Some years ago in one of our annual conferences, I led a School of Christian Mission study on interfaith dialogue. At the beginning of the first class, I invited participants to introduce themselves and describe an interfaith experience from their own lives.
Most participants struggled to describe such an [interfaith] experience.
Most participants struggled to describe such an experience. Some stated they had a Catholic friend or a Baptist acquaintance — indeed, an “interfaith” experience for some! — but few knew anyone who was Jewish or Muslim or of any other non-Christian faith.
I remember going back to my room afterwards to revise my lesson plan. I realized we were going to have to start with the basics.
I wish I could sit down with those same people today to learn whether they have had a broader, richer set of experiences in the intervening 15 years. I like to think that by now they have as part of their circle of friends not only people of other Christian denominations, but those of other faiths, as well.
You almost have to try to avoid people who worship and believe differently than you do these days.
After all, the world is becoming a smaller, but more diverse place. You almost have to try to avoid people who worship and believe differently than you do these days.
It’s almost like being part of a 94% white church, which the United Methodist Church is in the United States: It makes no sense. You have to try to be more exclusive than that!
I write this in the context of serving on the Board of Trustees of Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology, a United Methodist-related institution where an exciting new initiative is taking shape. Thanks to a generous gift from fellow trustee David Lincoln, a committed United Methodist from Arizona, a new institution, Claremont Lincoln University, has been established.
Claremont Lincoln University
Three theological schools, Claremont School of Theology, the Academy of Jewish Religion, California, and Bayan Claremont, are now connected to one another through Claremont Lincoln University.
Students at Claremont School of Theology will continue to receive a Christian seminary education and degree, but they will be able to take classes, study and live alongside Jewish and Muslim students. Furthermore, they can enroll in classes offered by the other two schools.
Not only will this help prepare our clergy to provide congregational leadership in a multi-religious world, it is recognition that the old ways of doing things are rapidly becoming obsolete.
Theology of scarcity
I hear it said again and again that we have too many seminaries in The United Methodist Church and that a day will soon arrive when we will not be able to sustain the Ministerial Education Fund. In the larger scheme of things, the amount of money The United Methodist Church spends on seminary education actually is pitifully low, but too many of our denomination’s leaders have allowed themselves to become captive to the theology of scarcity.
The real issue is not expense, but what we desire as the fruits of seminary education for our leaders. As a layperson, I want serious, committed followers of Jesus who are spiritual, biblically knowledgeable, and capable of effectively leading a congregation in a world very different from the one I knew as a child. They must be smart, savvy and sophisticated. I want them to care for me and other congregation members. And I want them to challenge us in a thoughtful, creative and prophetic manner. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
There are a million details being worked out to move the Claremont experiment forward. I’ve appreciated the careful thought and planning that is underway, but mostly I’m grateful that Claremont has the vision and the courage to dare to do a new thing for a new day.