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Presbyterian Group Denies Call to Remove Pastor of Korean Church from Ministry

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A Presbyterian oversight group has determined that the former head pastor of a Korean church near the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois can remain an ordained minister despite allegations of sexual misconduct against him and his church.

According to a lengthy investigation by National Public Radio station WBEZ in Chicago, Covenant Fellowship Church and its former head pastor Min Joshua Chung for years fostered a misogynistic environment that included sexual mistreatment and oppression of women. 

Chung founded the church in 1990 on the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana (UICU) campus and welcomed students to join. 

But lay leaders and congregants began leaving the church in recent years, which was also a registered student organization at UICU.  Amid rumors of sexual misconduct, Chung announced in the summer of 2019 that he would transition out of the head pastor role and that a team of associate pastors would take over.

In September 2019, a member of the new leadership team, Pastor KJ Kim, said Chung had admitted to touching a female “over the clothing for a brief moment” about 20 years ago but had “immediately stopped” when she asked him to, per a recording obtained by WBEZ. 

However, a document submitted by a group of former CFC members calling themselves “the allegation group,” asked the Korean Central Presbytery (KCP), a denominational oversight group, to investigate the incident, called it “unwanted, non-consensual touch in her private area.” 

Chung reportedly personally counseled the woman after the incident, and said they reached “reconciliation.”

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WBEZ uncovered multiple other allegations against CFC, including pastors at the church making sexual comments to teen girls, church officials brushing off women who were sexually assaulted who went to them for help, and an overall culture that diminished women.   

Chung also was accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by a fellow local pastor. 

Several “CFC Survivors” came forward to tell their stories on an Instagram account, @letters_from_rahab. 

However, the KCP determined at an April meeting that looked only at the single incident that Chung had been “restored to God, as well as the woman, and that that discipline instituted by CFC pastors was found to be sufficient.” 

On July 13, the KCP met to discuss a complaint about the ruling filed by a group of pastors who wanted the group to remove Chung from the ministry. But a vote on the matter failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority, meaning Chung remains a minister, WBEZ reported. 

UIUC officials told WBEZ that CFC has chosen not to renew its status as a registered student organization for the coming year, meaning it cannot recruit new students at a back-to-school event or reserve space on the campus for meetings.

The church’s website says that as of July 2021, CFC is under the leadership of Reverend KJ Kim and a lay oversight board and is in the process of “particularizing” — or becoming a fully organized church — with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). 

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.