Claremont School of Theology has asked that we share its response to John Lomperis’ story about the school’s possibly removing the cross from its chapel:

[Note: the following is a response from Ms. Claudia Pierce, Claremont School of Theology’s Director of Media Relations, to this recent report by IRD’s United Methodist Director John Lomperis]

We regret to say that Mr. Lomperis is mistaken on several issues in his March 2 blog post.  We regret even more that he magnifies the effect of his mistakes by the use of provocative language.  Here are some corrections.

Claremont School of Theology (CST) did not “sell itself for $50 million to a large donor who helped transform it from a Christian seminary into Claremont Lincoln University…”.  Along with partners from other religions, the Christian Seminary co-founded Claremont Lincoln University (a separately incorporated entity) that functions as a consortium among eight religious and ethical traditions.  The purpose of Claremont Lincoln University is to make possible mutual understanding and respect among the participating traditions as well as to create a foundation for collaboration on major problems.

CST has, indeed, remained proudly Methodist and Christian, and its students have overwhelmingly found their Christian faith strengthened as they think through and articulate Christian beliefs in discussions with students from other religious traditions.  In this context, they are being much better prepared to minister in our region, which prefigures what the rest of the US is rapidly becoming:  a mission field where United Methodism can learn to thrive in high density, multicultural and multireligious settings.

CST is not “devoting the resources of the Christian part of the consortium to propping up the others.” In fact, it is making itself more fiscally sustainable by sharing some of the fixed costs of its resources with Claremont Lincoln University and collaborating institutions.  It is a win-win for everyone involved.

The quote from President Campbell was taken out of context.  In the interview cited, he was speaking in the context of the students studying together at Claremont Lincoln, and saying that if the Christians were using that venue to try to evangelize, instead of trying to understand the other and learn to work together – which is the intent of the Claremont Lincoln classes – they had an incorrect perception of what it means to follow Jesus, and of what it means to be peace makers and good neighbors in a pluralistic world.  Outside of that context evangelism is, of course, an important part of Christianity and United Methodism, and our Professor of Evangelism Jack Jackson teaches seminary classes on evangelism and mission that are mandatory for our UMC M.Div. students.

Since CST is sharing physical facilities with its collaborators, we are indeed discussing how to exercise our Christian hospitality to those with whom we share.  This includes offering a new variety of food choices and creating flexible study and worship space that may be arranged to accommodate a variety of religious expressions.  When this discussion is reduced to “taking down the cross,” it misses the point.  The Christian cross is and will continue to be a part of CST’s worship space; but the goal is to be able to easily rearrange the space for use by other traditions.

Surely for the American experiment to succeed, Americans of differing religious viewpoints must learn to live and work together in harmony.  Religion can either continue to be the cause of conflict, or we can work together to make it the foundation for the needed harmony.  We believe that Jesus Christ calls Christians to the latter, being peacemakers and good neighbors.

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