With the stated goal of helping “solve the world’s big problems,” a seminary of the United Methodist Church is becoming an “inter-religious institution” and will add clerical-training programs for Jews and Muslims this fall.
Southern California’s Claremont School of Theology (CST) — one of 13 official United Methodist seminaries — later plans to create programs for Buddhists and Hindus.
“We’re making history,” Claremont president Jerry D. Campbell said at a June 9 news conference, officially unveiling the school’s embrace of non-Christian religions, a project that has been in the planning stages for several years.
“[We have] a bold and idealistic vision to create the first graduate consortium in the world where Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis, and Muslim imams — and eventually clerics from other religions — will be educated side by side,” Campbell said.
Such joint education will “facilitate love among our different traditions in order that we can begin to solve the world’s big problems,” he said.
|Audio from the June 9 news conference at Claremont School of Theology
President Jerry Campbell (44 seconds)
Najeeba Syeed-Miller (28 seconds)
|Najeeba Syeed-Miller, CST’s first Muslim faculty member, told the news conference that Claremont’s broadened orientation demonstrates a new kind of righteousness.
“We are redefining what it means to be righteous in the 21st century,” she said. “To be righteous is to hold on to the message of pluralism and inclusion.”
Earlier this year, the United Methodist Church’s University Senate, a group that determines which schools meet criteria for being affiliated with the UMC, voted to place Claremont on public warning for failing to “consult fully” with the Senate, the Council of Bishops, and the UM General Board of Higher Education and Ministry regarding “a substantial reorientation of the institution’s mission.” (The Senate also expressed concern about CST’s “failure to transmit the school’s most current audit and management letter.”)
Along with the warning, the University Senate placed a hold on $800,000 from the UMC’s Ministerial Education Fund that had been targeted for Claremont.
CST’s multi-year reorientation plan, recasting the school as “an ecumenical and inter-religious institution,” was approved in March 2008 by the school’s board of trustees. The plan is known as the University Project.
In an April 24, 2010, guest column in a Los Angeles-area newspaper, Sandra N. Bane, chair of the CST board of trustees, stressed that the University Project would not undermine the United Methodist influence at Claremont.
“The School of Theology will be the founding partner of this proposed university, ensuring that a Protestant Christian — and United Methodist — presence will be preserved in the new university structure,” she wrote.
“[CST's] Board of Trustees will remain predominately United Methodist (as it is today) and it will continue to be overseen by a Methodist governance structure.”
Claremont’s board includes two active United Methodist bishops: Mary Ann Swenson of the California-Pacific Conference and Minerva Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Conference. A complete listing of board members is here (PDF).
Mrs. Bane said the goal of the University Project is to “educate leaders and scholars across religious boundaries” so they can later be more effective as community leaders. Future Claremont graduates “will already know how to work across lines of religious difference to improve our neighborhoods and communities,” she wrote.
Longtime CST trustee F. Thomas Trotter, a former general secretary of the UMCs Board of Higher Education and Ministry, fully supports the school’s transformation to an inter-religious institution. He told In Trust magazine last year that Claremont, which has struggled financially in recent years, can thrive by broadening its scope beyond the Christian faith. “The confessional seminary is a dead duck,” he said.
In a July 2009 essay, Riley B. Case, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, argued that Claremont’s move to a multi-faith model should disqualify the school from being an official UM seminary.
“Claremont can obviously do what it wants to do,” he wrote. “But does the United Methodist Church need continually to pour [almost] $1 million yearly into such an institution? Isn’t [the UMC] supposed to be…about winning disciples to Jesus Christ?”
The mission of the United Methodist Church, as stated in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s official doctrinal guide and rulebook, is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (¶120).
The Discipline also notes that the “ultimate concern” of the church’s ministry is “that all persons will be brought into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ” (¶127).
Further, the Book of Discipline states that while “we respect persons of all religious faiths,” the United Methodist Church “affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all” (¶121).
In response to a question at the June 9 news conference, Claremont president Jerry Campbell said he is “guardedly optimistic” that the new inter-faith school will retain its ties with the UMC.
“There will be strains in the relationship anytime we attempt to do anything new and different,” he said. “We’re in the midst of [a] process of working it out.” Campbell noted that “the [UM] Church sent a team to review what we were doing, and that review, in my judgment, went very well.”
