Methodist Church's Western Jurisdiction commits to 'safe harbor' for LGBTQ clergy
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The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction committed Wednesday to making its churches a “safe harbor” for LGBTQ clergy. 

The bishops of the Western Jurisdiction announced the “Safe Harbor Declaration” at a meeting with the Council of Bishops in Lake Junaluska, N.C., as a response to the United Methodist Church’s decision earlier this year to tighten restrictions on LGBT-inclusive practices through the “Traditional Plan.” 

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The new declaration is designed to provide “safe harbor” for clergy who will be “at risk under the new provisions, prohibitions, and punishments” from the Traditional Plan, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. The statement claims the church does not have the authority to restrain LGBTQ clergy and congregants.

“We are haunted by the actions of the 2019 Special General Conference, which impose new and harmful definitions and restrictions on full participation of LGBTQ+ persons in the Church and abandon robust engagement of scripture to narrow biblical literalism,” it says.

The General Conference, an international body for United Methodist churches, passed the Traditional Plan in February. The plan forbids bishops from ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and makes it easier to file complaints against those attempting to enter ministry and performing same-sex marriages, the Religious News Service reported.

Stephen Drachler, a spokesman for the Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction, told The Hill it was important to support the declaration because LGBTQ clergy and congregants will be “even more persecuted” under the new rule next year. 

“They cannot in good conscience process complaints against these committed Christians who are acting upon their love of the church and their call to serve, when they are being persecuted simply and only because they’re gay, which is the way God made them,” he said. 

The declaration ends with a call for the church to join the bishops in signing and creating a safe harbor for these clergy.

The Western Jurisdiction is represented by five bishops and includes churches in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam and “other territory in the Pacific region,” according to its website.

Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, who was the first openly LGBTQ bishop to be consecrated in 2016, signed the declaration and said the jurisdiction may be “taking some risk in taking this stance.”

“We may be challenged, and, if challenged, the Judicial Council may have to decide whether what we’re doing is reasonable or not,” Oliveto told the Religious News Service.

A Council of Bishops spokesperson told The Hill that the statement from the Western Jurisdiction was read to the council.

"The Western Jurisdiction did not seek any action from the Council," the spokesperson said.

Updated: 1:52 p.m.