Remembering James J. C. Cox

Remembering James J. C. Cox

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Published:
June 26, 2020

James J. C. Cox

June 12, 1925 — April 13, 2020

James John Charles (“Jim”) Cox was born on June 12, 1925, in Kakanui, New Zealand, the older of the two sons born to James and Janet Cox.

Jim’s life and the Seventh-day Adventist Church were intertwined from an early age. When he was just 15, he spent a year working as a general assistant in the North New Zealand Conference office before heading to Avondale College in Australia to study for the ministry. It was at Avondale that he met, then fell in love with, Alice Cameron. 

From 1946 to 1948, Jim worked as a minister in the Tasmanian Conference (Alice’s home state). From 1948 to 1955, he worked as a minister in the North New Zealand Conference. It was while he worked in Wellington that Jim and Alice’s son, John, was born.

Although Jim was a much-appreciated minister, he had a love of learning and an academic aptitude that made it clear to him that he would find more satisfaction in teaching at a college or university. But to do so, he needed more education. So he, Alice, and John packed up and crossed the Pacific, heading to Walla Walla College, where he quickly fulfilled a few remaining requirements to earn a Bachelor’s degree. 

The family then moved to Maryland, where Jim earned his Master’s degree at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, which at that time was based on the campus of Washington Missionary College (today Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park. Jim taught in the Theology Department at Washington Missionary College from 1957 to 1960.

With Jim having been accepted into a Ph.D. program at Harvard University, the family moved to Massachusetts, where Jim threw himself wholeheartedly into his studies. With his doctorate completed, he once again taught at Washington Missionary College (whose name had changed to Columbia Union College), from 1963 to 1965, when he accepted a call to the Seminary, which had moved to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

From 1965 to 1980, Jim was chair of the New Testament Department at the Seminary, making a positive impact on a steady stream of young people who were dedicating their lives to ministry. He was a much-appreciated professor whose insights opened up whole new understandings for many a student.

In 1980, Jim and Alice crossed the Pacific again, this time headed to Avondale College, where he served as president until 1984. At that point, the Coxes moved back to Maryland, where Jim partnered with long-time friend Jim Londis on a creative outreach project called the Washington Institute. When the project ended, Jim once again joined the faculty of Columbia Union College, where he worked until his retirement in 1991.

Jim and Alice packed up yet again and headed to Florida to enjoy retirement. But the term “retirement” was a misnomer. Jim had energy and expertise that was still in high demand. So he served another five years as academic dean of the newly established Florida Hospital College (now AdventHealth University).

In total, Jim was employed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church for 46 years, starting at age 15 and concluding at age 71. But woven throughout those years, he spent another 10 years in academic study—so he could be more effective in his work for the church. 

Jim’s world was turned upside down when Alice was diagnosed with lymphoma. Despite the wonders of modern medicine, there are still diseases that win the battle. Alice faced just such a disease, meaning that Jim had to bid an earthly farewell to the love of his life.

For the past eight years, Jim has lived with his son, John, who, as his father’s health and independence diminished, played an increasing role as caregiver. Jim passed to his rest on April 13, 2020.

In New Zealand, Australia, the United States and the many countries from which his seminary students came, Jim has enriched lives by giving the gospel deeper meaning and by just being a true friend. 


Tributes:


I think of Jim Cox as a careful, thoughtful, New Testament theologian—someone who carried around his Greek NT and was able to use it skillfully. 

He was not a widely published scholar—largely, I think, because he was a perfectionist and had a hard time being satisfied with his writing. He was gratefully appreciated by his students and was a highly respected colleague. He spent a summer with me on a dig at Hisban in Jordan.

One time, Siegfried Horn was looking back through his diaries and noticed that on a trans-Pacific voyage, he recorded an account of losing a letter he was writing, which blew out of the porthole in a sudden gust of wind. He presumed he’d never see it again. But not much later there was a knock on the door, and there stood a sailor with his letter. “Is this yours?” He asked. “I found it up on the deck!” Horn thanked him for it, asked him his name: Larry Cox, a sailor from New Zealand. 

