Candler School of Theology to Honor Anti-Gay Minister: An open letter to Dean Love

Candler School of Theology to Honor Anti-Gay Minister: An open letter to Dean Love September 20, 2013

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.”

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110 responses to “Candler School of Theology to Honor Anti-Gay Minister: An open letter to Dean Love”

  1. I hope you manage to convince him to rescind it, even if it seems unlikely.

    God is love. Those who preach hate are furthest from God…

  2. I have a small sense of how insulting and contradictory this award for Eddie Fox is. So I understand my concerns about the reaction to the award come from a different perspective, yet I believe it still worth sharing. I personally am also very saddened and troubled by what appears to me to be a cycle of hostility and lack of grace.

    I’m also wondering what the standards are for being able to affirm someone’s wonderful work, in the midst of their imperfections. Are Catholics out because they often don’t support female clergy? Are Republicans out because they often don’t support reproductive choice? Are the rich out? Are white people out? Is there a liberal purity test they must pass to receive affirmation, honor, or encouragement from a liberal institution, from a liberal?

    I fear progress has been hindered, and walls have been widened.

    • That is a great question Karl and I appreciate you taking the time to lift up your concern here. You shown both faithfulness and grace in your gentle push back.

      That said – I do not think it is unrealistic for me, other LGBT people and our allies to feel a little holy anger about our alma mater honoring a man whose ministry has included very intentional efforts to maintain our second class status. It does not mean that we believe his work in other fields has not been good for those he served but it does mean that we believe that an institution that claims to be affirming (I have heard it with my own ears) to choose to bestow honor on a man whose work in one area is dishonorable and counter to the Gospel.

      I do not have to tolerate intolerance any more.

    • Actually Karl. I’ve thought about this a bit more and I’m not sure you understand how you sound to my ears but I think it is important to tell you you that every time a seemingly well intentioned person, especially when they are clergy, asks me to be a little more tolerant, play a little sweeter and wait a little longer, I read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

  3. Kimberly,
    As a ’87 graduate of Candler I was shocked to read of this “honor” to be given to Fox. I came to Candler from a baptist background and credit Candler and her wonderful professors for opening my eyes and heart to a world and a view of the gospel I had never imagined. And now I see that instead of progressing forward, they have crept backward. This is indeed sad news.
    On a bright note, I am glad you, like myself, found your way to the UCC.

    Thank you for your letter and your courage.


    Rick Riedel

  4. A repeated reminder that the UMC will accept our tithes, our talents, and our time, but not accept our person. Really regrettable regarding Candler– and I thought it was more progressive geven its marriage policy in the chapels and other work. At my current UM theological school our largest problem is simply apathy on this issue.

  5. Everyone is, in their nature, “incompatible with christian teaching” until we are saved and restored. Sad to see that the teachings of the bible are now secondary to an agenda of inclusion. Jesus didn’t mind offending and challenging people at the core of who they thought they were.

    • Bless your heart, that is the saddest thing I have read in a long time. I am sorry you are locked in a fearful relationship with the God who created you and loves you so very much. I hope you find healing from the spiritual damage that has been done to you by others who have been told the lie you just repeated.

  6. Kimberly Knight, your witness of faith has helped sustain me in my own weak faith from the time you were a student and I was a new professor at Candler. You impressed me with your passion, compassion, and courage on a whole host of issues and your ongoing commitment to make the church relevant to the world today.

    Today, as I read this post (I’m one of your stalker readers, coming regularly to read your posts but never commenting), I was touched by words that spoke directly to my own experiences in the three years I was at Candler as an out gay professor who refused to play by the unwritten rules of lesbian and gay faculty and senior staff who live in the glass closet of knowing winks, closeted affirmations, and deafening silence in public. Candler had created that schizophrenic way of being as the norm for dealing with the position of the UMC in a university that has stated policies in opposition to that position. It was, and is, crazy-making. I rejoice to see your testimony on these pages offering an alternative to such soul-robbing tradeoffs and to witness the ways in which you wonderfully speak Good News. You are a witness… in more ways that you can imagine.

    I hope that those now at Candler will be part of a new vision of Christian life and faith in which LGBT folk are no longer encouraged to accept the kinds of choices offered to you and that those who encourage them to make such choices no longer feel smug that they are accepting and courageous by offering them. I hope that we all find courage to refuse such bargains and find ways to live with one another as Christian sisters and brothers in more honest ways. At the point when that vision becomes real, please know of your contributions in bringing it to be. Blessings.

    • John,

      I am not sure I have sufficeint words to express my gratitude for your comment and your profound ministry in the world. Please know that your wisdom and witness have been beacons for me in many, many ways.

      Grace and peace,

  7. Disgusting and Deplorable! Rev. Dr. H. Eddie Fox is the United Methodist version of Scott Lively (Abiding Truth Ministries). For his worldwide promotion of hatred, bigotry and discrimination, he should be censured and stipped of all credentials… Not Honored!

  8. The statement you made about pursuing formation through lies and fear is really important. As we should have learned from Dr. King, the ends don’t justify the means, rather the means determine the ends. If we encourage lies, deception, division, and fear as means to achieve spiritual formation, what will be formed can only be false, divisive, and monstrous.
    Honesty, openness, unity, and peace are requisites for Christian formation. I would have thought the folks at Emory understood this.

    • Thank you Michael. I’ve thought, prayed and written about this kind of formation and keep on working on what it has meant in my life and the life of my children.

  9. H. Eddie Fox is being honored for service to a church that he has been, through his push for exclusive language, working to divide since 1972.