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OMAHA — Eight middle-school confirmation class members have decided against joining an Omaha Methodist church in protest at the denomination's renewed ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.

The eight were scheduled to become part of the congregation Sunday at First United Methodist Church. But the class, comprising seventh- and eighth-graders, declined and issued a written statement instead.

"We are disappointed about the direction the United Methodist denomination is heading," it said. "We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision. We want to be clear that … we believe that policies on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage are immoral."

On Friday, the denomination's judicial council upheld key portions of a plan adopted in February by the church's legislative assembly and designed to strengthen the bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ pastors.

Opponents of the plan will have a chance to overturn it at the denomination's general conference in May 2020.

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The Omaha congregation voted April 2 to allow both its clergy and others to perform same-sex weddings on church property, defying the denominational ban.

The confirmation class statement was the students' work — no help from teachers or others — said the Rev. Kent Little, the church's senior pastor. He said that he knew about a month ago that something was in the works, because the kids invited him to class to answer questions. Some of them were thinking about postponing confirmation, Little said, but added that he didn't know it would be a unanimous gesture.

The congregation's response was positive when the kids read their statement Sunday, their pastor said.

"There were a lot of tears and a standing ovation," Little said. "I am really proud of them."

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