March 6, 2013

Confirming the Truth: My Response to Claremont School of Theology

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by John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)

On Saturday, we posted an article of mine reporting on how Claremont School of Theology (CST), which has long received generous funding from United Methodist offering plates, was considering removing the cross from its chapel for the sake of making it more accommodating to Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain religious services.

On Monday, we were contacted by Ms. Claudia Pearce, CST’s Director of Media Relations, who asserted that my article was “full of factual errors” and asked us to post a statement she submitted in response. For the sake of respectful and open dialogue, we agreed to her request.

Despite the Claremont PR official’s rather strong accusation, her statement ends up basically confirming what I wrote while failing to identify any of the “factual errors” of which my article was allegedly full.

The Claremont statement disputes my writing that “the seminary decided to more or less literally sell itself for $50 million to a large donor who helped transform it from a Christian seminary into Claremont Lincoln University.” Call it what you will, but the undisputed facts remain that the seminary’s leadership chose to agree to a financial transaction in which they fundamentally transformed the institution’s identity (from a freestanding Christian seminary into a multi-faith clergy-training university which includes CST) to conform to the wishes of a certain donor couple who paid $50 million to make this happen.

The Claremont statement takes issue with my reporting that CST has “opened up its property for use by the other religious groups, effectively devoting the resources of the Christian part of the consortium to propping up the others, rather than simply leaving it up to each non-Christian institution to be entirely built and funded by supporters from its own religious constituency.” But then the Claremont statement goes on to confirm that, indeed, CST has now devoted its own “physical facilities,” including but not limited to the seminary chapel, to joint use with the institutions promoting several non-Christian “religious and ethical traditions.” Some of the biggest logistical and financial hurdles to starting a completely new academic institution are purchasing new property and constructing new buildings. Thus, CST’s converting its physical resources (rather than distinct new properties of the “separately incorporated entity” of Claremont Lincoln University) into shared space is a rather significant, trouble-saving boost to the new non-Christian religious education institutions, even if they are charged some rent. While this new arrangement may financially benefit CST, that alone is hardly sufficient to make it “a win-win.”

The Claremont statement claims that the anti-evangelism quote from President Campbell “was taken out of context,” and was only narrowly saying that within Claremont Lincoln University, Christians should not “try to evangelize” non-Christians. Temporarily leaving aside the question of making a formerly Christian seminary become a “no evangelism allowed” zone, my article simply referred to a United Methodist Reporter article that reporting the following: “And Christians who feel they need to evangelize persons of other faiths have ‘an incorrect perception of what it means to follow Jesus,’ Dr. Campbell added.” Note the lack of any qualifiers in Dr. Campbell’s reported statement broadly opposing evangelism toward adherents of other faiths. If Claremont’s PR department would like to state clearly that the United Methodist Reporter article is somehow misleading, or if Dr. Campbell would like to issue a statement clarifying that he is in fact committed to the Great Commission as a continuing obligation for all followers of Jesus—even when it results in Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and others leaving their former religions—we would be happy to report that. However, neither seems likely, given how in the nearly three years since the United Methodist Reporter article was published and the Campbell quote was widely shared and publicly decried in UMC circles, I have not observed Claremont’s PR department or anyone else ever disputing the quote’s accuracy as a broad reflection of Campbell’s and CST’s values for interfaith relations.

Meanwhile, the Claremont statement confirms that the seminary is indeed transforming its formerly Christian chapel into a space that treats Christianity and other religions more or less equally. Since CST’s representative in Las Vegas reported that the seminary was considering simply “tak[ing] down the cross,” the news that “[t]he Christian cross is and will continue to be a part of CST’s worship space” is apparently a rather recent decision. But whether the cross is included alongside symbols of other faiths or is somehow physically altered for the sake of being wheeled in and out of the sanctuary to conform to whatever the religion of the hour may be, the result is the same: the cross is relativized while a space consecrated for Christian worship is routinely taken over for the proclamation and practice of alternative religions which, in their core teachings, fundamentally deny the message of the cross.