Rereading this account several years later, he thought, I wonder if Jim Cox had a brother in the merchant marine. So, he went down to his office to inquire. Yes, Jim said, I had a brother Larry who served in the merchant marine in the Pacific. They established that it had indeed been Jim’s brother who Horn had met!

When Jim was president of Avondale, a group of “concerned brethren” paid him a visit. They were from the church’s nearby retirement center. They said they were appalled by the scantily clothed co-eds who were jogging around campus for exercise. Could administration please make sure Avondale students were properly clothed when they ran outdoors! Jim told them: I’ll solve the problem by giving you all new dark glasses!

While Jim was at Avondale, I represented the Seminary there, teaching classes for area ministers. Jim and Alice drove me up to Queensland for appointments and down to Victoria and South Australia. We even took a boat over to Tasmania, where Alice was from. We preached at camp meetings and ministers meetings, and in the process I came to know the Coxes really well. I’ll never forget their hospitality and friendship.

The last time I saw Jim was this past February, the Friday before the beginning of the Spectrum conference. Zdravko Stefanovic asked if he could do anything for us. I said if he really meant that, he could take me over to the Adventist retirement center near Forest Lake Academy where we could find Jim. It took some sleuthing, but we eventually found where he was living with his son, John. 

I rang the bell. John came to the door. I said who I was (I had known John when he was a teenager!). He couldn’t believe it. He said he normally turned away people who wanted to visit his dad, but he knew his dad would want to see me. We went to his room, where he was bedridden. We had a great visit, at the end of which Jim said my visit meant more to him than he could say. I had prayer during which he wept. I’m so glad we made the effort to find him for that last visit.

—Lawrence T. Geraty


We met James J. C. Cox (“Jim”) in 1962 while he was attending Harvard for his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies. Dolores and I were immediately drawn to this soft-spoken, gregarious, and ingratiating New Zealander (and sweet Alice, his Australian wife). Jim seemed unflappable—certainly not given to the New York City behavior poured into me when I was growing up! 

Like other Adventists at Harvard with him, Jim excelled scholastically. Those were heady years for him and for all who made Boston their academic home in the early to mid-1960s. 

When we were colleagues at the Washington Institute in the mid-1980s, it was Jim who was determined to master this thing called the “computer.” So, off to night school he went, finished the course, and built computers for all of us on staff. I was to learn in coming years that he was frugal and a wise administrator and counselor.

Prior to his coming to the Institute, he served as the president of Avondale College in Australia. He told me how many of those with whom he had to deal in his role as college president subscribed to the belief that “compromise” is weakness. In stark contrast, it was Jim’s strong belief that leaders will inspire greater loyalty and ensure a more outstanding performance from those they lead if they avoid the “winner/loser” dynamic. His desire for consensus, his practice of seeking the opinion of others, and his willingness to compromise left some baffled as to why the “boss” wouldn’t just make a firm decision and let the chips fall where they will. 

If Jim had even a hint of combativeness in his personality, you certainly would have never known it, given his extraordinary patience with students and pastors who wanted to challenge his insights into the New Testament. Over the years, pastors who know I was close to Jim have repeatedly told me they loved his classes and appreciated him as a person. No more lofty and complimentary sentiment could be afforded to a professor who loved learning, loved his students, and loved his friends. 

He leaves Dolores and me bereft of someone easy to love who filled our lives with grace.

—James Londis


It has been said that more significant than the learning taking place inside classrooms is the learning that takes place outside classrooms when fellow students discuss what they are learning. It was my providential good fortune to have gone to study at the SDA Theological Seminary at the same time as Jim Cox. I was a twenty-two-year-old who had graduated from Southern Missionary College a month before. Jim was already married and a successful pastor and evangelist both in his native New Zealand and in Australia.

