SBC seminaries show similarities, diversity regarding female profs

GRAPEVINE–In January, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary made the news with an earlier decision to deny tenure to a Hebrew language instructor, Sheri Klouda. Discussion in the Klouda case centered on Southwestern’s practice of appointing only “pastor-qualified” professors to teach biblical studies and theology students.

A Feb. 5 story in the TEXAN quoted David Allen, Southwestern’s academic dean, and Van McClain, chairman of the seminary trustee board. Chairman McClain spoke of Southwestern’s desire “to have only men teaching who are qualified to be pastors or who have been pastors in the disciplines of theology, biblical studies, homiletics, and pastoral ministries.”

McClain described the desire to be in keeping with the SBC’s confession of faith, which limits the role of pastor to men.

In early February the TEXAN asked the leadership of the five other SBC seminaries about their procedures and policies regarding the appointment of biblical studies professors.

Midwestern Seminary, Southern Seminary, New Orleans Seminary, and Southeastern Seminary granted interviews with the seminary presidents. Golden Gate Seminary responded to questions by e-mail.

The seminaries, each with its own trustee governing board, differ slightly in policy and practice. None, however, has women teaching theology or pastoral ministries courses.

The following are the questions the TEXAN asked and the responses by the seminaries’ presidents or spokesmen.

*TEXAN: Describe your seminary’s practice regarding female professors and biblical studies classes.

DANNY AKIN (Southeastern president): This is a point that is raised in a lot of venues, not just seminaries, but in the mission field. For example, I recently had the question proposed before me?Is it appropriate for a woman to share the gospel and evangelize a man? My response was, it would be inappropriate if she didn’t. Then the question comes, “we don’t believe women should ever under any circumstances teach a man theology.” My response was how do you share the gospel and not convey and teach theology? The answer is you do.

The gospel is by its very nature a theological proposition and issue; therefore, the very sharing of the gospel, you are teaching theology. You are teaching the Bible. That’s just unavoidable. Moving to us–though we do not have an “official” policy, and we don’t. But as the president and with my dean, David Nelson and I think with the consensus for the most part if not unanimously with our faculty, we have identified certain positions that closely parallel the office of the pastor, the elder, the overseer, that we would only look to call and hire men for those particular areas.

Those areas include preaching, pastoral ministries, theology, and biblical studies. I could not imagine that we would hire a woman to sit in one of those professorial positions as an instructor over men.

CHUCK KELLEY (New Orleans president): We do not have guidelines, but we would follow the Baptist Faith and Message statement and I think in my conversations with other seminary presidents and I think I read my board properly in saying there are definitely areas in which we would not have a woman teach. Biblical studies and theology are two of those areas. Preaching would be a third area. However, I do want to have a women’s study position that would have a female theologian and biblical scholar teaching as part of our women’s studies program. That’s one of my dreams one day.

ALBERT MOHLER (Southern president): During the transition of Southern Seminary, when we were seeking to bring our hiring policies completely in line with what we believed were the rightful expectations of Southern Baptists, we did this before there was a 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

It was clear where Southern Baptists stood on this. Furthermore, we believed it was right in accordance with biblical teaching that the faculty members who would model the pastorate in the teaching of disciplines specifically for pastors would be qualified by Scripture to be pastors.

This was not just an abstract theory. This also was what was advised to us in terms of the necessity of specifying which teaching positions must in all cases be qualified in this manner. So we defined all teaching positions in the school of theology as of necessity to be pastor-qualified.

PHIL ROBERTS (Midwestern president): We don’t have a written policy but we do have the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which specifies that pastors should be men. We’d be very hesitant about women teaching theological subjects for that reason.

JEFF JONES (Golden Gate communications director): The seminary does not have a restriction of gender in its faculty hiring policy. The seminary currently has four female faculty members teaching in the areas of education and intercultural communication.  
*TEXAN: Would this practice include disciplines like church history and biblical languages?

AKIN: I wouldn’t [draw the line there]. I don’t see a problem with a woman teaching French, German, Latin, Cantonese, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.

MOHLER: I don’t believe there is any such thing as a mere language study when it comes to the biblical languages and the biblical text. I would argue that the teaching of biblical languages, when it comes to interpreting and translating the biblical text, inevitably comes down to matters of exegesis and theology as well as mere language.

ROBERTS: We’d have to take that on a case-by-case basis in some areas.

*TEXAN: Are there cases where otherwise qualified men might be rejected because they are not qualified to pastor for some reason?

