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Guilfordians grapple with Christian peacemaker’s violent death

by Amy Kingsley

On March 15, friends and admirers of Tom Fox gathered to express anger. The next day several of them met again ‘— to celebrate his life.

Members of Greensboro’s Quaker community and others who knew Fox have struggled with conflicting and complicated emotions since officials identified the body of the peace activist on March 10. Fox had gone to Iraq as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams to stop the war and ended up perishing at the hands of the Iraqis he hoped to help.

He went following the faith that every human being has an inner light, a fraction of the divine within him or her. Although he embodied that light, he was not able to reach the goodness inside his captors, speakers said.

‘“We have to face the reality that although we can appeal to that of God in others, some will not respond,’” said Frank Massey, the gifts discernment coordinator at Guilford College. ‘“No one is born good or evil, we choose under which influence we will live our lives.’”

Fox, according to all accounts, chose good. Jesse Ceitel, a junior at Guilford College, knew Fox since childhood from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

‘“Tom had a way of guiding children to meaningful activities,’” Ceitel said. ‘“He really seemed to care about everyone.’”

The panel discussion held March 15 at Guilford College featured speakers and attendees eager to discuss how Fox’s death contradicted their religious convictions.

Jane Redmont, a professor of religious studies, reminded participants of the deaths of Catholic nun Ita Ford and priest Oscar Romero in El Salvador.

‘“Remember that whoever chooses for the poor sets his fate with the poor,’” Redmont quoted Romero.

She reminded the crowd filling Boren Lounge that those who die walking in the way of Christ are always present.

‘“I would like to honor Tom Fox even as we ache and weep for the loss of his precious and gentle life by saying simply: he lives,’” she said.

Bill Rogers, retired president of Guilford College, spoke about suffering, a component of religion often overlooked by leaders who stress love and celebration.

‘“We experience suffering right and left,’” Rogers said. ‘“Sometimes we rise above it and live in frivolity and love and hope. But those things are shallow if we don’t follow our higher calling ‘— caring for one another.’”

Fox did care for others, and although he did not live in Greensboro, he affected the community where his daughter attended college. His sacrifice has not disheartened those who share his faith; it has inspired them.

‘“One of the most beautiful things about Tom Fox was how he internally disarmed,’” said Eric Mortensen, aprofessor of religious studies. He spoke about the culture of vengeance, citing examples from the death penalty to Disney films.

On March 16, a memorial service for Fox was held at the New Garden Friends Meeting. In the tradition of friends, it commenced with a period of silent reflection.

Guilford Campus Minister Max Carter opened with excerpts from Romans and the Book of John. Massey followed with a few words about Fox.

‘“Part of our job now is picking up the mantel,’” Massey said, ‘“being that vessel of universal, unconditional love.’”

Several of the 40 people attending the service spoke about how Fox changed their lives, whether they knew him or not. One woman rose and sang a stirring hymn.

Massey applauded the decision by Christian Peacemaker Teams to send another group of activists to Baghdad while Fox and three others were help captive. Many attendees, including Ceitel, shared the belief that peace activism should continue despite the threat of violence.

‘“It’s made me more willing to follow a lead into social activism,’” Ceitel said.

In the end, it is not Fox’s fate that people should remember, but the ideals he embodied, Rogers said.

‘“An act of love that fails is just as much a part of God’s plan as an act of love that succeeds,’” Carter said. ‘“Because love is measured by its own fullness and not its reception.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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