A silly, dangerous idea?

When the news media want to ask someone about a homemaking course at a Southern Baptist seminary, where do they go? Well, naturally, they turn to an unmarried pastor and a formerly Southern Baptist liberal whose work is largely dedicated to berating the SBC and its leaders. Maybe they are the only ones who don’t get it.

Response within the SBC mainstream has been pretty sedate to the undergraduate homemaking degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We’ve seen firsthand the results of “with it” models of family and narcissistic approaches to parenting. They don’t work. Families in marital crisis or with rebellious kids just seem paralyzed and are as likely to eat fiberglass as take effective action?they hardly seem to know the difference.

I spent five years of a former life (that means I only have eight left) as dean of students at a seminary. The most productive and most useless thing I did in those years was try to help students who had financial and marital problems. Some of them ate out too much, lived on student loans, got really large, developed health problems, went broke, fought with their wives, and acted genuinely confused about why these things “happened” to them. It was hard to explain. Those who dug out of their holes were heroes and an encouragement to all of us. Those who embraced the confusion didn’t make it to the ministry. Any effort to help families like this as they take responsibility for themselves looks to me like God’s work.

During that same period I taught theology and church history to a large group of the seminary wives. They were the most hungry and motivated students I taught. As a part of that wives program (which all six seminaries have had for 10 years), some of our experienced faculty and administrators’ wives taught a sort of “Common Sense 101” class that dealt with child rearing, helping husbands in ministry, and even a little cooking. The help was gratefully received and apparently useful. Many of these women, with their families, are all over the world in ministry. I like to think we helped in some small way.

So, in what way is Southwestern’s plan to offer an undergraduate major that includes the core of the other B.A. programs alongside nutrition, homemaking, the value of the child, and yes, sewing, dangerous, silly, or superfluous?

To the liberal I’d suggest that this is a dangerous idea because it challenges his egalitarian worldview. A laugh-out-loud cover story on a national newsmagazine a couple of years back pointed out the discovery that men and women are not the same. Maybe that’s by design. Maybe that diversity is useful. Maybe la difference doesn’t ever make liberals as happy as it makes me every day.

Those who consider it silly are uninformed, lack compassion. I’m very grateful for a wife who took Greek alongside me, beat me by two points in theology class, learned to cook, and taught my children to read. If Southwestern had started this program back in the late 1970s (use your imagination), she’d have taken some of those classes, I mean the “silly” ones, gratefully. It wouldn’t have been a waste and it wouldn’t have made her stupid. It would have made the priorities we’d already set more simply attained, though.

It’s also a fact of our age that many young people leave home without knowing basic things about managing a household. Some basic skills that our mothers may have taken for granted decades ago will be essential. It seems ignorant to suggest that a young wife and mother who knows the how and why of managing her home is silly to gain this knowledge. Missionary families may also end up someplace where food doesn’t come in frozen zipper bags and where there is no microwave.

Superfluous? I guess I’m stumped at that one. Our universities in Texas certainly offer women’s studies programs that have greater throw weight (to the world) than classes such as “The Value of the Child.” I can imagine what a blessing any mother would receive from taking some of those classes. For example, take “Gender, Sexuality, and Migration” at the University of Texas at Austin. Those are three fine words that you don’t put together every day. No doubt there is a textbook for that and maybe something interesting to say. Is it useful? Well, I can only guess by the silence of our Texas taxpayer gadflies that someone sees some reason why this is a keeper.

OK, how about “A History of Witchcraft,” also at UT Austin? The course description indicates a focus on the persecution of witches through the years. No objections from the gallery? This one too must be an essential part of every professional woman’s arsenal.

Up at the University of North Texas, the program offers “Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Film and Video.” What education would be complete without that? Doubtless there is a wealth of material to examine, I have to wonder how the video record of a lifestyle defined simply by sexual behavior will lift young students to the heights of intellectual discovery. But maybe I’m wrong if the loyal opposition is more offended by a sewing course than by this offering of our state-funded university.

Of course I’ve skipped over the merely trivial and strange courses and majors offered by the large universities, but they too raise questions about the objectivity of Southwestern’s automatic detractors.
And I’m actually not worried about these courses or the other silly ones. I’d probably lose more sleep over the Marxist, Darwinist, Materialist drumbeat in most of the “serious” classes. But those titles don’t jump out at us for the purpose of this column. Instead, I support, financially and otherwise, efforts to offer something positive to young ministry families in training.

I think a discussion of state schools is pertinent, though. The critics best loved by the national media are likely bigger supporters of state universities (through taxes) than they are of Southwestern. It makes me wonder what their interest in SWBTS really is.

I also wonder what the better plan of the critics might be. Do they even see a problem with the stability of families in our culture? Maybe one day they’ll focus on that instead of just hoping in the tired status quo model of family where self-absorbed people happen to live in the same household.

Is there a sexist aspect to the extreme criticism of the homemaking courses at SWBTS? I think maybe so. If men and women are different in important ways, they will have different areas of competence. I’ll stick my neck into the slipstream of thousands of years of human experience and suggest that women are temperamentally better equipped than men to manage the home and nurture children. It is foolish to treasure work outside the home more than work in the home. In fact, the future of the world hinges on the latter. It is demeaning to suggest that unless women actually do all the same things men do, they have missed something crucial. I think it’s sexist.

Frankly, and briefly, there is an aspect of dishonest bias in the criticism of SWBTS by some people. It seems clear that some critics of the program would have favored it passionately ? if Paige Patterson hated it. If those who find this homemaking track questionable were honest brokers when discussing other issues, I might be more inclined to listen to their squawks. They haven’t and I’m not.

On a positive note?I wish Southwestern well with this degree program. Whether it is a conspicuous success or a moderate one, I believe it will do some good. The notion that it is dangerous, silly, or superfluous is ridiculous and probably dishonest.

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