– by Greg Gray –
It has been a busy, stressful week at Candler School of Theology. Not just your usual worship, classes, and tests, but this week the school has been abuzz with discussion, crying, arguing, comforting, and planning all surrounding the Alumni Association presenting a Distinguished Alumni Award to Rev. Eddie Fox at noon on September 27, 2013. For those of you who are unaware, Rev. Fox has worked for many years now at various General Conferences and in his many offices to make certain that The United Methodist Church does not obtain LGBT equality. Needless to say, this award has hurt the faculty, students, and alumni of Candler in the LGBT community along with our allies.
This week I have truly seen both the best and the worst Candler has to offer. While some students try to make this a divisive issue of liberal versus conservative or the more intellectual argument of bringing every theological viewpoint into the debate, many of us have worked to frame the discussion as an issue of personhood. I am a complete, whole child of God, and as I respect you as that I wish for you to give me that same affirmation. So, on Thursday Sept 26th Sacred Worth (Candler’s LGBT Student Group) organized Standing Up for Candler! Sacred Worth Day of Solidarity. Students were asked to wear red to school that day, and it was wonderful to see so many students along with faculty and staff wearing red in class, walking through hallways, and in our chapel service. Even a few of our professors came up to me to apologize for not having a red dress shirt to wear to class, but to offer their support regardless. This is the real Candler!
Today (September 27, 2013) was the day of the awards presentation. Sacred Worth organized a demonstration entitled “Rally for an Inclusive Emory.” Candler holds most of its classes on Tuesday and Thursday; however, reaching out to other students on campus and bringing in family, faculty, and alumni there were between 50-60 in attendance to march, chant, and sing toward full inclusion of LGBT persons in Candler, at Emory, and in the life of all churches. People spoke about their experience with Candler, their exclusion from the church, and how Rev. Fox receiving this award had hurt them causing a significant rift in the Candler community.
One friend pulled me aside this morning saying that he wanted to make a donation to Reconciling Ministries Network. As he reached in his pocket, I could only think that he was going to hand me a check. Instead, he handed me a RMN stole he had worn when he was a member of The United Methodist Church before he left when he could no longer find affirmation as a transgender person. I assured him that I would take it and put it to good use for RMN. Friends, God has work for us to do so that we do not have to keep hearing stories from our LGBT friends, neighbors, and loved ones as they leave our denomination in search of sanctuary in other places.
Our voices were heard today, as the other two award recipients: Brian Combs 06T and Diane Moseley 73T both made affirming comments in their remarks upon receiving their awards. Also, Dean Jan Love asked the audience to come outside and be in conversation with those of us marching. Many did come to speak, and I believe that several healing conversations and many prayers by us and for us took place during this time.
While I am thankful for the words by the award recipients and Dean Love, none of this excuses the decision to give an award to a person who pushes for exclusive policies and by doing so has hurt so many people in the church. I would say that this is simply the beginning, but it is not the beginning. Many amazing people have done incredible work on inclusion for years at Candler. I just hope that this is a catalyst for continued growth in this area. Sacred Worth is leading the charge along with the rest of the Candler LGBT community as we are in continued conversation with administration, faculty, and staff as to how we can move forward as a community to live into our shared core values. Candler says that it is “Real people to make a real difference in the real world.” Well, now is the time for us to make that happen instead of having a nice letterhead. Planning is taking place as we speak for where we go from here and how it is possible to mend the rifts in our community. It is possible! There is discussion of Sacred Worth becoming the next North Georgia reconciling community, the possibility of a larger percentage of LGBT faculty, and regularly scheduled roundtable discussions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity just to name a few. There is much that can be done, and I believe that Candler has a future of hope and full of promise.
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Greg Gray was born into Union Chapel UMC on a small 2-point circuit, is now a member of Monroe First UMC, and serves as the Director of Music at Clarkston UMC. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2008 with an AB in Speech Communication and in 2011 with an AB in Music (Voice), and is studying to obtain a Master of Divinity at Candler School of Theology. He also enjoys serving as the North Georgia Conference vice-chair of Lay Revitalization Ministry and holds a seat on the Conference Leadership Team.