Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Letter to Dean Jan Love of Candler School of Theology Regarding the Distinguished Alumni Award that will be given to the Rev. Eddie Fox

The following is a letter that I sent to Dean Jan Love of Candler School of Theology regarding a Distinguished Alumni Award that will be given to the Rev. Eddie Fox of Tennessee on September 27th.  The Rev. Fox has been an outspoken opponent of the inclusion of homosexuals in the United Methodist Church.  

Dean Love:

I am writing to you as a concerned member of the Candler community, a future alumna of Candler School of Theology, and as an ally of the children of God who identify as LGBTQ .  I am saddened and disappointed to learn that a Distinguished Alumni Award will be given to the Rev. Eddie Fox, an individual who has chosen to stand against the inclusion of homosexuals in the United Methodist Church.  The decision by our institution to honor an individual who has been so vocal, and instrumental, in keeping those who have been marginalized away from the Church sends a disgraceful message of unwelcome to our past, present, and future students who identify as LGBTQ.

Dean Love, I ask that you and the board members responsible for this decision will consider, in addition to the above, the following:
For Candler students who will someday engage in parish ministry, how will this type of association reflect upon us as ministers of the Gospel to our congregations; congregations that will most surely include dear ones who have been turned away from the Lord's Table because of their sexuality? 
How will honoring Rev. Fox be perceived by future students who are considering Candler School of Theology?
Will Candler choose to honor someone who stands so defiantly against the inclusion of ALL God's CHILDREN in the body of Christ? 

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. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this communication.  It is my hope that you, and those responsible for this decision, will choose to deliver the message of radical welcome that was exhibited by our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ by rescinding your decision to bestow this award.

God's Peace.
Karen Stephenson Slappey

"'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."


  1. Dear Karen,

    I'm not sure if you remember me, but I'm pretty sure we have met. I'm the one that came to the Candler discussion about Chick-Fil-A to stand in support of the Conservative Evangelical population at Candler (not to be confused with the Moderate Evangelical population, of which I am a proud, card-carrying member).

    First off, let me note that there is a Conservative Evangelical population at Candler. You might not like it. You might disagree with them. But they are still there. I went to Candler because I appreciate all different view points. I had a strong desire to learn how one person can say that homosexuality is against biblical teachings while another can say that this statement is ridiculous. Yet, both call themselves Christ followers. How can that be so? How can this not be confusing? I wasn't sure before I came to Candler, but that's why I went. I don't think Candler is perfect in this regard, and your post does nothing if not highlight the fact that the Candler population still has a long way to go when it comes to accepting the viewpoints of others. While it is necessary for a conservative Candler student to keep quiet when it comes to certain issues, it is also just as necessary to accept a liberal stance on these issues if you're going to speak up, for fear of being reprimanded in the classroom by colleagues. I wish, hope, and pray that the more theologically "liberal" or "left of center" students will gain an appreciation to first try and understand the beliefs of the conservative students before posting blogs such as yours.

    My point being, Rev. Fox does represent Candler students. No, he does not represent all of them, but he does represent some. Even our well-respected and beloved professors like Dr. Johnson, Bishop White, and even Dr. Love herself (just to name a few) can say the same--they agree with some students, but not all. They try their best to engage a conversation between multiple viewpoints, and that is why we love them. To say that Rev. Fox, because he does not agree with your views or even the majority of the student population's views (although, that is debatable) does not deserve an award is a little far-fetched. If we never gave awards to people who disagreed with us, we would have very few awards given.

    I further find issue with you saying that Rev. Fox "stands against inclusion of all God[s] children into the body of Christ." And not just for your typo. When has Rev. Fox said that he would kick out homosexuals from his church? When has Rev. Fox said that homosexuals are to be left out from the body? And furthermore, can we even define "homosexual" so that we are standing on the same ground? Must one simply have homosexual leanings, or must one be currently practicing. Is one who is homosexual and in a committed relationship ok, or are they also to be kicked out of the church? All of these represent questions that people of all different theological positions are debating, and none of Rev. Fox's statements (as you have provided in your articles, at least) address these questions.

    The only thing I see Rev. Fox saying is that there are some within the United Methodist Church and outside of the United States that would be confused by taking out a statement regarding homosexuality. Who I see is a man who is representing a minority that is unable to speak for themselves as strongly. How is this not representing the marginalized?

    If you do find something stating that Rev. Fox is standing at the front doors of his church with a "No Gays Allowed" sign, then please, by all means post it here. Otherwise, what I see is a man who is attempting to represent the marginalized and a woman who disagrees with him for doing so.


