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NEWS FEATURE: Women’s studies _ Southern Baptist style

c. 1999 Religion News Service RALEIGH, N.C. _ Unlike other recent college graduates, Buffy Brown, complete with a master’s of divinity degrees in women’s studies, is not spending her summer filling out resumes or looking for an empty pulpit to fill. Indeed, Brown doesn’t expect she’ll ever apply for a job because she believes she’s […]

c. 1999 Religion News Service

RALEIGH, N.C. _ Unlike other recent college graduates, Buffy Brown, complete with a master’s of divinity degrees in women’s studies, is not spending her summer filling out resumes or looking for an empty pulpit to fill.

Indeed, Brown doesn’t expect she’ll ever apply for a job because she believes she’s been called to be a pastor’s wife.

This fall, she and her husband, Don Brown, will start a Baptist church in Holly Springs, N.C. While Don pastors the church, Buffy will take on a role she believes conforms to the biblical mandate for married women and for which her new degree equips her: She will submit graciously to her husband’s leadership, nurture their children and create a comfortable home.”People say you’ve arrived as a woman minister if you’re teaching men,”said Brown, 25, a native of Winston-Salem and the first woman to graduate from a new program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.”I don’t understand that. I have no desire to minister to men. I don’t understand them and I wouldn’t know how to teach them. As a pastor’s wife, I want to teach women.” Brown’s degree from the seminary in Wake Forest is a reaction to the feminist movement, which has opened to women careers once held exclusively by men, including the ministry. It is intended to produce graduates who will champion the conservative Christian model for the family.

It is the brainchild of Dorothy Patterson, who in 1998 helped write the amendment to the Baptist statement of faith urging wives to submit graciously to their husbands. Her husband, Paige Patterson, one of the architects of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist, is the seminary’s president as well as president of the 15.7 million-member SBC.

Dorothy Patterson, who teaches many of the program’s core courses, makes one concession to the feminist movement: It’s shown women have a contribution to make, she said.”We’re not recognizing the skills women have,”she said.”I want them to have all the learning and background they need to serve the Lord Jesus. Many women are interested in theological education for personal edification and to help their husbands. I want to see them thoroughly equipped.” Patterson’s students say the degree, which requires them to take two semesters each in Greek, Hebrew and theology, has also empowered them.”I’ve been so blessed to learn alongside my husband,”Brown said.”We’ve had to take all the same classes. We’ve learned all the same things. I know that will be beneficial to me when we go into the ministry.” In some ways it was entirely expected: Thirty years after San Diego State University offered the nation’s first women’s studies program, Southern Baptist women are refashioning it in their own image.

Most of the estimated 710 women’s studies programs across the country attempt, in one way or another, to correct social biases and give voice to the contributions of women, said Bonnie Zimmerman, president of the National Women’s Studies Association. Patterson, borrowing from the same format, wants to teach women what she believes is their divinely ordained role.

She looks at the divorce rate and the increase in single-parent families and concludes that feminism, far from empowering women, has, in fact, shackled them.”I think it’s been oppressive to women in giving them the idea that you have to have a job equal to a man’s in order to have value,”she said.”There’s nothing wrong with working in the home.” The home and the family, conservative Christians believe, are the foundation of society and the realm where God reveals himself. Tampering with the family, they say, is tantamount to tampering with the order God established in the world.

The women’s studies degree that Patterson created draws on”complementarian”theology that insists men and women were created equally, but for different roles. Men were created to provide and protect, while women were created to help and submit.

They point to the New Testament passage Ephesians 5: 22:”Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church.” Women in the program say they have no qualms about submitting to their husbands because of the Scriptural passage that follows it:”Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her.” Within this framework, submission does not mean servitude, these women say. It means freedom. That’s because husbands, far from abusing their power, are supposed to sacrifice everything for the wife and the family. They are the ones who bear the burden of responsibility.”The fact is, women who willingly place themselves under submission to men who will love them as Christ loved the church, have more freedom, more opportunity and much greater loyalty than women who are not submissive to their husbands,”said Ashley Cherry, a student in the program.

