It would be hard to imagine a news story that would offend a higher percentage of people in modern mainstream newsrooms than the trend, on Southern Baptist seminary campuses, to create "homemaking" classes to help women learn how to serve their husbands and the church as pastors' wives. This is a five-star superstory, complete with waves of potentially snarky ideas and images. These stories have to contain bite, because the Baptist world is bitterly divided over a host of issues linked to gender. Go for it.
So here is the top of a recent Los Angeles Times story -- dateline Fort Worth, Texas -- on this issue:
Equal but different.
You hear that a lot on the lush green campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. God values men and women equally, any student here will tell you. It's just that he's given them different responsibilities in life: Men make decisions. Women make dinner.
This fall, the internationally known seminary -- a century-old training ground for Southern Baptists -- began reinforcing those traditional gender roles with college classes in homemaking. The academic program, open only to women, includes lectures on laundering stubborn stains and a lab in baking chocolate-chip cookies. Philosophical courses such as "Biblical Model for the Home and Family" teach that God expects wives to graciously submit to their husbands' leadership.
Attention. Draw swords. Open your Bibles.
You already know what this story is going to be like in the typical newspaper, don't you? At least, you probably think that you do.
However, as we often note on this site, there are professional religion writers out there (and we like to praise them) who don't like to settle for the same old images. And this article was reported and written by one Stephanie Simon -- who just loves the tensions and paradoxes that circle hot topics like this one.
Thus, in this story you also get to read the following:
In the undergraduate college -- which opened two years ago -- every student must take Greek or Latin, plus seminars that explore works by Sophocles and Shakespeare, Machiavelli and Marx, Darwin and Dostoyevsky. The other day, Sarah Babler, an 18-year-old freshman enrolled in the homemaking program, was writing a paper on the Trojan War for one class. For another, she was parsing Proverbs 31 -- on the attributes of a godly woman.
She and others in the homemaking program devote about 20% of their classroom time over four years to courses such as "Clothing Construction," "Meal Preparation," and "Value of a Child." Such classes went out of style at most secular colleges half a century ago, but undergraduate Quincy A. Jones said he considered them essential in a world where too many families are fractured and unhappy.
OK, how many of the undergraduate programs at the other colleges in the area -- in the stereotypical degree plans of today -- require source-material reading in "Sophocles and Shakespeare, Machiavelli and Marx, Darwin and Dostoyevsky"? Obviously, there are elements of a "great books" program built into this school.
That's great stuff and I mean, of course, the strong, vivid, often infuriating facts in this story on both sides of the issue. This is why the religion beat needs talented professionals.