SWBTS tenure case draws media interest, criticism from bloggers

FORT WORTH–The denial of tenure to a former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor in the school of theology has drawn fire from Internet bloggers, statements from school officials and sizable media exposure.

Former Southwestern Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda left the school last year after two years of searching for another teaching job. In 2004, she was told that tenure would be denied her because of the school’s desire for a pastor-qualified, male-only theology department, school officials said.

Criticism of the school’s handling of Klouda surfaced on Internet blogs last week, with some of the sharpest critiques coming from Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, an International Mission Board trustee and an activist among some younger Baptist conservatives who allege the SBC is tightening cooperative doctrinal parameters.

Also, the Dallas Morning News and the Associated Press both posted stories on the controversy Jan. 20.

Klouda, a Criswell College honors graduate, earned a doctorate with honors at Southwestern and was hired in 2002 under former school President Ken Hemphill to teach Hebrew. The following year, after current President Paige Patterson was hired, Klouda was told she would not be tenured, “was given two years to find new employment and chose to take the offer from Taylor University [in Indiana] when it came,” theology dean David Allen told the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

Burleson and Georgia pastor and blogger Marty Duren alleged that Klouda was wrongly denied tenure because she is a woman and that the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement restricts the pastorate, not parachurch roles such as seminary professor, to men.

Allen told the TEXAN in an e-mail: “The Burleson article is not reflective of the hiring or termination practices at SWBTS. Legal, accreditation, and confidentiality reasons prohibit all of our seminaries from discussing details of personnel matters of this nature. Much of the information in the Burleson blog appears to me to come from secondary, even tertiary sources.”

Allen continued: “Many factors contribute to the hiring and termination of faculty members. From the outside looking in, sometimes things may appear to be one way, when in reality the situation is quite different. Or, to put it in the words of my grandmother from Georgia: ‘It’s a mighty thin pancake that only has one side.’

Trustee chairman Van McClain also charged that Burleson’s blog was largely inaccurate, telling the Dallas Morning News: “Dr. Klouda was not dismissed from SWBTS. Actually she did not have tenure and, like hundreds of professors around the U.S. every year, was told that she would not be awarded tenure. She accepted another position while employed at SWBTS.”

“The second issue involves the desire of SWBTS 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. This is in keeping, of course, with the statement of faith of the SBC that clearly says that the pastorate is reserved for men.”

However, Burleson retorted on his blog Jan. 22, “Nowhere does the Bible, the convention, or our official confession forbid [a woman from teaching theology in a seminary role].

“Sheri Klouda is not a pastor, she has not been ordained or licensed, she does not perform ministerial duties.”

Duren, in an e-mail to McClain and posted on his blog, asked, “[C]an you help me as to where the BF&M addresses the issue of gender related to seminary or college professors? I realize that the pastoral office is covered, but where does that prohibition extend to the classroom?”

McClain told the Dallas Morning News: “Klouda was hired to teach Hebrew, but I seem to recall that her teaching was to be limited to the area of the Hebrew language. In other words, at the time of her hiring, there was still a concern that women should not be teaching theology to men, expecially men who were to be pastors. The question at issue was whether a woman teaching the Hebrew language was also teaching theology.”

“I cannot speak to the question as to why she was not granted tenure,” McClain continued. “However, I can say that the administration was patient with her and allowed her to teach a full two years, after she was told that she would not have tenure. During that time, she looked for a job, and the seminary even agreed to continue her support after her teaching responsibilities were over, so her family would have financial support. The seminary went far beyond anything that could be expressed as its duty or responsibility.”

McClain said he believes all the SBC seminaries have sought to “be more consistent” with Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message “on the matter of women serving as pastors.”

“With regard to the tightening of the policy of women teaching in the School of Theology, there has been no change in policy, but rather a return to the way it has always been.” Alluding to Klouda’s hiring to teach Hebrew, he said, “There was a momentary lax of the parameters, and SWBTS has now returned to its traditional, confessional, and biblical position.”

One Scripture passage cited in the Baptist Faith and Message article on “The Church” is Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy 2:9-14 on the conduct of men and women in public worship. First Timothy 2:11-12 reads: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.”

Dallas Theological Seminary, another conservative, evangelical seminary, has a woman teaching Hebrew, though the school has struggled through the years with the role of female instructors, Old Testament professor Eugene Merrill told the Dallas Morning News.

TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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