We both were interested in Biblical Studies and were in Greek Exegesis classes with Ronald Loasby, and in Beginning and then Intermediate Hebrew with Leona Running. She had just finished a Master’s degree in Semitic Languages at Johns Hopkins and was beginning work on a Ph.D. One afternoon Mrs. Running took Jim and me to Baltimore to attend a seminar she was taking so we could see what graduate school was like. 

After every Loasby exegesis class, Jim and I would go over the discussions and react to the many humorous sayings Loasby had regaled us with that day. Years later, whenever Jim and I would get together, we would relive the funny anecdotes of Loasby’s classes.

Our paths crossed again when a few years later we were teaching at the Seminary in Berrien Springs. Together with Ted Vick and Gootfried Oosterwall, we were the professors who were getting strong negative reactions from a few students who had the ears of church administrators. When things came to a head, Ted was on Sabbatical at Oxford in his native England, Gottfried and Jim were the wise older men who gave me sound advice as to what to do under the circumstances. 

I remember Jim with a phrase with which he would describe Loasby during our jolly times remembering the time we spent with him learning to become exegetes: He was “a peach of a guy.”

—Herold Weiss


I'm truly grieved to learn of Jim Cox's passing. He provided the barrier that protected the theology faculty during the turbulent days when he was Avondale's president. I was particularly a target, not because I was a center of controversy, but because of my friendship with Des Ford. 

Jim disallowed any sortie onto campus to interrogate us. In other words, he put himself into the firing line. His other achievements included the building of the college church and having faculty in their academic regalia at graduation. He also carefully got us thinking about LGBTQ persons and the gospel of Christ.

My sympathy to all who knew, loved, and respected Jim Cox.

—Norman Young


In January 1981, Dr Jim Cox, accompanied by his wife Alice, officially assumed his duties as president of Avondale College. Both Jim and Alice made their impact, for they operated as a team.

Jim was a great team leader who delegated, trusted his staff, and worked easily with them. He was a model servant leader who shared big-picture dreams and skillfully supported leaders. Alice starred in organizing the painting of a large old wooden fence with glistening white paint, which provided a boundary all the way down the College driveway. She also helped women on campus with Color Me Beautiful workshops.

The big dreams driving Jim included: building a contemporary campus church, which commenced during his term; founding a strong student organization, which commenced early in his first year; building academic excellence for the sake of students and staff, aiming at University status; building a new women’s dormitory with one student per room, which became a reality because of his drive.

Under his leadership, and working closely with Avondale College Foundation, a million dollars was provided to restore the central wooden “chapel” opened when Ellen White lived in Australia and built with timber pit-sawed on the property. It was transformed into a common student centre, offices, and a large community meeting venue.

The Lindy Chamberlain case was in full swing during Jim’s Avondale College administration, and he handled the widely publicized case with diplomacy, expertise, and compassion.

Former students and staff look back on Dr Jim Cox’s administration with pride, admiration, and gratefulness. 

On a personal note, I was an Andrews student from 1974 to 1977. Dr. Cox took a great interest in students—particularly those from Down Under. His class on the Gospel of John was voted by students on several occasions to be the class Seminarians appreciated most. The Bible he most often carried on campus was his Greek New Testament, which he read fluently.

—Alex S. Currie


When I was ordained to the ministry (at Avondale Memorial Church in Australia in December 1980), Dr. James Cox was the speaker for the event, having just arrived to serve as president of Avondale College. 

Although I don’t remember everything Jim said that night, I do clearly remember the two texts that formed the bookends for his brief but powerful message: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). And, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world,” Jesus said in a prayer to his heavenly Father (John 17:18).

Jim’s ordination message was wonderfully simple: Jesus didn’t come to condemn but to bring salvation. And Jesus has called all Christians, especially ministers, not to condemn but to bring salvation.

