USA Today's op-ed page on Monday had a nearly full-page opinion piece on a degree offered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that could include a concentration in homemaking. The catch is that it's offered exclusively to women. But still, at first blush, one would think this is a private school, not a state school, so why can't we just let them do what they want in offering women-only degrees? I think it matters because even within the institution and the community surrounding it there is a good debate going on over the theological significance of women and their options in higher education.
The author of the column is Mary Zeiss Stange, a professor of women's studies and religion at New York's Skidmore College, who digs deep into the social and religious reasons one would find a program of this type worth discussing, at the minimum.
Stange spends a good portion throwing barbs at the seminary (return to the 1950s, set back the clock). Thankfully she gets at the real debate that is no doubt occurring on hundreds of Christian college campuses around the country:
Seen in a biblical light, Southwestern's homemaking program is consistent with the Southern Baptist Convention's social and theological conservatism. But seen in that same light, the program is fraught with contradiction. For one thing, if women's role as nurturer and housekeeper is written into the divinely ordained scheme of things, why should something so very natural need to be taught to them? Shouldn't these skills be innate? And mightn't they best be taught in the context of the home, not the classroom?
Claire St. Amant, a senior at Baylor -- the world's largest Baptist university, in Waco, Texas -- nicely put her finger on the problem in The Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper: "It isn't logical for someone with a master's of divinity to teach you how to make a bundt cake. ... I'd say the same thing if Emeril started teaching classes on systematic theology."
More vexing still, Jesus himself had some rather harsh words for the New Testament's most prominent -- and unhappiest -- housewife. In Luke's Gospel, Martha is busy serving and cleaning up after dinner, while her sister Mary has joined the disciples to hear the teaching. When Martha complains, Jesus rebukes her: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." Mary, in other words, has chosen the same path as Sheri Klouda did. Homemaking isn't everything it's cracked up to be. And it certainly isn't the only appropriate path for women.
Strictly as an opinion piece, this article is all fine and good, but there is a news angle here as well. Has there been a pushback against the pushback against feminism within evangelical communities? The arguments summarized by Stange are just the tip of the iceberg of the debate that is going around Christian colleges, particularly among women, about why they are treated differently than their male counterparts.