Jack Jackson ~ Next Steps for Claremont School of Theology

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In 2011 Claremont School of Theology (CST) joined with schools from Jewish and Muslim communities to form a new umbrella academic institution, Claremont Lincoln University (CLU). In creating CLU the partner schools envisioned an institution that would facilitate education and relationships across diverse religious traditions. Last month that experiment in partnership came to an end, and for that I am thankful. Continued relationship with CLU would have diminished CST’s commitments to a broad range of Christian traditions in general, and the United Methodist Church in particular.

There were many dreams for Claremont Lincoln. One of mine was that it would serve as a conduit for the development of deep friendships, co-learning opportunities, and joint vocational projects amongst students, staff, and faculty from a variety of religious traditions. The students in each school under the CLU umbrella would tend to identify with the religious tradition of their home institution. For instance, CST would continue to have mostly Christian students, many of whom were from the United Methodist or Korean Methodist churches. CLU would be a platform for relationship building and learning across traditions. I hoped that the relationships that developed from such a learning model would provide a foundation for people from different religious communities coming together to address both local and global challenges.

Over the last 18 months, it has become clear that my dreams for this particular model for theological education were not to be. During that time, the leadership at CLU has pursued a different direction that focuses on religious awareness in corporate communities. While this direction has some merit, it is not consistent with CST’s heritage or its future as one of United Methodism’s graduate theological schools. Given this divergence of missions, it seems best for both institutions to go their separate ways.

For many years Claremont School of Theology has been grounded in Wesleyan traditions, specifically the United Methodist and Korean Methodist denominations, while at the same time welcoming persons from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions, Christian and otherwise. CST’s mission has always been excellent academic and spiritual preparation of persons for leadership in their community, be it parish ministry or otherwise.

I still believe that critical to that training in the 21st century is developing an awareness of, and relationships with, persons from other religious traditions. Learning from and sharing with persons from other religious traditions, some of whom are quite different and who may even have competing theological commitments, is necessary if our world is to survive, much less thrive in the next century. This hope of developing relationships with persons from other traditions that inspire trust, and an ability to collaborate on important projects, was part of the initial motivation behind CLU.

As Claremont Lincoln University shifts to a corporate and secular focus it’s clear the integrity of the initial vision behind the partnership with CST has been lost. Retaining the partnership with CLU would have trivialized CST’s Christian and Wesleyan commitments.The only responsible choice, then, was to wish CLU well and sever our institutional ties.

My hope is that Claremont School of Theology will continue in its commitment to preparing women and men, both Methodist and otherwise, for leadership in the church and world and in partnership with like-minded educational institutions from other religious traditions. My hope that CLU would prove the conduit for partnerships across religious traditions was short-lived. But the importance of creating communities of learning and relationships where people from very different religious communities, sometimes even with different values and commitments, come together for the betterment of the world is as pertinent today as ever.

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