During the next nearly 40 years, I came to increasingly realize that Jim’s outline of Christianity’s essence wasn’t just the basis for an inspiring sermon; it was the formula by which he sought to live his life.

In the mid-1980s, I was in Maryland working as an assistant editor of the Adventist Review, and Jim Cox and Jim Londis were engaged in an innovative community outreach called the Washington Institute. Jim Cox, a New Zealander married to an Australian, and I, an American married to an Australian, had much in common—plus we both had spent several years in Australia and knew many of the same people. Our friendship grew.

But it was when Jim and Alice moved to Orlando in the early 1990s and became members of Markham Woods Church, where I pastored for 20 years, that Jim became a much-appreciated confidant, highly respected friend, and great blessing to both Leonie and me. 

No pastor ever had a more knowledgeable or more supportive parishioner.

—James Coffin


When Dr. James Cox and his wife, Alice, arrived at Avondale College where he was to be president, they obviously were delighted to be “back home.” 

Students soon discovered that Jim could be found nearly anywhere on the campus—under a shady tree, at a student-convened meeting, worshipping informally in resident hall chapels or at the hub of student chatter, the cafeteria. Jim obviously enjoyed student social events and delighted all by his presence at banquets, celebrations of significant achievements, and on the sporting fields.

The building of a place of worship in the center of the campus was a constant reminder to faculty, staff, and students that God was here. 

Avondale College in the 1980s was a very different campus from Avondale Missionary College in 1895. Student life was busy coping with new technology. Humans had been to the moon and back. Courses were many and varied. Expectations were high. Excitement was in the very air!

Jim and Alice contributed much during their stay in the Great South Land, leaving an indelible mark on the lives of students, faculty, and friends. 

Thank you to both.

—Joan Patrick


I first met Dr. James J. C. Cox in 1962, when he returned from Harvard University to Washington Missionary College (now Washington Adventist University), where I was a theology student. As a former public high school student, I was soon impressed with him as a knowledgeable professor and a genuine Christian gentleman. 

In 1965 we moved to Andrews University at the same time as the Coxes. I was a seminary student and he was a professor of New Testament. Because of unfinished campus housing, we were invited to stay with Jim and Alice until we found a place to live. We got to know the Coxes even better, and both Jim and Alice were very supportive throughout my two years at the seminary.

Through the years, I followed from a distance as he journeyed to Australia and back to Washington D.C. We reconnected when our paths converged in Orlando. He became a member of our Hospice of the Comforter Board of Directors, where his wise counsel was much appreciated. It was very meaningful for me that our Hospice team was able to walk with Jim and Alice through her final illness. That experience deepened our friendship.

We stayed in close contact through Jim’s retirement years, and especially since his stroke. As his son, John, has lovingly cared for his dad, we watched as Jim grew progressively weaker. But as his abilities diminished, I was again inspired as he faced his circumstances with acceptance, grace, appreciation, and gentle kindness. 

I will miss him! But I am left with rich memories of this fine Christian gentleman who it has been my privilege to have shared my journey with. He has made me a better man by witnessing him live his life.

—Robert G. Wilson


When Jim Participated in SDA Kinship’s First Kampmeeting

From about 1958 to 1974, the years when I was 18 through 34, I was a university student—first in Australia, where I earned both a BA Honours in History and a Ph.D., and then at Columbia University in New York City, where I did post-doctoral studies and research, thanks to a Fulbright Travel Grant. 

I was very active in church during those times, but no one there knew the huge burden I was carrying through all those years: I was struggling not to be gay. I pled incessantly with God to change me, and allowed a counselor at my university to put me through a program of aversion therapy. I was extremely lonely, did not have even one gay friend, and felt I could not share my struggle with anyone I knew. 

In the Fall of 1973, I was hired as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, and at the same time was funded handsomely to study tenant-landlord conflict in New York. When I had time for personal reflection, I allowed myself to ask why after all those years my prayers had very clearly not been answered. 

