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Baptist seminary
instills strict gender roles with curricula

Baptist seminary
instills strict gender roles with curricula

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary offers coursework in Greek and Hebrew, in archaeology, in the philosophy of religion, and, starting this fall, in how to cook and sew.

Southwestern Baptist, one of the nation's largest Southern Baptist seminaries, is introducing a new academic program in homemaking as part of an effort to establish what its president calls biblical family and gender roles.

It will offer a bachelor of arts in humanities degree with a 23-hour concentration in homemaking. The program is open only to women.

Coursework will include seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation, seven hours of textile design and ''clothing construction,'' three hours of general homemaking, three hours on ''the value of a child,'' and three hours on the ''biblical model for the home and family.''

Seminary officials say the main focus of the courses is on hospitality in the home--teaching women interior design as well as how to sew and cook. Women also study children's spiritual, physical, and emotional development.

Yet the program is raising eyebrows among some Southern Baptists, who say a degree concentration in how to be a Christian housewife is not useful, and a waste of seminary resources.

Seminary president Paige Patterson, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has its executive committee headquarters in Nashville, said wives of seminary students asked for the homemaking courses. The program was approved by seminary trustees in the fall.

''We are moving against the tide in order to establish family and gender roles as described in God's word for the home and the family,'' Patterson said at the denomination's annual meeting in June. ''If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed.''

Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs at Southwestern, which has its main campus in Fort Worth, Texas, said the purpose of the program is to strengthen families.

''Whether a woman works outside or strictly in the home, her first priority is her family and home,'' she said. ''We just really want to step up and provide some of these skills.''

Stovall said the homemaking degree is one of 10 women's programs at the seminary and is ''only targeted to women whose heart and calling is the home.''

A description of the homemaking program on the seminary's Web site says it ''endeavors to prepare women to model the characteristics of the godly woman as outlined in Scripture. This is accomplished through instruction in homemaking skills, developing insights into home and family while continuing to equip women to understand and engage the culture of today.''

The Reverend Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and a frequent Southern Baptist critic, wrote about the homemaking program on his blog.

''At first it was almost incredible to me,'' Cole said. ''I thought this is not happening. It's quite superfluous to the mission of theological education in Southern Baptist life. It's insulting I would say to many young women training in vital ministry roles.

''It's yet another example of the ridiculous and silly degree to which some Southern Baptists, Southwestern in particular, are trying to return to what they perceive to be biblical gender roles.''

Patterson took a leading role in the 1980s in a successful campaign to oust moderates from leadership posts in the Southern Baptist Convention. While he was president of the convention from 1998 to 2000, Southern Baptists issued a statement that women should not be pastors and that wives should ''graciously submit'' to their husbands.

In 2003, when Patterson left his post as president of North Carolina's Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to serve as Southwestern's president, he was asked whether women would teach in the seminary's theology school under his leadership.

''The New Testament is crystal clear that pastors are to be men,'' he said.

In March, a former Southwestern professor filed a federal lawsuit against the school and Patterson, alleging she was fired from her tenure-track position because she is a woman.

Professor Sheri Klouda was hired in 2002 and was the only woman to teach at the School of Theology. But last spring, school officials informed Klouda that her contract was terminated because she was ''a mistake that the trustees needed to fix,'' the lawsuit states.

Patterson's wife, Dorothy Patterson, is the only woman faculty member now teaching in Southwestern's theology school.

David Key, director of Baptist studies at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, said part of the reason the seminary may be introducing the new homemaking program is in reaction to the Klouda lawsuit.

''Women continue to make more inroads into traditional male bastions, which could be provoking Patterson to do this,'' Key said. Patterson is ''trying to draw the line in the sand of where women need to be.''

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., also offers programs for women, including a 13-hour certificate of ministry studies. Required courses cover child-rearing, ''God's plan for marriage,'' and managing a budget.

Key said neither seminary will allow women to be pastors, but notes that Southern hasn't ''articulated homemaking like Patterson.''

"Southern at least appears to realize the realities of modern day life--that oftentimes husbands and wives must both work outside the home to support the family,'' said Key. (AP)

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