Methodists, Muslims and Jews: Learning together to lead together

By Jerry D. Campbell President, Claremont School of Theology Almost a decade now after the fateful events of Sept. 11, … Continued

By Jerry D. Campbell
President, Claremont School of Theology

Almost a decade now after the fateful events of Sept. 11, 2001, the story is a familiar one: a young man, inspired by 9/11, seeking direction and meaning in life, enlists in the United States Armed Forces. Some join up out of patriotism, some out of anger, and some out of a sense of adventure.

Asif Balbale did it because he is Muslim, and he wanted to prove that all Muslims aren’t terrorists.

Lt. Balbale is only the fifth Muslim chaplain to serve in the U.S. Navy, and he recently graduated with a masters degree from Claremont School of Theology, where I am president. By the time of our commencement, he was already stationed at Camp Pendleton, so I wasn’t able personally to hand him his diploma or the award he received as the top graduate in the field of spiritual care and counseling.

Some might say that Asif – a Kuwaiti-born American Muslim of Indian descent – is the future of America, but he is very much a part of this nation’s present. For decades, global migration and communication have brought adherents of the world’s great religions to the United States, and many leaders within those traditions are now developing distinctly American expressions of their religions that reflect our shared values of democracy, equality, and freedom of expression.

The days of religious segregation in the United States are quickly fading. Nearly gone is the era when one could go a day without seeing a woman in hijab walking down the street, or glimpsing a small Buddhist shrine in the kitchen of a local restaurant. And as our children go to school together, play together, and start families together and become members of each others’ families, the hard boundaries of religious identities begin to diminish.

(Compare the religious beliefs of Jews, Christians and Muslims are Patheos.com)

The old nostalgic ways of religious life that perpetuate competitive denominationalism no longer meet the realities of our new religiously plural America. And neither does the old segregated model of theological education that will produce the next generation of religious leaders and scholars.

My own institution, a United Methodist-related theological school in Southern California, is taking the lead in light of these new realities. Claremont School of Theology announced today a new interreligious collaboration with the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California, both located in Los Angeles. While each group will continue to teach its own tradition, together, we are working toward the establishment of an interreligious university, where students, faculty and practitioners from these and other traditions will have the opportunity to experience a multi-religious curriculum designed to teach understanding, cooperation, and collaboration among religions.

The idea is simple: Students from different religions will learn together today so they can lead together tomorrow.

The Academy for Jewish Religion, California, is an institution in which future rabbis, cantors, and chaplains from across the Jewish tradition come to study and prepare for leadership together. They are learning from and among each other, across the religious boundaries of their own tradition.

Likewise, the Islamic Center of Southern California is a religious and cultural hub in Los Angeles for Muslims from many different nations and traditions. Sunnis and Shiites pray side by side (and in some services, men and women do too). The center has as its mission the development of a Muslim identity that is distinctly American, reflecting the best of this nation’s history and freedoms.

We call our joint effort “The University Project,” and it is getting underway in coming months. This fall, Christians and Jews will be able to take classes together, and the first Muslim professor of the University Project will begin teaching in the area of interreligious education and leadership. Students from any tradition, multiple traditions, and no tradition at all are also welcome in fields both scholastic and practical, such as spiritual counseling for chaplaincy, interreligious education, and urban ministries.

Take Asif, for example. He wanted desperately to be a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, which requires a degree from an accredited theological school. Since there are no accredited Islamic theological schools in Southern California – or anywhere in North America – he came to Claremont to study spiritual care and counseling in preparation for his career as a Navy chaplain.

Asif was not our first Muslim student, and I am happy to say he will not be our last. But necessity is the mother of invention and, by the grace of God, this new educational alliance in Southern California will result in a unique university to better prepare religious leaders, across lines of difference, for service in a multi-religious nation.

Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, Ph.D., is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church and president of Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. He welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The University Senate of The United Methodist Church announced June 29 that it has lifted its sanctions from Claremont School of Theology, unfreezing church funding to the School and reinstating its full affiliation with The United Methodist Church. The Senate had placed the school on “public warning” last Jan. 21 because it had failed “to consult fully” with church authorities on a new mission statement that included plans for a multifaith University Project. It also cited the School for not submitting recent financial audits.

  • Secular

    This is in my opinion most stupidest part of American post secondary education. What is a degree in theology supposed to teach people, the silly fables of the iron age? How is that relevant to 21st century. First time I heard about theology degree, I asked if it is an accredited university. The guy told me it was from Baylor. I decided none of my children would never step into that stupid university. We are now supposed to be impressed with this place that teaches fables of three different kind. good grief.

  • barferio

    I don’t think your god has much grace bud, why do you so often appeal to it?Let’s see, he raped Mary, then horribly murdered her son. He made humanity, when it didn’t come up to his standards he wipe them all out in a flood, and somehow this wasn’t his own fault.And this loving wonderful god monster of yours is getting ready to destroy the world horribly and torture everybody forever.You people are truly sick.

  • areyousaying

    With a common denominator of uncompromising Abrahamic “my-way-or-the-highway” racism, homophobia and exclusionary intolerance.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.