On January 19, 2007, the Dallas Morning News reported what was already spreading merrily through the blogosphere. I could cite the facts from many such sources, but will confine my citations to this news source, which gave the central facts as these:
Conservative Southern Baptists are fighting again, this time over whether women should be able to teach men in seminary theology programs. They agree that the role of pastor is reserved for men, based on a verse in 1 Timothy in which the Apostle Paul says, “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man.”
But some conservatives say Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, under president Paige Patterson, wrongly applied the verse to remove from its faculty Sheri Klouda, who until last year had been teaching men Hebrew in the seminary’s school of theology.
The print and digital media had a nice time with this, mostly by way of painting the seminary and its president and officers as theological Neanderthals, and the dismissed female Hebrew professor as yet another victim of The Patriarchy.
Now that the chattering classes have moved on to something else, I offer the following reflections.
Women Training Pastors?
This is de rigueur these days, but it has not been so until the feminists consolidated their reign over the academy about 30 years ago. Before that, Protestantism generally consigned the training of their pastors to the academy. So, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was unremarkable in having a woman on its pastor-training faculty.
The truly remarkable thing was her presence on the faculty while the seminary, its president, and its Board all confess, teach, and defend the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, which contains within it the prohibition of what the Seminary was, in fact, doing – setting a woman to teach men on a theological faculty, particularly a theological faculty whose purpose is to train men for congregational leadership. That sort of thing is usually called hypocrisy.
Why was this state of affairs not newsworthy? I guess we’ll have to keep wondering.
Repenting from Hypocrisy
Was it news that the seminary, its president and Board, repented of hypocrisy? Almost. You see, they did change their minds (the essence of repentance) about the propriety of the female professor’s labors in that setting. What made it all so newsworthy, of course, is the feminist-victim angle. The press (another bastion of feminism) loves that sort of thing , as do those religious feminists who infect almost every corner of the religious academy.
So, the story got reported like this: “Woman victimized by Chauvinist Patriarchalists!” The true story should be this: “Compromised Complementarians Repent! Dismiss Woman from Theological Faculty!”
I have no doubt that the whole episode is one Dr. Patterson and his Board would rather not have had to deal with. In their favor, the victimized female was hired under the administration of Patterson’s predecessor. But, no matter where the leadership for bringing the seminary’s words and works into congruence originated, Patterson and the Board did the right thing: they decided to walk the walk that comports with the talk. On the contemporary scene, that’s rare, whether in the church or outside it.
Once the conflict between the seminary’s profession and its deeds was cleared up (in this area, at least), a commenter at the Dallas Morning News religion blog decided to level a different charge, providing a fascinating admission in the process:
I am a Baptist with a woman Sunday school teacher and she is fabulous. There are hundreds of women teaching men in hundreds of Baptist churches. So why make a big deal about a woman doing the same thing in a seminary?
If Paul’s instructions to Timothy are to be considered to be on the same level as God’s Ten Commandants, then ALL of Paul’s instructions should be followed: such as 2:9 which says that women should not braid their hair, wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes. And how about 2:15 when he says that women can ONLY be saved by having children! does this mean that my wife is going to hell? And what about 5:23 when he tells the deacons to drink wine!!
We Baptists, and many other denominations, are practicing the pick and choose approach when it comes to our religious practices.
How refreshing! I’m currently checking with the president of a flagship evangelical seminary in Dallas, to see if its talk comports with its walk, but while I await a response, I’ll congratulate this commenter on his candor.
Of course, he is a virtually anonymous layman, so he can say such things and not suffer any consequences from indignant complementarian alumni. Still, I suspect his cherry-picking approach to the Christian faith is pretty well dispersed among Baptists and evangelicals generally. Cherry-picking is, of course, the standard hermeneutic for main-line Protestants of all varieties.
But, when recognizing a choice of remaining compromised or repenting, the Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth showed real integrity to the public, its alumni and other constituency, and to the LORD by correcting the mistake, even in the face of certain censure from the chattering classes.
By the way, you may hear the sneering report that Dr. Patterson’s wife is still on the faculty at the seminary. This is true, of course. What you are usually never told is that she does not have any male students.