[My recent editorial "Being Methodist and Multifaith" attracted no small amount of attention in the Methodist world and resulted in a number of responses. One message, from "Angela", was published as a comment to a previous post on this blog. Her concerns are similar to many responses I have received, so I wanted to highlight my response to her.]
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with me and other readers by putting your comment on my blog. Blogs are great places to share our disagreements, so as a matter of principal, when we simply disagree I will not argue. Our differing views should be sufficiently apparent that readers can see where our views diverge. I will, however, provide some perspective on matters related to what we are attempting and, in doing so, give elements of our rationale in taking this new direction.
I see that a major concern relates to our effort to create a multi-religious school. This is a new idea in theological education and constitutes both the key to our new direction and the matter of most concern to readers. New ideas often do create concern because, by their nature, they are unfamiliar and not well understood. In fact, the concern you reflect is reminiscent of the perceived threat that many had to the ecumenical movement in the mid-twentieth century. Now more than half a century later, for those denominations that have participated in this movement the Christian family has been brought closer together. An example of this is the joint communion recently entered into by the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Similarly, all of our United Methodist related seminaries have student bodies characterized by multiple denominations—a circumstance that has in no way weakened the distinctiveness or faithfulness of United Methodist students.
The Board of Trustees of Claremont School of Theology have taken this action (to be not only ecumenical but also multi-religious) for the purpose of creating a campus where tomorrow’s religious leaders can not only deepen their faith in their own traditions but can also learn first-hand to understand differing cultural heritages, to respect each other’s right to believe differently, and to collaborate across religious boundaries to solve problems that span religious boundaries. The School of Theology, of course, will continue to educate leaders for service to Christian churches, agencies, educational institutions, and other areas as it has for many years. But educating religious leaders in the isolation of their own traditions has not proven effective in reducing religious inspired conflict, so we are attempting to develop a better way. And we believe that a mature, theologically diverse, and global denomination like United Methodism is well equipped to lead the way in developing such a model.
I might add that this is particularly important in America where no religion has been “established” by the State and where religious pluralism is growing. If we take steps now to create educational models that will lead to harmony and understanding among Americans of different religious traditions, we will not only enjoy the benefits (which could include avoiding conflict, fighting hunger, reducing homelessness, and so on) but also develop institutions that can be duplicated elsewhere in the world.
Again, thanks for writing, and I hope you will write again.
Jerry D. Campbell