He attributed denominational concerns about Claremont to the fact that “education and religion are two things that do not change quickly or easily — and this is requiring a change in both.”
|The UMC’s University Senate will decide at its meeting next week (June 23-24) whether to ask the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry to release the money earmarked for Claremont.
Claremont’s “University Project” is being funded in large part by a $10-million gift from David and Joan Lincoln, members of Paradise Valley United Methodist Church in Arizona.
|More from the June 9 news conference at Claremont School of Theology
Jerry Campbell on implementing Claremont’s new inter-religious model (5 min.)
Q&A re: Claremont’s relationship with the United Methodist Church (2 min.)
“We believe the outcome of this kind of education will be…the ability to better address global problems where religious collaboration and cooperation are needed to reach solutions and repair the world,” David Lincoln said in a Feb. 22, 2010, news release from Claremont.
In a June 10 interview on the Salem Radio Network’s Albert Mohler Program (audio below), Mark Tooley — author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol, 2008) — said CST’s transformation to an inter-faith institution is not surprising, given the school’s theological trajectory over the past 50 years.
Claremont has long been identified with process theology, which “claims that God is constantly evolving and mutating into something different,” Tooley said. “So the fact that [Claremont] would end up in the place of becoming multi-faith and multi-religious is just the logical outcome of where they started.”
The Claremont School of Theology was founded as the Maclay School of Theology in 1885 in San Fernando, Calif. The school moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and was housed at the University of Southern California. It moved to its present location in Claremont, Calif. (east of downtown Los Angeles), in 1957.
In 2006, just weeks after Jerry D. Campbell became Claremont’s president, the school nearly lost its accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges because of lingering financial problems.
Before coming to Claremont, Campbell served for a decade as the Chief Information Officer and Dean of the University Libraries at the University of Southern California. He is a past president of the Association of Research Libraries as well as the American Theological Library Association. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Campbell earned his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Denver.
During the recently concluded spring 2010 semester, the Claremont School of Theology had an enrollment of about 225 full-time and part-time students. Fewer than 100 were United Methodists.
Related articles and information
|•||Seminary announces multifaith project | Joey Butler and Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (June 15, 2010)|
|•||Theology school integrates studies of different faiths | Associated Press via USA Today (June 14, 2010)|
|•||Claremont seminary reaches beyond Christianity | Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times (June 9, 2010)|
|•||Excerpts from a conversation with Mark Tooley, author, Taking Back the United Methodist Church | Albert Mohler Program, Salem Radio Network (June 10, 2010) — Use player below (9 min.)
|•||Methodists, Muslims and Jews: Learning together to lead together | Jerry D. Campbell, On Faith, WashingtonPost.com (June 10, 2010)|
|•||All religions are the same, right? | Bobby Ross Jr., GetReligion.org (June 10, 2010)|
|•||A new paradigm for theological education | Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook (professor, Practical Theology and Religious Education, Claremont School of Theology), Huffington Post (June 9, 2010)|
|•||Can a United Methodist seminary be “interfaith”? | news release, Institute on Religion and Democracy (May 14, 2010)|
|•||Methodist and multi-faith dialogue | Sandra N. Bane (chair, Claremont School of Theology board of trustees), Los Angeles Newspaper Group (April 24, 2010)|
|•||Methodists suspend funding of two seminaries | John Dart, The Christian Century (April 6, 2010)|
|•||University Senate places Claremont, United theological schools on public warning | UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (Jan. 26, 2010)|
|•||University Senate organization, policies, and guidelines — 2009-2012 (PDF) | United Methodist University Senate|
|•||Members of the United Methodist University Senate — 2009-2012 | UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry|
|•||Claremont responds to sanction from the United Methodist Church | news release, Claremont School of Theology (Jan. 29, 2010)|
|•||Being Methodist and multifaith | Jerry D. Campbell, United Methodist Reporter (Oct. 15, 2009)|
|•||Financial crisis inspires new vision at Claremont School of Theology | William R. MacKaye, In Trust magazine (Autumn 2009)|
|•||Why Methodist seminaries are becoming irrelevant and dying | Riley B. Case, Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church (July 2009 — via Methodist Examiner)|
|•||Claremont seminary loses, regains, accreditation | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (Dec. 11, 2006)|
|•||Accrediting ups and downs | Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed (Dec. 27, 2006)|