Defending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new homemaking degree against critics he views as outside the mainstream, a Southern Baptist state newspaper editor suggested that women are hard-wired for work within the home.
Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, said in an editorial he believes there is a “sexist” element to criticism of the bachelor’s degree in homemaking being offered to women only at the College at Southwestern, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Convention seminary in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Fort Worth, Texas.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
“If men and women are different in important ways, they will have different areas of competence,” Ledbetter said. “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,” Ledbetter said. “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.”
Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics countered that the Bible doesn’t support Ledbetter’s view that homemaking is in women’s genes.
“Southern Baptist fundamentalists are most defensive of a biblically indefensible seminary degree and a flawed cultural theology,” Parham said.
The president of a different SBC seminary said he believes that, whether or not they work outside the home, women find their greatest fulfillment in being a wife and mother.
“I do not believe it is wrong for women to work outside the home,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said Tuesday on his call-in radio show. “I don’t think there’s any law that says that’s wrong. I don’t think there’s any Bible verse that says that is wrong. I want to suggest that I believe a woman that does work outside the home is likely to miss something that is happening inside the home.”
Inviting callers to react to a cover story in U.S. News and World Report about women who are redefining what it means to “have it all” in terms of combining work and family, Mohler said he believes the Bible is “absolutely clear … that the first priority–where a woman is likely to find her greatest fulfillment in God’s plan–is going to be in the home being a wife and a mom.”
“I know some people would hear that as hopelessly oppressive and out of date, out of step,” Mohler said, “but I think it’s a word we’ve heard repeatedly from the women who have been calling this show today.”
Parham said the Bible gives plenty examples of women who served God in roles not confined to marriage and childbearing, including some that by today’s standards seem radical.
“If DNA makes women homemakers, then what was wrong with the DNA of Deborah, the mother of Israel, who was both a judge and commander?” Parham asked. “Or what was wrong with the temperament of Jael, who assassinated the army commander Sisera by driving a tent peg into his temple? Or what about the DNA of Abigail, who acted without the authority of her husband and negotiated peace with David?”
“The biblical witness recounts women who don’t fit the fundamentalist’s theology of men as breadwinners and women as homemakers,” Parham said. “But then some fundamentalist preachers have no problem setting aside the Bible for a cultural agenda.”
In his Southern Baptist Texan editorial, Ledbetter criticized the secular media for relying on sources he said are out of step with mainstream Southern Baptists.
“When the news media want to ask someone about a homemaking course at a Southern Baptist seminary, where do they go?” he asked. “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.” By contrast, Ledbetter said, criticism from within the SBC mainstream has been “pretty sedate.”
Although unnamed, Ledbetter’s references were to Parham, who debated the homemaking program with Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson on Fox News, and Benjamin Cole, until recently pastor of ParkviewBaptistChurch in Arlington, Texas, who critiqued it alongside Patterson in an edited taped interview on CNN.
Parham, who has a Ph.D. in Christian ethics, worked for the SBC Christian Life Commission before founding the independent Baptist Center for Ethics in 1991. He was a leading critic of a 1998 family amendment to the “Baptist Faith & Message,” which he said laid a theological groundwork that a woman’s place is in the home. SBC leaders have previously denied that argument.
Cole, a former protÃ©gÃ© of Patterson turned critic, has written blogs that parody the homemaking emphasis as an “M-R-S” degree that he says has no place in a theology school. Cole views it as one in a series of missteps by the co-founder of the “conservative resurgence,” whom he formerly admired.
Ledbetter said there is a “dishonest bias” in criticism against Southwestern Seminary.
“It seems clear that some critics of the program would have favored it passionately … if Paige Patterson hated it,” he said. “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.”
Ledbetter didn’t mention his own ties to Patterson. According to a 2003 article in the Dallas Morning News, Ledbetter’s wife, Tammi Reed Ledbetter, who works as news editor at the Southern Baptist Texan, has known Patterson since she was a teenager and he was her pastor in Fayetteville, Ark. She described Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, as a major influence in her life.
Gary Ledbetter hailed Paige Patterson as a “lion among men” in an editorial endorsing his election as president of Southwestern Seminary in 2003.
Not all criticism of the seminary’s homemaking concentration is from within Baptist circles, however.
Interviewed live Aug. 24 on NBC’s “Today Show,” Rachel Hamman, author of Bye, Bye Boardroom: Confessions from a New Breed of Stay-at-Home Moms, viewed the degree as “a throwback to the 1950s.”
Hamman has a bachelor’s degree in communications. She worked with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, E. & J. Gallo Winery and Merrill Lynch before co-founding The Golden Rule Foundation, a children’s charity. She now, according to her online bio, writes books as a “happily married stay-at-home mom.”
Hamman told “Today” that homemaking is “on-the-job training, 24/7” that cannot be learned by reading a book. “I just don’t think it should be in a classroom setting,” she said. “And if a setting like that is available, [it’s] very sexist in the fact of, where’s the course for men? Where is the course for men to be better spouses and better communicators?”
She also objected to defenders of the degree who describe it as a way to combat divorce.
“I fail to see how the divorce rate can be tied into a woman learning to darn her socks better,” Hamman said. “I think that is absolutely ludicrous. If you’re going to get a degree–I think a degree should be for a woman, if she chooses to be a homemaker–get a degree in something that can actually be a viable skill that–if she ever has to support herself outside the home–she has something to fall back on.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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