(Photo: United Methodist News Service)
The United Methodist Church has rescinded its warning against a Southern California seminary.
Claremont School of Theology was placed on public warning earlier this year for reorienting its mission to offer clerical training to not only Christians but also Muslims, Jews and eventually those of other faiths.
Funds toward the UMC-affiliated school were suspended in February while an institutional review took place.
UMC's University Senate – the sanctioning body that determines which schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The UMC – decided last week that Claremont will retain its denominational affiliation and that embargoed funds will be reinstated. The announcement was made Friday.
"We are extremely pleased that the University Senate has affirmed our School and our mission," said Claremont President the Rev. Dr. Jerry D. Campbell.
"I think that the review came about in the first place because some people were worried that we were turning a United Methodist-related seminary into something very different," he added. "But we were able to show the review committee that we have no such plans."
Campbell officially announced to the public earlier this month that Claremont would be establishing a multireligious university, separate from the School of Theology. Under the University Project, Claremont has partnered with Jewish and Islamic schools to offer students shared classes beginning this fall. The new effort is aimed at fostering interreligious understanding and cooperation. Students will be trained in their own religious traditions but also have the opportunity to learn of other faiths at the respective schools.
Following the announcement, concerns were raised that the Methodist school was compromising Christianity.
Prominent evangelical Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., who is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., denounced the school's new project as another step along a leftward progression set decades ago.
"Liberal Protestantism long ago grew embarrassed by the exclusive claims of biblical Christianity and the historic Christian faith," Mohler said in a commentary. "Adopting pluralist and inclusivist reconstructions of the faith, liberal theologians and theological schools have been pressing the margins for over a century now. Given that trajectory, a multifaith theological seminary was an inevitability – the only question was when and where it would happen."
In an attempt to clear up misconceptions, Claremont maintained that they are not watering down Christianity but rather, taking "Christ's commands to be peacemakers and to love our neighbor as ourselves seriously."
"If you come here as a United Methodist, we believe you will leave here as a much wiser United Methodist, someone who understands his or her neighbors, which in California and much of the world is a multicultural and multireligious mix."
The Methodist school further stressed that students will not be asked to "check their beliefs at the door."
"Rather, we are simply asking them to show respect, honor, and love to each other in spite of their differences, in order to learn how to work together to solve the world’s problems. This fits in well with each group’s faith traditions of loving ones neighbor and practicing the Golden Rule."
The school added, "We must develop new ways of being Christian, and educating Christian leaders, for a very different global and migratory environment."
During the on-site inspection by the Methodist Senate, Campbell remained optimistic that the school would work things out with the denomination. Still, receiving the news that their ties with the UMC would remain as is came as "a big relief" to Campbell.
Claremont School of Theology says it will continue to educate Christian leaders for service to the church, academy and the world. At the same time, its new "evolving university" will welcome and embrace adherents of other religions to its faculty, staff and student body and reflect the "multireligious context of today's world."