Perhaps the heart of the matter is highlighted by the Claremont statement’s claim that “CST has, indeed, remained proudly Methodist and Christian.” But such descriptors as “Christian” or “Methodist” are meaningless, and therefore useless, if they encompass whatever any individual who claims them wants them to mean. Thankfully, the United Methodist Church is at least formally committed to certain rather clear doctrinal boundaries. Meanwhile, despite CST’s professed Christianity, it is the place within the Claremont Lincoln consortium in which students get to learn spiritual care and counseling from an avowed “practitioner of vipassana (insight meditation) in the [atheistic] Theravada Buddhist tradition” and theology from an eco-feminist 9/11 “truther” who openly endorses Islamic critiques of belief in the Trinity. Furthermore, CST now offers a Certificate in Muslim Education for imams. While the seminary also offers classes in Christian evangelism and mission (as the Claremont statement notes), this is because of a firm requirement from CST’s sponsoring denomination. Aside from this externally imposed requirement, there seems to be no principled way in which Claremont’s treatment of Christianity in relation to other faiths differs from that of the post-Christian, radically relativistic Unitarian Universalist Association.

Beyond the above, the best response I can offer to the Claremont statement is to suggest a re-reading of my original article.

I invite all who are interested to read both, judge for themselves where the truth lies, and if they wish, share their thoughts in the comments below.

13 Responses to Confirming the Truth: My Response to Claremont School of Theology

  1. I thought the response from Claremont was rather political in that it avoided verifiable facts.

    I recall Marjorie Suchocki from a Discipleship class that I led a couple of years ago. She said some things in one of her presentations (she was a presenter in the series) that tweaked my ears. After looking up her credentials I found that she was a CST “process theologian” (i.e., she subscribes to a malleable God) and, most interestingly, a “9/11 Truther” (she apparently thinks our own government may have been responsible for 9/11):

    Folks like Suchoki appear to be acceptable to Claremont and UM leadership, but I suppose someone like Franklin Graham would be “too extreme.” Just goes to show you how warped the thinking of UM leadership has become (that’s why we recently, sadly, were forced to leave the denomination).

    Claremont must continue the ruse of saying they are committed to Christianity else they will lose UM funding. You want to really know what’s behind the change at Claremont? Just follow the money.

  2. Mike Tyler says:

    I repeat my comment on the earlier blog piece, Is there any way to stop all UMC monies from supporting this school and redirect it to a more deserving school like Asbury? I realize that we currently do not support Asbury, but question why not.

    • curlyqmom says:

      If there isn’t there certainly should be! Our leaders are sending our monies in areas most of us do not approve of!

    • John Lomperis says:

      There were efforts at the last GC to 1) defund and/or disaffiliate with Claremont and 2) allow annual conferences to retain a larger share of their own contributions to the Ministerial Education Fund (currently 75% goes straight to the 13 US UMC seminaries), and this kept-in-the-annual-conference portion could be potentially used for scholarships to any approved seminary, including Asbury. These efforts failed, but if there’s more momentum they may prevail in the future. Asbury’s remaining independent from the UMC heirarchy’s control is one of its greatest strengths, but it means it gets no direct MEF funding.

      • Mike Tyler says:

        Thanks for reminding me about the Asbury situation. I agree that this is better for their ongoing ability to follow scripture and Wesley without input from the very liberal UMC oversight. Tim Tennent does an exemplary job of leading that seminary. I pray that one day more of our seminaries will have people of his caliber and character. Until major overhauls to the Board of Ord. Ministry occur we will likely continue to see a high percentage of preachers who are liberally strong and scripturally weak. Just this week I had an ordained elder try to tell me that the battle led by Abram to recover Lot wasn’t in the Bible. He was shocked when I quoted the Genesis passage to him. His out was “Well most members only know of the Bible what someone tells them”. And he turned and left. I do not want him telling me my Bible.

  3. Marco Bell says:

    I think Ms. Claudia Pearce did a wonderful job of defining the course of action within the halls and walls of CST/Claremont Lincoln University.
    Her description of how varied Religions can, and should overlap is a step in the right direction for any Religious institute.
    Placing each Religion’s emblem (ie: Cross, etc.) in situ when needed, and removed when not, is a perfectly workable arrangement. Let’s not get our liturgical ‘panties’ in a wad over something as simple as that?
    Bravo! Ms. Pearce!!

