By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
On Wednesdays and Friday afternoons, sophomore Emily Felts will be attending a course at the College at Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas, that’s not held in a typical classroom.
One of a dozen students, she will sit around a mahogany dining room table at the home of Dorothy Patterson, wife of the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, for the “Biblical Model for Home and Family” course.
The school’s new women-only concentration in homemaking — with labs in cooking and “clothing construction” — has already drawn criticism from some who say it hardly fits a modern view of women’s roles. But Felts is thrilled the school has begun a focus on home life from a conservative Christian perspective.
“I wanted to be a pioneer student in the homemaking concentration,”
said Felts, 18. “This is just one school’s attempt to reclaim biblical standards for the roles of the woman, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
As gender debates have divided both evangelical Christians and society at large, the college — started in 2005 by seminary officials
— has decided to plant itself firmly in the stance of its Southern Baptist brethren. They say wives should submit “graciously” to their husbands.
“It is homemaking for the sake of the church and the ministry, and homemaking for the sake of our society,” explained Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, at the June meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio, where he announced the program.
“Because, folks, if we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed.”
Critics wonder why the school would focus on this particular topic, and why it’s designed solely for women.
“Faith speaks to moral, social and spiritual matters, not matters like boiling water,” argued Robert Parham, a frequent Southern Baptist Convention critic, in an editorial for the Web site of the Baptist Center for Ethics, which he directs.”Water boils, spoons stack in kitchen drawers and sewing machines sew the same way for Christians and non-Christians.”
And Mimi Haddad, president of the group Christians for Biblical Equality, questioned why men can’t avail themselves of these tips on homemaking.
“Often you have women who are so exhausted, and so it seems to me it might be a better use of the church’s talent to help men assume some responsibilities in the home and in child-rearing, because very often this is one place where they’re less inclined,” she said.
But the students in the program say the homemaking courses — which amount to 23 hours out of a 131-hour load that can include Western civilization, Greek and Old Testament — aren’t preparing them solely for a life at home.
Sarah Babler, a freshman at the college, envisions herself as a missionary someday, or perhaps a worker in women’s ministry.
“Working as a missionary or any businesswoman — anything that you end up doing — you’re always going to have a home,” said Babler. “It’s always going to help you to know basic nutrition and how to eat correctly and how to take care of your home and your family. It just seemed so practical.”
Ashley Mills, a junior who is taking the class but not pursuing the concentration, said she thought it might be good preparation for marriage. Mills, 20, said she was skeptical about the class at first, but now believes her concerns were unfounded.
“They’re not trying to demean women at all or tell them that if you’re in a career that you’re somehow less than a Christian woman,” she said. “They’re just going back to what we believe is the source of truth and see what does God say about women.”
A recent Gallup Poll showed that women are split on the proper role for women at home and in the office: 50 percent said they would rather work outside the home, and 45 percent saying they would prefer to stay home.
Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Seminary, said the homemaking concentration was offered because women were asking for it. In fact, the seminary offered a “Domestic Science” course in
1909 that is very similar to a “Orientation to Homemaking” class that now counts five students.
Judging from the several e-mails she gets each day requesting application information for next fall, Stovall said she expects the number of students in the homemaking concentration to grow.
The program is modeled after a similar but broader set of courses at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, Calif. Pat Ennis, the chairwoman of the home economics department there, began it in 1987 after first developing it in the 1970s at a San Diego college. Like the Pattersons, she cites the second chapter of Titus, a short book in the New Testament, that calls for young women to be “good homemakers.”
Dorothy Patterson, who has taught other classes specifically for seminary students’ wives, said she believes there is a Christian approach to homemaking that she can share with her students.
For example, she said, she offers the sweaty FedEx delivery man at her door a cookie or a cold bottle of water.
“I don’t do that because I have gone to a homemaking program and been trained,” she said. “I do that because of certain things that God has done in my life, which makes me want to reach out through my home to touch lives.”
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.