AKIN: Yes. We, for example, as of this moment have no divorcees on our faculty. I realize there are differences of opinion on this and I respect those differences of opinion. Would I think it exceptional that I would have a divorced person on our faculty? Yes. It is conceivable someone who was divorced prior to their conversion and who has demonstrated over many, many years the expectations of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that they are indeed a mature, godly man who would meet all those expectations. Could I see myself considering such a person for a teaching position? Yes, I could.

KELLEY: Probably so. We are looking for churchmen. Many of our faculty members are interim pastors in addition to their ministry here. This is one of the things I’ve had to learn. I really learned one of the significant roles a seminary plays in a region of its location is the provision of leadership for local churches such as interim pastorates. And so I like to have people who are able to help churches because I know the needs are so great.

ROBERTS: We do expect our faculty members to have a kind of pastoral role in the lives of our students. I couldn’t see us hiring someone to teach biblical studies classes who is not qualified for the pastorate.

*TEXAN: What do you say to those who object that passages like 1 Timothy 2:9-14 apply to churches rather than to parachurch ministries such as seminaries?

AKIN: I understand their argument and though I appreciate it, I would simply think for us, we’ve determined that the parallel between the office of the pastor and those particular positions of instruction is close enough that it is a guideline worth following.

KELLEY: Well, I think its primary application is obviously local church. I do think it’s harder to be ironclad over its application outside of the local church. I think you have to allow a little more freedom of interpretation. But I think Southern Baptists have historically looked at that very strongly and very consistently in relationship to the church. I think they have been very consistent in the matter of preparation of ministers in theological education. There is no tradition of women teaching theology or biblical studies to men in our seminaries. Any exceptions would stand out in being exceptions and not a rule to the succession of people coming in.

MOHLER: Well, I would say specifically that interpretation [of applying to local churches] is more or less correct. But we are an institution that serves the local church, and in particular through the training of pastors. And it would be illogical for us to believe that the order in an institution that would serve the church in training of pastors should reverse that biblical logic.

ROBERTS: I can understand their concern. We’d rather err on the side of caution.

*TEXAN: Does your seminary grant tenure?

AKIN: We do not have tenure, but we do have election to faculty. It’s almost like tenure but it’s not. That was changed during Dr. Patterson’s administration when he was here.



ROBERTS: We do not. Midwestern uses teaching contracts. Our last tenured professor retired this past year.

JONES (Golden Gate): Yes.

*TEXAN: Briefly describe the process for electing a tenured professor (election to faculty in the case of Southeastern).

AKIN: It is a shared governance function where the administration, faculty, and trustees together make that determination and ultimately the election is a trustee determination. In essence it follows a process identical to a process that would be followed where a school was granting tenure to someone. If the dean and the president do not wish to carry a person to the trustees for the purpose of being considered, it never gets to the trustees.

KELLEY: It is very simple. It’s spelled in our faculty manual. Basically, after a person has taught a certain length of time they become eligible for tenure consideration. We are obligated to consider them for tenure at the time they become eligible. If we choose not to grant tenure to the professor—and it has happened—we explain to them why we are not going to be recommending them for tenure, and they have an opportunity in a year’s time to correct whatever the problems might be.

You do this whole general evaluation at several different levels. If there is a consensus that a person is granted tenure, he is presented to the trustees and the trustees make the ultimate decision. If the staff does not feel like the person is ready for tenure, that recommendation is not made.

In our process, a person would have a year to correct whatever deficiencies were pointed out to them. And at the end of that year, they would be evaluated again and if they had not had a suitable change or improvement or whatever, then they would be granted up to a year of employment but expected to leave sometime within that next year and seek other employment. All of this is automatic. Every professor knows this coming in that if they get to the point of their life they are eligible for tenure, they are not granted tenure, then they are going to have to leave the institution.

MOHLER: It begins with the president declaring a tenurial position. Then it moves to the faculty through its search committee process making a recommendation; receiving approval from the dean and then the president has the opportunity to interview the candidate and make the decision whether or not to present the candidate for election of tenure to the board of trustees.

ROBERTS: The president and VP for academic affairs conduct the search. Our faculty gives input regarding a candidate’s qualifications to teach in an area. Based on the recommendation of seminary administration, the trustees have final approval.

JONES: All faculty candidates are approved by our SBC-appointed trustees after being recommended by the president and vice president for academic affairs.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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