his position in a yearslong internal dispute.

According to the Sarang Church, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a remanded case to nullify a decision that made Rev. Oh Jung-hyun the senior pastor of the church 15 years ago. 

Rev. Oh Jung-hyun of Sarang Church (Yonhap)
Rev. Oh Jung-hyun of Sarang Church (Yonhap)

Oh was appointed head pastor of the megachurch by the Eastern Seoul arm of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Korea in 2003.

The Sarang Church said in a statement on Wednesday that the latest ruling was hard to accept for the entire Korean church and possibly all religious groups.

“(The ruling) contradicts the separation of church and state, freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, and the precedent set by the Supreme Court that matters related to religious orders’ autonomy and internal relations, in principle, are not subject to judicial review,” the church said.

The church is considering appealing the case to the Supreme Court again.

If the ruling is deemed final, Oh will not be able to serve as the church’s head pastor.

In an internal dispute over Oh’s right to hold the position, which entails control over the megachurch’s finances, some members of the church said he was not qualified as a pastor because he did not pass an examination administered by the general assembly branch.

A point of dispute in the court was whether he transferred to Chongshin University’s Theological Seminary as a regular student or as a pastor belonging to another Protestant denomination. Under the general assembly’s rules, to qualify as pastors, seminarians need to pass different exams depending on whether they are admitted as regular students or as pastors.

The lower courts ruled in favor of Oh in the first and second trials, but the Supreme Court remanded the case in April.

The top court ruled that although Oh is a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America and probationer in the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Korea, he is not qualified as a pastor under the general assembly because he didn’t pass an exam and was not ordained.

The Sarang Church and the general assembly’s Eastern Seoul branch said it was a misunderstanding that Oh took the regular transfer route to the local seminary, and even if he had, he could not be ordained again. They also argued that the qualifications of a pastor were determined autonomously by the general assembly.

By Kim So-hyun (