What Is Affirmation? (GC2016 Newsletter May 10)

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By Jan Olson

Photo of 3 Affirmation friends in 1987A handful of openly gay men, including Gene Leggett and Rick Huskey, offered 1972 General Conference delegates and visitors the opportunity for conversation about homosexuality. Few responded positively. Instead, in the waning hours of the conference, sleepy delegates amended a recom- mended paragraph in the new Social Principles to hold, “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In July 1975, the United Methodist Gay Caucus organized in Evanston, Illinois. Later renamed Gay United Methodists (GUM) it formed to insist that our lives and loving are gifts of God, not rebellion against the divine will. About a year after making a powerful presence at the 1976 General Conference, GUM became Affirmation: United Methodists for Gay Concerns. In preparation for what we feared would be a decades-long struggle, Affirmation asked Peggy Harmon and Michael Collins to lay a foundation of education, organizing, and empowerment across the church.

Affirmation grew into a large national network of individuals who became like family to one another. In addition to the national group there were over 40 local groups which met on a regular basis for support, worship and advocacy. During the Marches on Washington for Equality in 1987 and 1993 a very large group marched behind the Affirmation banner.

As the years have dragged on-- 44 long years-- the church has refused to get rid of the harmful, discriminatory language in the book of discipline. Affirmation has continued to support those oppressed by the church in the name of God. We have stood by our sisters and brothers like Jeanne Knepper when she appeared before the Judicial Council in 1993, and Amy DeLong when she was brought to trial in 2011, and Tom Ogletree when a “just” resolution in the charges brought against him was announced. And we are committed to being there for those the church continues to persecute.

In Affirmation’s 41 year history it has remained a grassroots organization. It has worked and struggled for acceptance and non-discrimination in the UMC almost entirely with volunteers, not paid staff. Members of Affirmation have been at every General Conference since 1976. We have worshiped, talked, prayed, sang, protested, and proudly displayed our rainbow colors. We have shown the UMC that we will not be driven away from our church. And we plan on being here until they start treating us as Jesus would. And as we wait for that day many of us still hold the words of the Meg Christian and Holly Near song in our ears:

“Can we be like drops of water falling on the stone
splashing, breaking, dispersing in air
Weaker than the stone by far
but be aware that
As time goes by
the rock will wear away.”

Meg Christian & Holly Near, Singers & Songwriters, ® 1976
Thumbilina Music BMI/Hereford • Music ACAP

Affirmation members in St. Louis in 1988

Affirmation offers 24-hour counseling during GC2016: call 612-425-5215

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