Garfield Bromley Oxnam
|Born||August 14, 1891|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Died||March 12, 1963(aged 71)|
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Bishop, university administrator|
|Children||Robert Fisher Oxnam|
Garfield Bromley Oxnam was born in Los Angeles in August 14, 1891. His father was a mining engineer and instilled in his son a conservative theology. Oxnam embraced these beliefs in his youth, even describing socialism as "the biggest idiocy ever presented to the public." However, in his early 20s Oxnam gravitated towards Dana W. Bartlett and the movements of the Social Gospel.
Oxnam's political tendencies moved further left at the University of Southern California. Under the tutelage of Progressive teachers Emory S. Bogardus, Rockwell D. Hunt, and James Main Dixon, Oxnam was encouraged to apply his knowledge of social issues in real life settings in Los Angeles. Oxnam became a volunteer Housing Inspector for the Los Angeles Housing Commission and ventured through the poorest districts of Los Angeles, a city that falsely proclaimed to have no slums. He took copious notes from his field work and vowed to use the power of the Church to eradicate the slums in Los Angeles.
He graduated from the University of Southern California in 1913 and from the Boston University School of Theology in 1915. He was ordained in 1916 and then headed west to briefly run a church in California's Central Valley. However, he felt a strong desire to return to his hometown  and eventually presided over the Church of All Nations, a multiethnic Church in Downtown Los Angeles. Through Oxnam's personal surveys, the Church of All Nations was comprised more than 46 nationalities. Oxnam's unprecedented fight for racial inclusion spearheaded the fight for immigrant worker rights in the ethnically diverse Los Angeles. He said the Methodist Church, which preached for greater racial integration, did not do enough in practice to further this cause.
Oxnam advocated for the Americanization of immigrants, but he fought with local Los Angeles organizations like Colonel Leroy Smith and the Better America Foundation over what Americanization truly meant. To Oxnam, the concept of Americanization went far beyond the Better America Foundation's narrow patriotic rhetoric, it embodied the education for citizenship based on social justice and workers' rights. This idea meant great potential strength for unions and collective bargaining rights because it would reduce the ethnic divisions between workers.
Oxnam, seeing an opportunity to improve the lives of Los Angeles citizens, ran to be on the Los Angeles Board of Education in what became an intense symbolic battle between the workingman of Los Angeles and its conservative business owners. Oxnam was even accused of instigating a plot to "sovietize the public schools" in response to his declaration that teachers' opinions should be involved when they were making policy decisions. He ultimately lost the election as a result of slanderous accusations by the Los Angeles Times and the Better America Foundation, which were later used as evidence by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Oxnam left Los Angeles to be a professor of social ethics at Boston University in 1927. One year later he became president of De Pauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, where he was popular among students because he permitted dancing. As President he achieved a high level of national and international recognition, bringing DePauw unprecedented public attention. He stepped down as president upon his election as bishop in 1936, but still remained a prominent public figure. He advocated for progressive Church measures like Christian unity. He said on national television:
Oxnam also took slightly controversial positions against the Cold War. He opposed compulsory military training and the military reserves in peacetime for fear of how the rigors of military training and life can affect a man's thinking and philosophy. He also opposed the use of the atomic bomb by saying "There is something morally wrong with a weapon who destroys humanity."
He was accused of being a communist by Donald L. Jackson and appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee on July 21, 1953. He was extensively questioned about his communist sympathies and his relations with other accused communists. At this time, many of the false accusations from his campaign for the Los Angeles School Board resurfaced as evidence against him. Oxnam repudiated these accusations and offered counter evidence to disprove accusations that he was related with the Industrial Workers of the World and had spoken at rallies with various radicals.
In 1958, Bishop Oxnam was successful in helping to found the School of International Service (SIS) at American University, the national Methodist university in Washington, D.C. In that effort, Oxnam was able to convince the General Conference of The Methodist Church to contribute over $1 million for the school's creation. The founding of the SIS was part of a vision held by Oxnam to create an academic institution "pledged to the study, proclamation and practice of the principles of freedom and the maintenance of civil, economic, and religious liberty by training competent and consecrated men and women for the international service of the state, the community and the church."
Bishop Oxnam was also responsible for the relocation of Westminster Theological Seminary from Westminster, Maryland to a location in Washington, D.C. on land belonging to American University. Once relocated, the seminary was renamed Wesley Theological Seminary.
Bishop Garfield Bromley Oxnam of the Methodist Church died here last night in the Burke Foundation Rehabilitation Center. He had undergone surgery in New York last December for Parkinson's disease. He was 71 years old and lived in Scarsdale.