    • skotiad says:

      Speaking as someone from a decidedly non-liturgical background, I don’t get my “panties in a wad” because of any liturgical issue, I just find it disgusting to see people who pose as “Christians” who bend over backwards to impress people with their “tolerance,” conveniently overlooking the fact that in the multi-cultural, multi-religious Roman empire, Jesus’ apostles seemed very convinced they were supposed to go out and try to convert people, and they believed that so strongly that most of them died as martyrs.

      So Marco Bell, who do you think had a clearer idea of what Jesus intended – the apostles, or the tolerant-inclusive-nonjudgmental-Politically-Correct staff at Claremont? The answer “things are different now” doesn’t cut it, because there were plenty of religions and cults in the apostles’ time, yet the apostles saw these not as alternate paths to God but as false religions. All of us can live in this multi-culti society and treat people of other religions in a civil manner. But sharing worship space with other religions? It’s just plain wrong. If Paul and Barnabas had had the Clarmemont mentality, when the pagans in Lystra tried to sacrifice animals to them, they would’ve said, “Awww, isn’t this nice, embracing people of other faith traditions? Sure, you nice pagans can call us ‘Zeus’ and ‘Hermes’ if you like, we’re very inclusive.”

      Claremont is a private institution and is free to do whatever it likes, of course, just as an objective observer like myself is free to say “You can’t be Christian and see your faith as just one option among hundreds.” Clarement is guilty of deceit in using the “Christian” name at all, also in defrauding the many UM congregations around the country that have this naive notion that their hard-earned money is supporting a Christian institution, not some multi-faith gabfest. However, thanks to websites like this, the word is getting out about apostate “seminaries” such as this.

      • Marco Bell says:

        Thank you Skotiad for your thoughtful response to my post regarding Claremont’s Multi-Religion Curriculum decision.

        You reveal a lot stating that it “disgusts” you to see people posing as “Christian” just to show tolerance… I think you’re right about some Christians, maybe not the ‘Posers’, but the true Christians, they show very limited tolerance for diversity of religion.
        Not too different from the Fundamentalists of other religions that believe they know “the only way to God”. This attitude, or position doesn’t do anything but polarize people of the world.

        I, personally, was raised as a Methodist, and accepted Jesus as “my” Lord and savior when I was only twelve years old. This was fine, but at that young age, it also places one in a position of clan-ship before all the other religions can be thoroughly studied and appreciated, so as I’ve aged and grown, I’ve realized that Organized Religion is a pit. Not even a rut, but a pit, or perhaps a fox-hole from which one religion entrenches itself AGAINST all other religions. This is NOT good for people, the Planet, the Cosmos, or one’s Soul.

        Why do most religions stake their claim at the total exclusion of others? Many religions host similar tenets of membership behavior, ritualistic dogma, and many even share the same “Miracles”, ie: Virgin birth, Solstice arrival time, Absolute allegiance, Celestial observations and dictates, etc..

        I respect that my friends of differing religions feel that they are ‘on the correct path’ respectively, but if tolerance for other religions can only be displayed by being civil, that doesn’t show true sincerity for the diversity.

        No single religion has proven that IT, is “The Correct One”. The jury is still out.

        Peace be upon you.
        Love, Marco Bell

  4. […] [Note: within two days of our posting this article, Claremont School of Theology issued this statement in response. To read my response to the seminary, click here.] […]

  5. […] [Note: to see the response by John Lomperis to this Claremont statement, click here.] […]

  6. Tom Key says:

    Looking for “apostate” churches and seminaries?

    Look no further than the “ministers” who gathered around the candidacy of a twittering catalog of abominations who stole an election.

    Every parable and word of Jesus is repudiated by the spectacle of a defaming billionaire liar, and he has basked in the “endorsement” of many leaders of OUR Church.

    And not just the Gospels. In the OT, Proverbs clearly and repeatedly condemns as abominators those who “soweth discord”, slander reputations, and repeat lies. Proverbs 6:16.  Any questions?

  7. Elle says:

    I stumbled upon this article when googling what kind of establishment Claremont was. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they have progressed beyond the limited dogmatic view that there is only one way to their god and have embraced the inclusion of other religious sects.

    I am an atheist and was curious to learn about Claremont because they may join with my current university in offering curriculum and I wondered if Claremont was the “hate the sin love the sinner, but cover up for the priest who abuses children and keep women in their quiet place” kind of christian establishment, and it seems as though they are not of that kind of low quality. Thank you for sharing your misgivings. They have made me feel relief.

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