PORTLAND, Ore. — There is a rift growing in one of the biggest faith groups in America. Five Bishops representing United Methodist Church's western jurisdiction signed a letter of solidarity showing support for their LGBTQ clergy and the ramifications for those performing same-sex marriages.
The declaration signed and presented Wednesday at a conference in North Carolina says that the churches under the Bishops will not enforce rules adopted in February 2019 at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"For many of us it was heartbreaking experience," said Erin Martin, who is the Columbia Superintendent of the United Methodist Church. She oversees around 40 clergy in the Portland region.
"To see the church refuse an option of flexibility and unity in the one church plan and instead choose a restrictive and punitive plan, it meant for us sorrow, and also outrage."
The new rules that will take effect January 1 essentially state that clergy that are members of the LGBTQ community or those that perform same-sex marriages face punishment within the church and may even lose their jobs.
In a video message provided by the Oregon-Idaho United Methodist Conference, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky said she will not adhere to those rules.
"I've decided not to process those complaints so they can be engaged in their ministries and their lives and joy without the threat of damage," Stanovsky said.
Reverend Wendy Woodworth is the pastor at Morningside United Methodist Church in Salem. The all-inclusive church has opened its doors to everyone for over 20 years.
Woodworth married her wife two years ago and the couple celebrated their vows in the same church she spreads a message of acceptance.
"I've been very touched and very moved by their witness, their prophetic witness and share the risk as they put it. I have known that they have been supportive for many years," said Woodworth.
Without the Bishop's support, as a member of Queer Clergy Caucus - as it's known within the church, she too faced ramifications for being gay.
"It certainly would hurt to see a complaint like that come forward, to think that a loving caring relationship of 25+ years could be reason to say I'm not fit to be an ordained clergy would be very hurtful."
She says the declaration gives her peace of mind that she can continue doing what she loves without worry.
"It makes me proud to have them as my bishops. It does create some more sense of safety, but beyond that sense of safety it is a very affirming statement that the church that baptized you, confirmed you, that has formed your faith and taught you about the love and grace of God is still going to be here with you and support your ministry."
The next General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be held in May in Minnesota.