Dear Dean Love,
Good morning, I imagine this is not the first or last communication you will receive regarding your decision to confer honors on Rev. Dr. H. Eddie Fox but as an alumna and advocate for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church I feel it is very important to add my voice to the chorus of concern.
A dear friend and chaplain at a near-by college brought this unfortunate circumstance to my attention and my heart just broke.
From the Georgia Voice:
Rev. Dr. H. Eddie Fox, head of World Evangelism for the World Methodist Council, is set to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award. That news rankled many students and led to a 2.5 hour meeting on Sept. 13 between Jan Love, Dean and Professor of Christianity and World Politics in the Candler School of Theology; other faculty and members of Sacred Worth, a student government organization.
The Distinguished Alumni Awards are to be presented at a luncheon on Sept. 27. Rev. Fox will not be able to attend due to his travel schedule, Love said in an open letter to students addressing the controversy of selecting Fox for the award.
Concerns were raised over Fox’s role in the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Texas where delegates “adopted a minority report that retained language in the denomination’s 2004 Book of Discipline, describing homosexual practice as ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’” According to a story in the United Methodist Reporter, Fox presented the minority report to the conference.
As an alumna, lesbian and child of God I am so very disheartened to see Candler honor a man such as this. And yes, I read your letter to the Candler community and frankly I find it sorely lacking. It leans heavily on policy of Emory University and the doctrine of the UMC and not at all on the Gospel that Candler supposedly teaches young leaders to share with the world.
The man and ministry you plan to honor continues to keep LGBT Methodists on the margins of the church they love where they are expected to behave as half-humans in order to remain in the UMC. This is of course why so many faithful, gifted people are leaving the UMC and a core reason I now found myself worshipping, serving and tithing in the UCC where I am fully affirmed in every aspect of church life. For Candler, the Alumni Board and you to find his work worthy of honor reminds me that my family is not truly affirmed in the full life of the UMC. My heart breaks all over again for my LGBT sisters and brothers who are committed to a church that regards them as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Although some may believe that Candler is well known for being “accepting” I want to be very clear that Candler is what I call “welcoming but not affirming”.
While a student at Candler I encountered the bible again in ways that I never knew possible. I learned from some of the world’s finest preachers, biblical ethicists, worship leaders, pastoral counselors and scholars how to engage the word of God, and what The Word God asks of us, in a world that is yearning for the Justice of God to roll down like water. Unfortunately I was also encouraged, by a professor in whom I confided, to remain in the closet so as not to jeopardize my academic career. I was subjected to “projects” that objectified my humanity for the sake of theological exploration and I witnessed Sacred Worth members hiding their participation (even allies who are not LGBT) and attending secret meetings so as not to be outed on campus or the churches they served.
I experienced Candler to be a fantasy bubble within the United Methodist Church that pretends to be open and affirming but is really only compounding the unChristian behavior of the UMC that teaches Christian formation in fear and lies to LGBT people of faith. That is not right, that is not loving and that is not grounded in the compassionate and liberating Gospel to which my heart and mind was opened while studying with a handful of genuinely amazing faculty at Candler.
As a Christian and alumna, I ask that you and the board please reconsider this award and seek another United Methodist leader who is living into the radical hospitality of the Gospel that we claim as our narrative and compass.
You sister in Christ,
Kimberly Knight ’09
PS: what others are saying:
Karen Stephenson Slappey in a letter to Jan Love
“I came to Candler because I believed that I would receive not only an excellent theological education, but because I believed that I would be part of a community that was working to repair the tears that have occurred in the fabric of Church. By honoring the Rev. Fox as a distinguished alumni of Candler School of Theology we are not drawing the circle wider. We are not working to repair the negative image earned by the Church so widely held in today’s society. We are not opening hearts, minds, or doors. We are, once again, caving to pressure from those loudest of voices that perpetuate fear and exclusion.”
Zebulun Treloar in a letter to Eddie Fox
“I have to stand in opposition to your being awarded an alumni award because of these views. Candler School of Theology admits many children of God such as myself who have been hurt by these kinds of statements, who have been told by some denomination or denominational statement that they are less than others because of their sexual orientation. I cannot support someone who upholds those doctrines.”
In the Emory Wheel
Josh Noblitt (‘04T), a minister of social justice at Saint Mark United Methodist Church who has worked with the United Methodist Church to create a more welcoming atmosphere for those who identify as members of the LGBT community, said he felt hurt by Fox’s nomination for the award.
“It’s hard for me to want to lift up someone who engages in exclusionary rhetoric,” Noblitt said. “Eddie Fox does not seem to represent the values of Emory University.” According to Noblitt, Fox has spent the past 30 years serving as a barrier to LGBT inclusion within the church.
“He is very firm in his convictions and has shut down attempts to have dialogue over the years with the LGBT community,” Noblitt said. “There is one moment in particular that illustrates his intolerance and unwillingness to talk.”