Southern Baptist Seminary Seeks to Maintain Gender Restriction for Pastors While Encouraging Women Theological Scholars

A decade after Southern Baptist Convention seminaries were adding academic programs in homemaking to advance the denomination’s new emphasis on traditional gender and family roles in the church and home, at least one is creating opportunities for female students to engage in serious academic study alongside men preparing to be pastors.

Last week Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., formally announced creation of the Society for Women in Scholarship, a group created by students to provide opportunities for networking, learning and leadership development among women seeking a place at the table in theological scholarship.

The society, part of the seminary’s “Kingdom Diversity” initiative launched in 2013, aims to help women who are academically and theologically gifted thrive in an academic setting overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Like the other five SBC seminaries, Southeastern abides by the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, which among other things prescribes wifely submission in marriage and limits the office of senior pastor to men.

“Women are our largest and most diverse minority group on campus,” said Walter Strickland, special adviser to the president for Kingdom Diversity. “I’m convinced that the fruit of the society will extend beyond the confines of the group by emboldening women to contribute more readily in the classroom discussion, providing opportunities to publish written work and by sponsoring events for both genders to think deeply about the Christian faith.”

The idea started a little over a year ago over coffee when two female students at Southeastern sat down to talk about their academic ambitions.

One of them, doctoral student Bekah Stoneking, grew up in church and while in college believed that God was leading her to go to seminary. Feeling particularly gifted in teaching and public speaking, she worried what kind of jobs she would find afterward, but she chose Southeastern so she could learn “within the guardrails of our convention’s confessional documents.”

At first she struggled to find her place.

“It became super-obvious to me that I was outnumbered, sometimes being one of only two or three women in my classes,” Stoneking described the experience in a seminary blog. “I felt weird because I didn’t have a seminary vocabulary and I still really liked to wear my sorority t-shirts.”

Entering advanced studies she embraced her “inner Elle Woods,” the protagonist of Amanda Brown’s novel Legally Blonde popularized on film by actress Reese Witherspoon. Stoneking writes about her transition from sorority girl to seminarian in a blog titled Theologically Blonde.

“For years, I felt like I had to be someone else in order to make it in seminary,” Stoneking said. That changed when she found multi-faceted friends with similar experiences.

“What I thought would be a cookie-cutter experience (where I was the random pink sprinkle that didn’t quite fit into the mix) is actually shaping up to be one of the richest, most vibrant experiences of my life,” she declared.

While seminaries do and should encourage women gifted in areas like hospitality, encouragement, prayer and music, society members say not everyone fits that mold.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Bob Allen