Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are voicing concerns over the selection of an Emory alumni for a Candler School of Theology award because of his alleged role as an “anti-gay” leader while serving in various governing bodies of the United Methodist Church, according to Jan Love, dean of the Candler School of Theology.
Tennessee native H. Eddie Fox (’62T) was one of three individuals who received the Candler School of Theology’s 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the Church, according to a Aug. 27 University press release. Fox is the world director of World Methodist Evangelism, the organization responsible for worldwide outreach of the church, and the executive director of the Emory-based World Methodist Evangelism Institute.
According to Laurel Hanna, co-director of communications for the Candler School of Theology, Fox is receiving the award for his service as director for both organizations, his work in establishing and strengthening communities in more than 155 countries and his regular engagements with Candler students through visits and seminars.
But some have described Fox as “anti-gay” because of his stance on homosexuality within the church.
As a result, some members of the Emory community want the honor to be rescinded.
Emory Gay and Lesbian Alumni (GALA) announced on Twitter that its steering committee approved a motion opposing the award and recommended that the award be rescinded.
In addition, Candler School of Theology student group Sacred Worth, which serves as the school’s LGBT support and advocacy group, recently posted several messages on Facebook from various members deeply opposed to Fox’s selection for the award.
After voicing objections to Fox’s selection for the Distinguished Alumni Award, members of Sacred Worth and allies met with several senior Candler administrators on Sept. 13. according to Love, who was present at the meeting. Love called the two-and-a-half-hour meeting “the most moving and rich, honest discussion I have had with anyone, anywhere.”
Sacred Worth’s Chaplain, second-year Master of Divinity student Zebulun Treloar, was one of the objectors. Treloar wrote an open letter on the Facebook page to Fox explaining his reasoning for his disapproval.
“I have to stand in opposition to your being awarded an alumni award because of [your] views [on homosexuality],” Treloar wrote. “This is also why I cannot be a part of a church that does not give full inclusion to people of all sexual orientation and gender identities.”
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.”
That moment he refers to is the 2008 Methodist General Conference, where Fox served as a delegate on a committee responsible for changes to the United Methodist Social Principles. Fox’s committee rejected an amendment that acknowledged disagreement regarding homosexuality within the church.
At the 2008 conference, Fox helped author a report stating the church should maintain its official position on homosexuality, which states that while “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God” and the UMC is dedicated to be in ministry with “persons of all sexual orientations,” homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
According to the United Methodist Church’s website, the General Conference is the highest decision-making body in the church and can speak for the entire denomination. Any action taken by the conference is made via revisions to the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of law and the Book of Resolutions, which outlines policies on social issues.
Fox admitted in an interview with the Wheel that the “anti-gay” accusations do not come as a complete surprise, adding, “it makes me sad that people try to separate that singular moment in time from the work of a lifetime.”
In a letter sent to the Candler community yesterday, Love said her meeting on Sept. 13 was a gratifying experience to see students and alumni express affection and support for their education at Candler. It also served as a starting point for future conversations.
“Any award has to grapple with the reality of us all as humans who never measure up to fullness of ideals of community,” she said. “Perhaps in interacting with each other we can hold each other accountable and reach the ideals together.”
According to the Candler School of Theology’s website, the award annually recognizes graduates of the school with noteworthy achievements. Nominations may be submitted by faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the Candler School of Theology.
Nominations for this award then go to the Candler Alumni Board, a 21-member group dedicated to working with Candler administrators, faculty, staff and students to assist with strategic efforts of the school. The board then recommends recipients to the Dean of Candler School of Theology, who makes the final decision.
However, Fox said he does not understand the controversy surrounding his selection.
“I am not alright with being called ‘anti-gay’ at all,” Fox said. “I don’t accept it.”
Love, also a professor of Christianity and World Politics, offered contextual background for the conflict between the LGBT community and the United Methodist Church.
According to Love, every General Conference since 1972 has had contentious debate regarding homosexuality and the church.
“If you look at the history of the debate in the church, it’s a highly charged, highly volatile topic,” Love said. “Fox represents the overwhelming majority of church members, but that number is slowly decreasing.”
Christians in the United Methodist Church and other churches are deeply divided over this issue, and the Candler School of Theology is no different, Love said.
Love said Candler’s commitment to creating a loving atmosphere for all students is sometimes challenged by what she called a divide between deeply held ideological differences.
“Candler’s task is to continue to facilitate an open, vibrant community of conversation created with people who hold stark and different perspectives,” she said. “And then we come together and call it Christian conversation.”
The opportunity to reach those ideals presents itself when senior administrators immerse themselves deeply within the community, Love said, by listening to concerns and providing equal opportunities for all students.
Love said this award is both a chance for celebration of accomplishments and an opportunity to reach deep within one’s own understanding of self and to have dialogue across deeply held differences.
The controversy will have no direct effect on Fox’s award, Love said.
“After careful consideration, I have decided to confer the award on the Rev. Fox.,” Love wrote in her email to the Candler community. “His love of Candler runs deep [and his] characteristics were among the reasons he was recommended for this award and why I believe he should receive it.”
Noblitt is also optimistic about the future and the role that this award will play.
“Regardless of outcome, I think this award has already begun useful conversations within Candler and Emory and will hopefully spill over into the United Methodist Church,” Noblitt said.
Despite the controversy, Fox said he is honored by the award and feels that his actions speak for themselves.
“If you look at our ministry over the years, you can see that this is what it is all about,” Fox said.
The other recipients of the Service to Community Awards were Brian Combs (’06T) and Diane Moseley (’73T).
– By Stephen Fowler