An alarming chain of events is unfolding, or has unfolded at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth. I won't go into all the details here as that has been done more succinctly than I could ever hope to do, but I will hit the highlights. In 2002 Sheri Klouda was hired as a Professor of Hebrew in the seminary's School of Theology. Since that time she been praised by students and colleagues as a fine academician and teacher. In addition to that she has been published several times over. Nevertheless she was refused tenure when the time came, saw her class load reduced to nothing, and so was eventually forced out by the administration of the seminary.
Based on the history I've seen the only thing you can fault Dr. Klouda for is her timing. She had the misfortune of being unanimously approved for hire by the trustees of the seminary a year before Paige Patterson was elected as president. Despite his assurances to the contrary it seems that it has been his mission from the beginning to get rid of Klouda and to free the School of Theology from the "taint" of having women serve in the role of professor. In his estimation it is unscriptural for a woman to teach a man and so not befitting the seminary to have a female serve as a professor in this particular school. True, there are other women faculty at Southwestern, but none teaching theology.
I take major issue with President Patterson over this situation. True, no professor is ever guaranteed tenure, that is the nature of working in an institution of higher learning. Nevertheless, there is no attempt to shift the blame of her not receiving tenure to anything other than her gender. So then a person who was unanimously approved for a position by the trustees of the institution finds herself out of a job, not because of the quality of her work, but because God, in his infinite foreknowledge made her a woman.Wade Burleson
does a great job of laying out the history and the facts of the case
. He also does a fine job of exegeting Scripture in looking into the issue of women teaching men and serving in positions of leadership inside and outside of the Church. While others have chimed in, I link solely to his blog as he has proven himself to be a seeker of facts, unwilling to bend to the political machine that is the SBC. You can follow the trail from there.
Paige, as quoted in a Baptist Press article, uses I Timothy 2:12 in relaying his belief about the diminished role of women in the church (not that he would refer to it like that). Wade does a great job of pointing out the inability to be absolute in our understanding of that passage as it is built on a word from the Greek (authority) that is not found in any classical Greek or literature of the day. In other words we are merely interpreting here and cannot say with absolute certainty what Paul was saying when he said that women must not teach or have authority over a man. It certainly opens a door for the possibility that his instruction was contextual and not universal.
Second, Paige goes on to say that the highest calling of a woman is as mother and grandmother. I have to say that this is quite alarming. What does that say to the many women who will never be married or to those will not ever be able to have children? What is the purpose of their lives? Better yet, what of those who are not yet mothers and grandmothers? Are they simply biding their time because they cannot know their true purpose until then? I'm sure Paige would say I'm putting words in his mouth or exaggerating his statement but what I'm doing is asking logical questions based on the statements. And I wonder where he can find the Scripture to back up what he's saying. The truth is that the New Testament is full of stories of women serving valuable roles in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church. They didn't just sit at home and raise the kids. They engaged the culture in ministry, teaching and serving for the cause of the Christ.
I think I'm alarmed by this turn of events because I consider myself blessed to have known some pretty incredible women in my life. When he talks of women as second classes citizens in the hierarchy of the Church I think first of my own wife, incredibly gifted with wisdom and leadership abilities. I think of other women I've known like Kim and Natalie and Rachel and Rikki and Alicia and Pam. The names may mean nothing to you but to me they represent women of wisdom who have each taught me quite a lot and even provided leadership in my life...God forbid. I also think of some of the women who came through my ministry as teenagers. They were young women at the time but even then it was easy to see the anointing God had placed on them, girls like Rachel and Holly and Julie and Becca and Ashley and Beth Ann. They were leaders in our group then and they are a value to the church, whether they ever get married and have children or not.
I have to scratch my head in wonder at a God who empowers and equips such people and then holds back their abilities to serve because it violates the order of things. Why give them such great skills of leadership and never let them use it in the most significant entity on the planet? The truth is that the Church speaks out of both sides of her mouth on this issue. We speak of proper roles for men and women and yet seem perfectly fine to let the wives/moms wear the spiritual pants in the family. If they weren't around imagine the condition our already battered families and churches would be in.
I'm open to a healthy debate of these things but when men begin to speak in absolute terms as if their interpretation is the be-all end-all I begin to wonder if healthy debate is even possible. I've mentioned this before but for far too long we've had all the answers in the church. We know, absolutely, the correct interpretation of every passage. Our systematic theology is as inerrant as the Word of God itself. The powers that be have effectively said, "There's our side and the wrong side, which side are you on?" It's time to take a fresh look at Scripture, specifically on this issue, and ask some hard questions.
What instruction of the New Testament is contextual and what is universal? Why does God seem to so equip these women if having them use their gifts is sinful? How much of what we believe is really just the effects of thousands of years of living in a male-dominated culture? How relevant will a church be that doesn't allow women into positions of leadership when we see them leading so often in secular society?
I'm sorry this post has been so scattered. I wanted to get something down before the moment passed but haven't really been able to fully think through everything. I just have so many questions...and so much doubt about the state of the Church I've always known.