United Methodist Church lifts sanctions against Claremont theology school

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The United Methodist Church has lifted sanctions against the Claremont School of Theology, which risked breaking its longstanding ties with the church when it announced plans earlier this year to begin training Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis in addition to Christian pastors.

In a terse statement Friday, the United Methodist University Senate announced that it had rescinded a public warning and restored funding to the school, which will remain affiliated with the church. The senate oversees all Methodist-affiliated seminaries.

Claremont President Jerry Campbell said the change of heart came after the school managed to allay fears “that we were turning a United Methodist-related seminary into something very different.”

The church had sanctioned the school in January after expressing concerns about both its failure to submit a budget and its plans for a “substantial reorientation” of the school’s mission. To satisfy the church, Claremont altered its original plans to train Christian, Muslim and Jewish students in one college, instead creating a new university with separate graduate schools for Muslim and Jewish students. Only the existing Christian school will receive Methodist funds. Claremont hopes to eventually add programs for Buddhists and Hindus.

The United Methodist Church, which has sponsored the school since its founding in 1885, gives $800,000 a year to Claremont.

In a written statement about the church’s decision, Campbell reiterated that he believes the new, multi-faith institution will better serve its students as they prepare to lead congregations in a theologically diverse world.

“If you come here as a United Methodist, we believe you will leave here as a United Methodist who better understands his or her neighbors,” he said. “We need leaders who understand other cultures and religions and can reach across boundaries to work for the common good.”

Although some seminaries accept students of various religions, and some schools train multi-faith chaplains, no current institution trains Muslims, Jews and Christians to lead congregations in their faiths. The Andover Newton Theological School near Boston and the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago announced plans last week to establish a single “interreligious theological university” in the coming year, although they did not specify which faiths they would be training.