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The United Methodist Church's Judicial Council has upheld the anti-LGBTQ policies adopted by delegates to the denomination's General Conference in February.
The so-called Traditional Plan maintains the church's ban on the ordination of what it calls "self-avowed homosexuals," even though there are many gay United Methodist clergy members, largely closeted. It also retains the denomination's opposition to same-sex marriage. Clergy members who perform same-sex weddings can be suspended without pay the first time they do so and can be expelled the second; this is the first time penalties have been spelled out.
The plan adds an exit mechanism for congregations disagreeing with these positions. They can leave the denomination if two-thirds of members vote to take such action and if the congregation meets certain financial obligations.
The Judicial Council's approval, which came Friday, clears the way for the plan to take effect in 2020, Christianity Today reports.
Pro-LGBTQ forces within the church, primarily represented by the Reconciling Ministries Network, vowed to stay in the denomination and continue speaking out against the homophobic policies. It issued a statement calling on supporters "to repeatedly state your dissent, to support the work of resistance by United Methodist seminaries, to continue to write open letters and visibly be in solidarity with those on the margins," according to the Associated Press.
"We call upon the Church to repent of the sin of homophobia," it continued. "Now is the time to rise and resist."
The United Methodist Church is the nation's third-largest Christian denomination, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.