UPDATE: Emory’s Candler School of Theology defends honoring anti-gay reverend

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.

Many at the conference wanted the UMC to at least adopt a statement that the church is divided on the issue of homosexuality. 

From the United Methodist Reporter story:

In presenting the minority report, however, the Rev. Eddie Fox said that any United Methodist statement on human sexuality needs to be “clear, concise and faithful to biblical teaching.”

Leaving out the statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” would be confusing, especially for members of the church outside the United States, Fox said.

“I have seen and experienced the pain and the brokenness in parts of our global movement whenever our church has failed to hold fast to this essential teaching of the Holy Scripture,” he said.

The delegates’ action prompted a coalition of gay advocacy groups immediately to stage a silent vigil outside the Fort Worth Convention Center. Members of Soulforce, Affirmation, Reconciling Ministries Network and Methodist Federation for Social Action lined the entrance as delegates returned from a dinner break.

In 2009, Fox was again at the forefront of keeping in place the 1972 policy that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible. 

“I believe that the position of our church is faithful to Christian teaching,” said Fox at the time.

“We are called to faithfulness to the covenant which is expressed in the Discipline of the United Methodist Church,” Fox said.

In her open letter to students, Love reiterated Candler’s and Emory’s belief in full inclusion of LGBT people.

“Candler not only adheres to all Emory University policies on inclusion but we also fully welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons into our community as we do any other students, staff and faculty,” Love stated.

“In addition to welcoming LGBT persons into the larger community, Candler provides support for student, staff, and alumni groups that are organized specifically to create community for LGBT persons and initiates dialogue on LGBT concerns within classrooms and co-curricular activities. Candler promotes and celebrates the fullness of community we seek to cultivate for all people,” Love stated.

After thoughtful consideration, Love said she decided to honor Fox because he inspires people around the world with his “deep dedication to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Love offered.

“Candler is dedicated to vigorous and thoughtful dialogue as a means of understanding ourselves, our faith, and each other,” Love stated in the letter. “I look forward to further productive conversations and Candler’s commitment to inclusion and to the process of engaging deeply held differences within the Christian family, both of which are instruments for accomplishing our mission and educating faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries in the world.”

Love noted in her letter that the UMC position on sexuality is a “volatile” subject, as it is within many denominations. 

“As with most Christian denominations, few subjects are more volatile within the United Methodist Church than that of human sexuality. The UMC has debated the topic at every General Conference since 1972. The General Conference, which meets once every four years, is the highest decision-making body in the UMC and the only one that can speak for the entire denomination,” she wrote.

“The actions taken by the legislative body result in a revision of the Book of Discipline, which is the denomination’s book of law, and the Book of Resolutions, which outlines policies of the denomination on current social issues.”

Love continued: “The UMC declares ‘homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.’  The UMC prohibits its clergry from presiding at LGBT marriages or commitment ceremonies and bars ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual persons’ from being ordained or serving as clergy. The UMC expects its clergy to be ‘celibate in singleness’ or faithful in a heterosexual marriage.”

Emory’s LGBT students and faculty have a history of fighting against anti-gay policies, people — and restaurants. Earlier this year students organized and were successful in having Chick-fil-A booted from campus food court after its president, Dan Cathy, announced publicly he was very much opposed to same-sex marriage because it went against Biblical values. Faculty members were also very much involved in voicing their distaste for Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay ways.

UPDATE 9/20: The Emory Wheel, the campus newspaper, reports on the controversy of Fox’s selection. The full story is a good read and you can check it out by clicking here.

In the Emory Wheel story, Fox said the accusation of being “anti-gay” did not surprise him but it made “sad that people try to separate that singular moment in time from the work of a lifetime.”

Fox also told the Emory Wheel, “I am not alright with being called ‘anti-gay’ at all. I don’t accept it.”

Josh Noblitt, minister of social justice at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, an alumni of the Candler School of Theology and who is openly gay, told the Wheel he didn’t believe Fox represented Emory’s values.

“He is very firm in his convictions and has shut down attempts to have dialogue over the years with the LGBT community,” Noblitt told the Wheel.

Photo: Rev. Dr. H. Eddie Fox (via cnumc.org