FORT WORTH, Texas (ABP) — Recent criticism of a “cookie-making” degree at a Southern Baptist seminary has brought some homemakers out swinging, calling the critics “pitiful” and “sanctimonious liberals.”
The tiff emerged after a June 18 guest opinion piece by Baptist leader Robert Parham appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the essay, Parham criticized a new homemaking course program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Parham called the program an “absurd aberration” and said that, while strengthening families by teaching homemaking skills and conflict management is a good thing, the course's overall emphasis is misplaced.
“What is dangerous about Christian homemaking programs is that they diminish the Christian faith and deceive naïve Christians,” he said. “Water boils, spoons stack in kitchen drawers and sewing machines sew the same way for Christians and non-Christians. For Christians to think otherwise is a frightening split from reality.”
He also cited Texas pastor Benjamin Cole's blog response to hearing about the venture: “A seminary degree in cookie-baking is about as useful as an M.Div. [master of divinity degree] in automotive repair.”
Cole, a Southern Baptist who has critiqued the seminary's current administration, has parodied the “Mrs. degree” in several posts on his personal blog, Baptist Blogger (baptistblog.wordpress.com).
On June 28, program supporters shot back. In a scathing radio review, Ingrid Schlueter of Crosstalk America, a national Christian radio show; and Terri Stovall, the dean of women's studies at the Forth Worth school, lambasted critics of the homemaking courses.
“How pitiful that we have pastors such as Benjamin Cole willing to sneeringly deride the efforts of Dr. Stovall and others and … attempting to undergird the understanding of young people who are growing into adulthood and who are looking forward to a ministry and a life in a Christian family,” Schleuter said.
Paige Patterson, Southwestern's president, announced the new program during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in San Antonio. It follows such moves as a 1998 addition to the SBC's confessional statement that said wives should “graciously submit” to their husbands and a 2000 addition that declared female pastors unbiblical.
“It is homemaking for the sake of the church and the ministry and for the sake of our society,” Patterson said, in announcing the program. “If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed.”
Slated to start this fall, the 23-hour curriculum includes three hours of general homemaking classes; three hours of classes on “the value of a child;” seven class hours in “design and apparel;” seven class hours on nutrition and meal preparation; and a three-hour course on biblical models for the family.
Southwestern isn't the only SBC school with classes designed to teach women traditional roles. In its Seminary Wives Institute, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., offers a 13-hour certificate of ministry via classes on marriage, child-rearing and shopping on a budget.
Stovall, in her interview with Schleuter, echoed Patterson's refrain. The homemaking concentration is grounded in a passage in Titus that she said directs Christians to train women how to be good homemakers.
Working at home is a woman's most important job, she told Schleuter. And women are “just dying for information and skills to be the very best they can be in their home, because the heart truly is the home,” she added.
In response to Schleuter, Cole said he maintains his initial position that the degree is “frivolous and foolish.”
“The seminary administration has misappropriated Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program dollars in developing this degree concentration, and they will waste the seminary resources should they continue to pursue it,” Cole said via email. “Women who follow God's call to the noble vocation of homemaker do not need courses in sewing and interior design any more than men who follow God's call to the pastorate need instruction in tying neckties or shining dress shoes.”
Like Cole, Parham said Schleuter's show confirmed his opinion piece that “questioned the fundamentalist worldview that there is a ‘Christian way' to cook and clean, shop and make salads.”
“Christian education needs to major on moral values, not to minor on the non-essentials such as using zip lock bags,” he said via email. “It's okay for men and women to learn about organizing a closet, just don't claim there is a Christian way to do so.”
For his part, Cole said he had not previously heard of Schleuter's radio program and learned about the Stovall interview after the fact. He said her message “revealed very clearly that the nature of her anticipated dialogue was as ignorant of the genesis of my critique as it was the substance of my concerns.”
“We ought not complain that we are the laughingstock of the world if we can't manage to keep a straight face ourselves when talking about such academic nonsense,” he said.