FORT WORTH, Texas (ABP) — Sheri Klouda, a former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said she lost her job teaching Hebrew in the seminary's school of theology because she is a woman.
But she wasn't prepared for the fallout that followed.
News of her story first broke on a Jan. 17 blog post by Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson. In the entry, Burleson said Klouda, who had received numerous grants and awards throughout her collegiate and seminary years, was dismissed by President Paige Patterson because of her gender.
The school didn't want women teaching men in the theology department, Burleson asserted.
Public outcry at the dismissal, chronicled in reports in the Dallas Morning News and Religion News Service, has given the issue unexpected prominence.
“It just kind of ballooned,” Klouda said, adding that the situation “got bigger” than expected. “The Southern Baptist Convention and Southwestern are all so big, and I'm so little. I'm just one person.”
What's more, she said, she was scared her story would first be told on a blog post. Some bloggers use their web sites to further personal agendas, and that was something she wanted to avoid, she said.
“When I originally heard that the blog was going to come out, that was scary to me,” she said. “I was concerned because I didn't want to be used to promote another agenda. And, you know, people pretty much just discount blogs as not really reliable information.”
Southwestern officials have said Burleson's blog contained unspecified “inaccuracies” and denied the claims that Klouda's departure involved her gender. Patterson and a seminary spokesperson did not return phone calls requesting comment.
Klouda maintains that the information chronicled on Burleson's blog is reliable. Baptist bloggers Benjamin Cole and Marty Duren also posted corresponding stories about her tenure at Southwestern on their blogs, baptistblog.wordpress.com and sbcoutpost.com, respectively.
Klouda joined the school in a tenure-track position in 2002. In 2003, Paige Patterson, who had recently been hired as the school's president, personally assured her the administration change would not jeopardize her position, she said.
A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Patterson is known for his conservative interpretation of a 1 Timothy passage that he says prohibits women from having “authority” over men in the church. The SBC's Baptist Faith and Message says that the office of church pastor is “limited to men.”
While Klouda was initially allowed to teach men, Patterson and Southwestern now interpret the Timothy passage to mean that only men can instruct future pastors, according to a seminary official.
Burleson and other critics insist that interpretation is an unnecessary narrowing of the “parameters” of leadership and participation in the SBC.
After learning in 2004 that she would not get tenure at the school, Klouda's contract was terminated in December of 2006. She has since received a teaching position at Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Her house near the Texas school remains for sale.
Klouda and her husband have drastically reduced their asking price for the house but have yet to sell it, she said. She called the continuing house payments and a poor economic situation in Indiana “a little bit of a struggle” for her family of three. Klouda's husband has a chronic illness that prevents him from consistent work.
“We've lost all of our equity in that house,” she said. “My husband put in all the money that his dad left him when he passed away. I didn't anticipate that I would have to be carrying the house payment on for this long.”
Still, Klouda holds no bitterness against the school, where she received her doctoral degree. She called her education there “good” and met many people who played integral roles in her academic and professional development, she said.
Klouda has a solidly conservative background — she attended Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, and said she believes the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which she signed to teach at Southwestern. But she sees a “total difference” between the role of women in educational institutions and the role of women as senior pastors, she said.
“I think the role of women in the academy differs from the role of a woman who would seek to serve as a senior pastor,” she said. “We're talking about [the difference between] a local church and what they decide in their church polity and the role of a professor in an academy. That role is different than in a church. You can't take the role of pastor and superimpose it to the role of professor in the academy.”
In a recent blog post, Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., said he believes the issue is not about women pastors. The seminary is not a church, and Klouda is not a pastor, he said. And neither the Bible nor the convention forbid a woman from teaching Hebrew and theology, he added.
“Some are of the opinion that a woman should not be in the position of professor in a school of theology, but when we let the opinions of a few select men become policy or dogma for the entire convention, then the fabric of our cooperation is ripped to shreds,” he wrote.
As a mother, Klouda said, she teaches her daughter to “think for herself” and “look at what God's Word says in light of herself.” But that doesn't always assuage the feelings of the 15-year-old who had to switch schools during her teens because of the family's move.
“She's a young person and has her own opinions,” Klouda said. “To her it's just an injustice. She thinks it's unfair. She thinks it's wrong. She thinks this should have not happened. She thinks, ‘They ruined my life too….'”
“I just don't see how the decision was really thought through about the implications for me and my family,” she said. “It was really a decision made on principle, but it didn't take into consideration many other factors.”
Cole, the Texas blogger, has filed complaints with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Association of Theological Schools, the two agencies that accredit the seminary. Klouda said she didn't know whether she'd do the same with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or other academic bodies.