I ultimately concluded that the answer must be that God did not want to change me because he was happy with the way he had made me. That realization opened the way for me to finally accept myself as gay and to look for someone with whom to share my life—except for the fact that I had no idea how to go about doing that. One thought was clear: I wanted an Adventist partner. But how to find him?

In 1976, with that goal in mind, I placed an advertisement in The Advocate, a national gay paper, asking gay Adventists to write to me. I received about 40 replies, all at least 2,000 miles from NYC. In those months two other gay Adventists placed similar ads: we did not know one another, but the unexpected result of those independent endeavors to find Adventist partners was the formation of a support group, SDA Kinship, in California, where most of the replies originated. 

In 1979, the Kinship activists decided that it was time to go expand their geographic horizons, and they planned a national “Kampmeeting” for August 1980 in Arizona. They asked me to be part of the planning team, and I spent some days with them in December 1979. I was not surprised to realize that everyone was asking the same urgent question: Since we seemed to be irretrievably gay, does God accept us as Christians? I suggested that we invite the best Adventist scholars to study that question and to make that the theme of the Kampmeeting. 

When I was given the task of finding those speakers, I asked my Adventist Forum friends for advice, and eventually had commitments from three scholars from the Adventist Seminary, and two pastors, a woman and a man. Jim Cox was the New Testament scholar, and he played a major role in helping the plan reach fulfillment. 

It turned out that none of the Seminary professors had done any study of the big question I posed to them, but all were eager to do so, for they understood our need. Each had agreed to participate, assuming that their decision would be a private one. However, when they realized that three were from the Seminary, they realized that they had to get permission from the General Conference. 

It was here that Jim Cox took the lead: he contacted GC President Neal Wilson and explained the invitations. It was agreed that he and I would meet with Elder Duncan Eva, who was then Wilson’s Special Assistant, at La Guardia Airport. There the GC offered to finance the attendance of all the speakers on two conditions: Kinship must not publish anything that claimed that the GC had “accepted homosexuality,” and Kinship must also agree that Colin Cook, a former pastor who was about to launch a church-funded “change ministry,” attend and be given a speaking slot. I was very happy to finally meet Jim face-to-face at that meeting, and to observe his diplomacy in dealing with Elder Eva.

The Kampmeeting was an amazing experience for everyone present. “The Clergy” (as we called the speakers) were greatly moved by the personal stories of the Kinship members, which were extremely wrenching: indeed, they were dubbed the “horror stories.” Each of the scholars and pastors, in their presentations, told us that God loved and accepted us. To be given that assurance after years of fruitless self-rejection and despair was a huge relief. 

Jim posed the question of how should gay Christians live, and told us that we were called to the same standards as straight Christians: we seek committed, monogamous same-sex relationships, and to create Christian families. He told of a seminary student who had recently counseled with him: When the student had earlier told a counselor that he was sexually attracted to men, he had been advised to pray about it, date a woman, and marry her. However, he had become desperate because the marriage was a month away, and he felt no sexual attraction to his fiancé. It seemed clear that a disaster was imminent. Jim, after contemplating that history, had concluded that for a gay man to enter into a heterosexual marriage was probably a sin. 

“The Clergy” all agreed to give a report to the GC, and to encourage the Church leaders to love and accept their gay children. However, the Church leadership was totally distracted from that report by the fact that the trial of Desmond Ford took place the next week at Glacier View, Colorado. All the male clergy flew from Arizona directly to Colorado for that trial. However, this clergy group became ambassadors for Kinship with the Church. Kinship members had no personal influence at Church headquarters, but the ambassadors did. 

Jim Cox influenced my life profoundly. I have greatly valued our friendship and thank God for him. 

—Ronald Lawson


 

This article was written by James Coffin, a member of the Christian clergy, and executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. The included tributes were compiled by him.

Photo by Tobias Keller on Unsplash

 

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