On Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 our staff, faculty, and students welcomed our new Claremont School of Theology President, Rev. Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan.
Kuan is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church who served as dean of Drew University Theological School since September 2011. Previously, he spent nearly 20 years on the faculties of the Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union teaching in the areas of Hebrew Bible and Asian-American hermeneutics.
Dr. Kuan began his first convocation address as our new president reflecting on the turbulence of religious and political life in the United States in light of the 9/11 actions subsequent tragedies. As a religious people training to become leaders, the implications are quite profound.
Dr. Kuan shared, “Theological education in and of itself has social utility. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Our mission statement notes that we are preparing our graduates ‘to become agents of transformation and healing in churches, local communities, schools, non-profit institutions, and the world at large.’ The kind of inter-religious theological education we are passionate about seeks to do even more.”
What excites Dr. Kuan most are the possibilities behind doing “even more.” The challenge of building relationships between people with contrasting views can be a daunting task, but Dr. Kuan sees the task as full of risk and adventure.
"You are here because you believe that in order for us to have any chance of overcoming a society and a world of hatred and violence because of religious, ethnic, and cultural differences, we must build bridges, we must learn about, understand, and respect one another in spite of our differences, and we must transform our society and world and work together for peace, harmony, and our common good,” said Kuan. “How else can we tackle the enormous issues of our day relating to poverty, economic justice, the environment, human rights, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity?"
Dr. Kuan invited CST to continue its progress in intentional diversity and multiplicity within racial-ethnic and minority communities, as well as our global community. He is particularly interested in seeking “partnerships with theological institutions in other parts of the world.”
Amidst church decline and the rise of ethnic and religious diversity, the time is ripe for revolutionary theological education. Dr. Kuan offered three imperatives for this vision:
“First, if we take seriously the demographic changes in church membership, theological education must begin to make similar shifts to educate leadership for the changing face of the church.
Second, a theological education that is attentive to the shifting realities must also pay attention to the changing religious landscape in the United States. If our societies and communities are no longer religiously homogeneous but increasingly pluralistic, we must be preparing religious leaders who have knowledge of and are conversant with other religious traditions.
Third, theological education must be global in its orientation. As Christianity’s center shifts to Africa and Asia, theological education must engage in dialogue and partnership with churches and institutions in other parts of the world.”
Moving forward, Kuan noted that CST will continue its strong and diverse institutional vibrancy, creating non-profit leaders, religious leaders, and academic educators. CST, CLU, AJR-CA, and Bayan, fortified by partnerships with the Jain, Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist communities, will have a very good chance of succeeding as “agents of transformation and healing in churches, local communities, schools, non-profit institutions, and the world at large.”
Dr. Kuan closed by reminding the Claremont community that, "We need the support of everyone. We need you to participate fully in the life of this school and the broader consortium. We need you to talk about us to others with great excitement and enthusiasm. Most of all, we need you, including students, to be passionate about supporting us financially. Standing together, we will take our place as a leader in theological education in the global context."
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