Sunday, January 21, 2007

Baptists Fire a Teacher for Being a Woman

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas gave Sheri Klouda a Ph.D., hired her to teach Hebrew, and then fired her for being a woman.

The seminary based its decision on its reading of I Timothy 2:12, "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (King James version). They normally forbid women to teach men in theology or biblical languages, though women may teach men in other subjects.

I think Southwestern Seminary has a perfect right to tailor their hiring rules to their reading of Scripture. My objection is not on feminist or equal protection grounds, or anything like that. They are a free school in a free country, and can follow their conscience in reading Scripture.

I think they have made an incorrect decision, on two grounds. First, on a narrow reading of the verse in question, I can see how they might justify excluding a woman from teaching theology. But Hebrew? If they let women teach music, I think they should let them teach languages. Both can be used for teaching theology, but so can they be used for many other purposes. I don't see why biblical languages are included in the ban.

Second, I think they err in reading this verse as applying to professors. I believe this verse and its neighbors are meant to apply in the home, so I don't even think it rules out women ministers. But even if you think I Timothy rules out women as pastors, as Southern Baptists normally do, I don't think that prohibition carries over to professors. Teaching is not simply proclaiming the word or proselytizing the faith. Southwestern is open to many kinds of Christians, and teaches Hebrew and theology and many other subjects to men and women who want to understand the Bible and the Christian faith for all kinds of reasons.

I think Southwestern Seminary has erred in firing Sheri Klouda, and erred in a way that will bring as much strife within the church as it will draw outside criticism.


Anonymous said...

Has there been any change of administration in this situation? Is this professor a Southern Baptist?

I think this reading of scripture may cause the school difficulty not only for the criticism it draws, but because it does not seem to stand on a foundation of biblical scholarship - where the meaning of "teaching" would be more than providing knowledge.

I also wonder what the faculty who were mentors for this professor think - those who were on her dissertation committee. Surely they thought they were preparing her for a career as a scholar in biblical Hebrew. If she is to work at all, it would be in a setting that values this knowledge. Either she would have to leave what I'm presuming is her own faith tradition to work, or they must not have foreseen this result.

Gruntled said...

The administration says they made a lapse in hiring her. I suspect that her advisors are not administrators, and probably are livid. She has since moved on to Taylor University - not known for its overly liberal interpretation of Scripture.

Trevor & Rachel said...

That was an very interesting article.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of an odd corner of academe, where the mentors one has in graduate school can't really know or prepare one for the job market that will (or won't) be there. On top of the usual tenure-related uncertainties, it's a heavy burden.