Kathy Rudy, a professor of theological ethics and women’s studies at Duke University, agrees this Christian model is not necessarily a put-down. Conservative Christians, she said, elevate the role of women and regard them as uniquely qualified to nurture their children and teach them spiritual values.”From the outside it may look sexist,”Rudy said.”From the inside it may be perceived as a far better feminism than the one that forces women into suits or the harsh world of the law courts or academia.” But just how many 21st-century women will take up this model is hard to tell. So far, only 14 women are enrolled in the women’s study program begun last fall. And in North Carolina, where eight Baptist churches cut their ties to the Southern Baptist Convention because of its submission clause, it is unlikely to attract big crowds.”I think it’s closing doors to women and teaching them not to use the talents they have,”said Rhonda Lowe, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Raleigh, which severed its ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after the submission declaration.”It’s not something I could support.” Dorothy Patterson is a woman of contradictions. One minute she’s explaining a New Testament phrase in Greek, the next minute she’s telling her students to draw up a list of their guests’ favorite foods so they can be better hostesses. She is both the biblical Mary and Martha: Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet soaking up his teachings, and Martha, annoyed that her sister is not helping her in the kitchen.

Dorothy and Paige met at First Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas, when they were 6. By 9, they were sitting side by side in the same pew. By the time they were in high school, they had decided to get married.

By their own accounts, theirs is a strong marriage. Paige said of his wife:”Next to salvation itself nothing so fortuitous has come along.”In her dissertation, Dorothy writes of her husband:”He is the one I want most to please and the one I most enjoy serving on this earthâÂ?¦” Unlike many pastors’ wives, Patterson carved out an academic route she said her husband encouraged. In 1968, she was the only woman at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to receive a master of theology degree.

Later, he became the feisty leader of the conservative revolution in Southern Baptist life. She reared their two children, Armour and Carmen.

But before long, Dorothy was cracking open books of theology and writing books on women of faith. Since coming to Southeastern in 1992, she has edited an edition of”The Woman’s Study Bible,”and completed her dissertation, titled”Aspects of a Biblical Theology of Womanhood.”She said she has three books under contract.

While other women with her accomplishments might rest on their professional laurels, Patterson’s resume, with flowers around its borders, lists”homemaker”first under the section titled”occupation.” (BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM _ STORY MAY END HERE)

Buffy Brown is named after the pigtailed girl in the 1960s sitcom”Family Affair,”which portrayed the travails of three orphaned children raised by their uncle. Although Brown has chosen a more traditional family model, she has not escaped the social changes of the past generation.

She and Brown have been married for three years and say they make virtually all their decisions together.

Buffy and Don have a hard time coming up with examples of submission. They argued a few months ago when Buffy, who is six months pregnant, began having morning sickness. Don insisted she quit working her 15-hour-a-week job at a pastor-referral service on campus. Buffy protested, but ultimately submitted and stayed home. Two months later when her morning sickness was gone, they agreed she should return to work.”If we have big decisions we make them together,”she said.”Both of us serve each other.” Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said this shared decision-making prevails in most evangelical homes, according to a nationwide survey he conducted.”Time and again in our interviews, evangelicals expressed the need for male headship, while simultaneously describing the functionally egalitarian practices of their marriages,”he writes in a book due out in January, called”Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want.” And he concludes:”Contemporary evangelicals may be suspicious of the feminist movement, and may even denounce it, but they have nevertheless been at least somewhat shaped by it.” The Browns disagree. Buffy will be happy when she gives up her part-time job in a few months, and said she is looking forward to being a mother.”I think it’s a dream to stay at home with your children,”she said.”Your priority as a woman should be raising your children. Just because we can do other things doesn’t mean we should.”DEA END SHIMRON

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