"The council has said no to registering us as a seminary, with religion as our only discipline," says Imad Shehadeh, president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS). "But they haven't answered us yet on our application to become a university, with several disciplines."
Jointly supported by Baptist, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Free Evangelical, Assemblies of God and Nazarene churches in Jordan, JETS has 120 semester students, with 30 more in various modules.
For the past six years, it has enjoyed "complete freedom from any government control on our curriculum or our choice of administrators and faculty," Shehadeh said.
Registered as an educational institution, and not as a religious school, under the Ministry of Culture since 1995, JETS ran into official snags three years later, when government security officials balked at the school's applications to purchase land and build a new campus. Jordan is a Muslim-majority country. Christians in Jordan have more religious freedom than in other Mideast nations, but limitations remain.
Although JETS received permission to purchase land in the spring of 1999, the government revoked the school's right to seek residence visas for non-Jordanian faculty, students, and staff. To regain that right, the government said, the seminary needed to reapply for registration under the Council of Higher Education.
"We were asked to establish several other schools alongside the school of theology, to become a university," Shehadeh said. "The government said this would make [the school's] image in the community more acceptable and would protect national security."
Accordingly, seminary representatives met with Omar Shdayfat, secretary-general of the CHE, and a number of other officials, exchanging many letters and submitting three successive applications for official accreditation. The last application, submitted in February, proposed to form four colleges—on theology, music, historical geography and social sciences—under the name of Jordan Manara (Arabic for "lighthouse") University.
But government officials said the CHE would expect to approve appointments of the faculty and president, as well as to select the seminary's board of directors. Like state universities, the seminary would also be required to conduct classes on Sunday.
Shehadeh told Compass Direct news service that JETS, in order to expand its ministry, needs to be able to issue academic degrees and offer courses to Christians from nearby countries. But sometimes student visas are difficult to obtain.
He said Jordan's visa restrictions limit the school's non-Jordanian student body mostly to Syrians, Iraqis, and Egyptians. The seminary initially accepted Muslims-turned-Christians as students, but the government has required JETS not to enroll any Muslims.
Under the current registration, this is the last academic year at JETS for Sudanese students, 20 of whom are now completing their studies. Sudanese citizens are permitted to obtain one-month, nonrenewable visas to Jordan. As a result, those finishing this school year will be fined more than $2 per day by Jordanian immigration officials for overstaying their visas.
"The only other option would be for JETS to obtain a special educational registration by royal decree," Shehadeh says.
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Partners International works with Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary to promote biblical knowledge and equip Arab spiritual leaders for the planting and strengthening of groups of Arab believers in the Arab world.
The U.S. Department of State's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 gives more background on religious freedom in Jordan.
In June, Christian History Corner focused on Jordan, home of most significant sites in biblical history.
For more coverage of Jordan, see Yahoo's full coverage.
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