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Extreme diversity

Religion | Methodists create a multi-religious school to train pastors

Issue: "Food stamps surge," Nov. 19, 2011

The liberalization of American seminaries is an old story. The inauguration of "the world's first interreligious university" is not.

The Claremont School of Theology is collaborating with the Academy for Jewish Religion in California and the Islamic Center of Southern California to produce Claremont Lincoln University, an ambitious endeavor to train religious leaders for a multi-religious world. The member institutions of the consortium will still ordain the pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams, but the university will offer a concentration on interreligious studies as well as master's and doctoral degrees.

As Philip Clayton, provost of the new university, explained in a symposium on the future of seminaries, "We are in the midst of the biggest change in American religiosity since the founding of this country." Interreligious tensions are many and strong. So we can remain "ensconced" in the old forms of academia and ecclesia, or we can become "change agents" to "educate the next-generation leaders for an emerging church."

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The Methodist-affiliated Claremont School of Theology nearly lost its accreditation in 2007 due to financial problems, and enrollment had been dropping there just as it has at many mainline Protestant seminaries. So in 2008, Claremont voted to establish an interreligious university. The demand for ministers who can navigate the treacherous waters of religious diversity is, according to Clayton, "off the charts." The move to multi-faith inclusivity also allows the school to attract more tuition-paying students.

The move has prompted pushback. In January 2010, the University Senate of the United Methodist Church sanctioned Claremont for its financial practices and for pursuing its "substantial reorientation" without sufficient church consultation. While many Methodists favor interfaith reconciliation, they worry about the execution. Does it communicate charity to place a cross and a minaret and a Buddhist pagoda at the center of the campus, or does it amount to compromising core beliefs?

Yet the school is plunging forward, with plans to add programs for Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Baha'i. As Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, told Inside Higher Ed, theological schools are often "ahead" of "the thinking in their respective denominations or ecclesiastical bodies." But are they leading in the right direction?

Camping out

By Tim Dalrymple

Associated Press/Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez

Another doomsday came and went with nary a body lifted heavenward but plenty of snickering from skeptics and atheists. When the end of times failed to materialize on May 21, Harold Camping insisted that a hidden, spiritual judgment had been delivered upon the earth and the physical apocalypse would arrive on Oct. 21. However, five days prior to Oct. 21, Camping, who suffered a stroke in June, announced in an interview with documentarian Brandon Tauszik that he would retire from leadership of the Family Radio Stations. He also expressed an uncharacteristic reticence to speculate on when this earthly calendar would end.

Camping, 90, developed his predilection for doomsday prophecies decades ago, and resisted attempts from other Christian teachers to persuade him that he should not speculate on the specifics of the apocalypse. Camping misled his flock, including many who sacrificed jobs and homes to spread his message, and gave potent ammo to the New Atheists argument against the rationality of Christian belief.

All reference to Camping's prophecies has been scrubbed from the Family Radio website, and the ministry has encouraged its followers instead to live in perpetual readiness. A receptionist at Family Radio told CNN that 80 percent of the employees at the Oakland, Calif., headquarters did not believe in the Oct. 21 prediction. "I don't believe in any of this stuff that's going on," she said, "and I plan on being here next week."


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