    Amy Hutchison, 13T

    1. Amy:
      (response part 1)
      There are many directions I could go in responding to you, but I think it might be easiest to start by asking you a few questions: Have you have ever sat across from someone who has been asked to step down from their position of worship leader, Sunday school teacher, or as a member of church council because of their sexuality? Have you ever broken bread with the parent of a homosexual teen-aged boy and listened to them cry as they told the story of how people in their church were now treating she and her son differently because he "came out"? Have you listened to the story of someone who was raised in the Methodist Church replay the memory of how they were asked by a pastor not to come back to church because she and her female partner weren't welcome there any longer? While you say that Rev. Fox has never kicked anyone out of his church or said that a person should not be part of the body, this may be true; however publicly proclaiming that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching isn't exactly laying out the welcome mat. In fact, the manner in which the Rev. Fox has worked within the UMC to maintain its stance regarding homosexuality in the Book of Discipline could be equated with slamming the church door in the face as someone who identifies their sexuality as anything other than heterosexual (i hope that the last sentence will also serve to clear up any lingering confusion regarding how homosexuality is defined).

    2. (part 2)
      Regarding the issue of liberal versus conservative voices at Candler: Let me say that homosexuality is not a liberal, moderate, or conservative issue. Someone's sexuality identity cannot be placed into a political category. Now, if you would like to discuss hermeneutical cherry-picking we can do that, but my letter to Dean Love was not written so that my liberal voice could be heard. My letter to Dean Love was written so that the details surrounding this award could be brought to light for my colleagues, and so that the board bestowing the award could be given the opportunity to reconsider a decision that goes against the very grain of how we are being taught to engage with the world as future leaders of the Church. Rev. Fox does, indeed, represent everyone who is associated with Candler, past, present, and future. When this institution decides to designate someone as distinguished it is done so by the community as a whole. And when the person being honored has been at the fore of a movement that would keep members of the LGBTQ population from being in full communion with the UMC, it is a reflection upon all of us. I’m not saying that the Rev. Fox should be kicked out of the church nor have his status as an elder revoked, but I am saying that his stance on issues of equality and reconciliation are not in keeping with the tenets that have been put forth, in writing, by the Candler School of Theology and Emory University.

    3. (part 3)
      In closing, Amy, I would like to extend my personal apology to you for the negative experiences that you had while you were a student at Candler when you feared reprimand for sharing a differing points of view from that of your classmates. I know a bit about being the minority opinion in a conversation. I’m not sure that you caught this, but in my “about me” blurb I describe myself as “that blue dot in the midst of the political red sea that is North Georgia.” I hold my beliefs in tension and conversation with people with whom I disagree. The reality that I am the lone voice of opposition does not stop me from speaking. I hope that you continue to speak as well.
      Amy, I welcome any further discourse in which you might like to engage. Perhaps over coffee? Thank you for your thoughts.

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    6. Karen,

      It's taken me a while to respond to this for many reasons, partially because it is so heated (and a lot of us alums have said we shouldn't really care anymore but still do), and partially because while you have good points, I respectfully disagree and I don't think we're arguing from the same playing field.

      You have asked me a lot of questions, some of which I will answer publicly and some I will not. Let me be clear of my background, first of all. I am a second (or third, or fourth, depending on how you look at it) career minister. I was, in college, not what you would call a Christ follower. I hung out at bars and had many *cough* boyfriends. I was looked down at by "good Christians" who had good, moral, sexual ethics and who disapproved of my lifestyle. I get what it feels like to be looked down upon by those that feel like I'm doing things against the Bible.

      You see, you asked me a lot of questions that assumed a lot of things about me. You assumed that I don't have gay family members (which I do, 4 to be exact). You assumed that in my 3 years at Candler, I stayed far away from people who identified as LGBTQ. I can assure you that I did not. You assumed that I did not have conversations with them about how difficult it is for them navigating the Methodist system, coming to Christ in prayer about their sexuality, and even about their love for their partner/spouse. I would hope that any one of these persons would tell you that I came to them with a listening ear, because that is who I want to be.

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    8. No, I am not gay. I do not understand what it means to have to come out to your parents or even to wrestle with what Christ's desire for your life is in this area. And for this reason, I choose not to either publicly support or condemn homosexuality as a practice (although, I do support loving anyone who does identify as LGBTQ and do condemn those who come up against them as children of God.) Point being, I do not feel as if I can speak for the LGBTQ population, and I am glad that you and others feel that you can.

