In early September a new model of training religious leaders opened its doors in Claremont, California. Substantially aided by the financial donations of philanthropists David and Joan Lincoln, the new University sets out its core mission statement to train Pastors, Imams and Rabbis below:
“As an ecumenical and interreligious institution, Claremont Lincoln University seeks to instill students with the ethical integrity, religious intelligence, and intercultural understanding necessary to become effective in thought and action as leaders in the increasingly diverse, multireligious world of the 21st century…scholars and practitioners of the world’s religions can come together, learning and practicing how to treat others as they would like to be treated. This will enable religious organizations, leaders, and individuals, regardless of their own religious commitment or perspective on faith, to work collectively to bring about harmony and understanding at all levels—individual, organizational, and governmental…
We commit ourselves to think deeply, act ethically, embrace diversity, work for justice and peace, and care for the earth, its people, and its resources so that all life may flourish.”
Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary with roots back to 1885 joined in partnership with The Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California/Bayan College to create the new Claremont Lincoln University (CLU). CLU’s new provost, Philip Clayton, is clear about the focus of the new University:
“Finding the common threads among religious and ethical traditions – while honoring the distinctiveness of each”
In his keynote speech at the university’s inauguration, the Honourable Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s ambassador to the United States elaborates the need for such an institution:
“The challenge religion faces is how it can manage the contradiction of being simultaneously a victim of fundamentalist extremism as well as its antidote. Can it simultaneously defend its original impulse for good and give leadership for a world free of the absolutism advanced in its name? Can it transcend its life and death struggle for its own relevance and simultaneously advance a set of spiritual values and a moral ethic in a world defined by the absence of compassion, social justice and peace? Can religious communities rescue spirit, values and divine objectives from its own internecine battles for adherents, resources and theological supremacy?
What must be achieved for us to be successful are transitions within the religious communities from competitive religion to co-operative religion and even from comparative to collaborative religion. The first transition should signal that people of faith are in a battle for faith itself, not simply to place our particular labels on already faithful people. The battle for faith is the battle to do good and to create a world where people live better lives and the natural world is more sustainable. The second transition denotes that we have to move beyond the ‘compare and contrast’ model of interfaith engagements, and build solidarity across our markers of difference to achieve shared goals that both signal the relevance of religion and faith as well as demonstrate its capacity to build coalitions, campaigns and unity in action around values and principles we hold in common…”
In reflecting on the remit of the new Universty, Anantanand Rambachan, trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, notes the urgent pragmatic and political need for world religions to work together in framing common values with people of other faiths in the goal of overcoming human suffering. He goes so far as to say that:
“Our hopes for just and peaceful communities will only be realized together or not at all.”
However, he goes further in challenging theological exclusivisms which, he contests, are often near-sighted:
“If our theologies cannot limit the limitless, we need each other, and we can all learn and be enriched by the ways in which others have apprehended the absolute and by the values they have derived from such encounters and experiences. This is, for me, the most compelling ground to seek out my neighbor of a different faith.”
In conclusion he reminds us that:
“Without the voice of the other, the human proclivity toward self-centeredness and self-righteousness may go unchallenged and arrogance and selfishness, rather than humility and compassion, may become the dominant values of our existence. We should not be hesitant to acknowledge this.”
It will be interesting to observe the progress of Claremont Lincoln and its seminarians in the years to come.