You know Christians who respond to an increasingly interreligious world by building walls around themselves. They have only Christian friends, hold others at arm’s length and make sure what you know about “them” comes from reliable (read: Christian) sources. If you do get face to face with a Jew or Muslim, evangelize them, for that’s what God’s Word calls you to do.
In the comments, few HuffPost readers are likely to endorse this view as a model for one-on-one relations. But when it comes to Christian institutions, people’s response is more equivocal. For example, many assume that future Christian leaders should be trained in exclusively Christian seminaries, among exclusively Christian students. I want to ask: Does this make sense? Is it consistent? The best way to pose the question is to put before you a bold new experiment and to have you evaluate it:
Last June, Claremont School of Theology announced a historic plan to desegregate religious education. Together with a Jewish and a Muslim institution, we would launch a multi-religious university where ministers, rabbis, imams (and other students) would be trained side by side for service to society and the world.
Time Magazine called it a first-ever experiment. Massive media attention ensued. And indeed, our hopes for the new institution were idealistic and ambitious. We sought interreligious partnerships that would diminish conflict between the religions and equip religious leaders to work shoulder-to-shoulder in addressing global problems.
Now that we’re a year into the process, we’ve also learned a few things. The experiment creates fears, fears breed criticisms and criticisms require answers. No, the new university is not post-religious. Nor is it a melting pot in which all religions are fused into one. It’s a place where leaders from the different religions study and learn together, always with an eye on making genuine contributions to solving real-world problems.
Stories of Interreligious Dialogue
The biggest surprise has been the positive impact on Claremont School of Theology (CST) as the Christian member of this multi-faith project. We knew CST would participate in the multi-religious university. But we didn’t anticipate how much the dialogue would deepen and transform our understanding of the changed role of Christian institutions in a global society. It turns out that the University Project is a mirror that allows us to see our own faith in a new light.
What do we see? A short story best describes it. Last semester the faculty established the “Thursday Soirees,” afternoon discussions between faculty members and students. One afternoon a Jewish and a Muslim professor, Santiago Slabodsky and Najeeba Syeed-Miller, were describing distinctively Jewish and Muslim motivations for interreligious dialogue. At one point they turned to the CST students who were present and asked them, “Okay, how would you answer this question from your Christian perspective?” An awkward silence ensued: The students didn’t know how to respond.
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