      I can, however, speak for someone who has been convicted of a different sexual ethic than many at Candler. I do believe in waiting until marriage. I do believe in boundaries that include not riding in cars with married men, not being alone in an office with no window with my married boss, and special care with my married male parents. And I do believe the line in the Book of Discipline that states that there should be faithfulness in heterosexual marriage. I also happen to be confused about why that line doesn't include homosexual marriage as well.

      My problem with the rhetoric that is surrounding Rev. Fox's award is that this man is still a child of God, just as you and I are. This man is still someone who has committed his life to the glory of God. He's not perfect. Neither are you or I. But in attempting to be an inclusive community, you and others have determined that excluding Rev. Fox from the community for his sexual ethics means that you are being more inclusive. This is such a huge, gaping, logical fallacy that means we are no longer having discussions on equal footing. Do you see how by attempting to be more inclusive and more loving of some of God's children, you are publicly ridiculing another?

      More than that, as I said earlier, the reason I came to Candler was because I thought it was a place that was open to all viewpoints. You have made a decision to publicly affront one of our own's viewpoint, which is your own prerogative, just as I have made a decision in return to publicly respond to that. The beautiful thing is, we all have a right to our own viewpoints. We can disagree. And I don't think that offering Rev. Fox an award means that Candler is being less inclusive, in fact, if anything Candler is being more inclusive. It doesn't change whether or not Candler will continue supporting those that identify as LGBTQ in a theological education. It only states that those that are opposed to that are also welcome at Candler. That is what true inclusivity means.

  2. Ouch! Amy, are you really implying that Karen intends to marginalize global Christians who support upholding the UMC's position by expressing her disagreement with Reverend Fox's public statements and stance? If so, I have a few questions for you:

    1) What's your advice to LGBTQ Christians in other parts of the world who are part of the UMC? Do you really think that Fox's position contributes to their being full members of the body of Christ and Karen's contributes to their marginalization? Do you really think they exercise ecclesial, social, or political power sufficient to marginalize their fellow Christians who would support death or imprisonment for homosexuals (at worst) or name them as sinners (at least) in their own cultural contexts?

    2) Do you really think that religious leaders in the UMC worldwide (outside of some parts of the US or Europe) are being marginalized because they condemn homosexuality or homosexuals? Do you really think they are paying a price by holding to a position exactly like the one Fox propounds? How, exactly?

    3) Do you really think that criticizing Candler for its decision to honor Fox necessarily disrespects and marginalizes Methodists around the world who would hold to the current UMC positions on homosexaulity? Is it not possible that someone like Karen could stand in solidarity with Christians around the globe on a whole host of issues while still raising a critique to Candler on this particular issue?

    I am an alumnus of Candler, a current faculty member at Emory, and an out gay man. I support Karen's efforts and applaud them. She has not said that Reverend Fox needs to face any kind of reprimand from the UMC for his stated positions even though she clearly disagrees with them. She does not threaten breaking communion with him as some who have stood with Reverend Fox (but not necessarily Reverend Fox himself) have done during these debates.

    What she has said-- and I agree with her-- is that Candler need not single him out for recognition and an award in light of those positions. Stating that does not implicate Karen (or others holding to similar positions) in the marginalization of those who disagree with her.

    John Blevins, ThD 2005

    1. Dr. Blevins:
      Thank you for your kind words and engagement in this conversation.

    2. Nicely said John, thank you for your cogent and faithful leadership.

  3. Karen, thank you for your letter and for your courage. Amy, thank you for making us think. Dr. Blevins, thank you for your thoughtful response.

    While I do not find statements where Dr. Fox has supported the "kicking out" of LGBTQ people from the church, he has long supported policies which are currently excluding and removing them from the clergy. This, in my opinion, is opposed to Candler's commitment to educate LGBTQ clergy, past, present and future.

    Furthermore, I have a difficult time seeing how, as Dr. Fox's views are codified in the current Book of Discipline, he is representing a marginalized population. Finally, Judicial Council decision 1032 does allow a pastor to refuse membership to a "practicing" (an insulting term: are celibate heterosexuals referred to as "non-practicing"?) LGBTQ person - a decision made based (in part) upon current church law related to homosexuality, which Dr. Fox vehemently supports and seeks to maintain.

    Dr. Fox is being honored for his "service to the church." While I have no doubt that he has indeed served the body of Christ, I also find him guilty of breaking the first General Rule: "Do no harm."

    1. atew24:
      Thank you for your thoughts.