When Southern Had To Choose: The Gospel or Theological Feminism

Among the various words that spark controversy in the church, feminism is one of them. As a woman and seminary wife, I’ve heard the arguments, and I’ve seen the “claw marks” of the fight. It’s a predictable tragedy. I can’t help but think of Genesis 3:16 when the Lord promises Eve, and thereby every woman, a struggle for authority as a result of her disobedience. This struggle is the very heart of Susan M. Shaw and Tisa Lewis’ article, “Once There Was a Camelot: Women Doctoral Graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1982-1992, Talk about the Seminary, the Fundamentalist Takeover, and Their Lives Since SBTS.”

dont-make-pathsShaw and Lewis, two female doctoral students at Southern during the period of 1982-1992, share in their article the collected sentiment of those women who witnessed the change of leadership and theological focus at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary beginning in 1979. The two based the title of their article on an analogy given by former Southern President Duke McCall in his farewell address during their graduation ceremony. Shaw and Lewis say that McCall commissioned their class with King Arthur’s words to his page boy, as he sends him back to Camelot from battle, “Your job is to go home…You’ve got to go on and make sure the story of Camelot lingers, and tell people what we were and what we believed in.” Thus, Shaw and Lewis set out to do just that in their article.

When choosing to attend Southern, most women in this article entered with “hopes of teaching at Baptist colleges and seminaries.” However, Shaw and Lewis claimed that “fundamentalists” crushed their “hopes” when they “took over” the Seminary, as well as the Convention. As a result, they set out to question those who graduated from the doctoral program from 1982-1992, and therein, “provide space for Southern’s women doctoral graduates to tell their stories and to identify any patterns that might exist in these women’s stories…”

Among the 34 women that graduated from the Ph.D. program during that decade, Shaw and Lewis were able to interview 26. Among those 26 women, four report themselves as homosexual and 11 are ordained. Twenty-one were Southern Baptist when they entered Southern, of which only three remain Southern Baptist today. The others either joined other denominations, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, or removed themselves from any form of “religious community.”

Though these women are very different today, they were all drawn to Southern for two common reasons: its academic reputation and the sense of “openness” on campus. However, the women in this study claim that as they spent more time at Southern, they found themselves to be “harassed” and “abused” in the “bar culture” that the male students created at Southern. They also claimed to be “excluded” from class discussions. Shaw and Lewis claimed that the fate of the Seminary was finalized in 1993 once Dr. R. Albert Mohler was appointed President, one “who himself denounced women in church leadership.”

I don’t challenge whether this environment was one of “exclusion” because this is not the issue. The issue is that the base of this article is founded upon social injustice. These women immediately jumped to their own defense, without any regard to the Word of Jesus Christ. The outrage in my heart is not one of judgment but one of grief. It pains my heart to read that through these women’s entire seminary career, they left with little or no appreciation for the Gospel. For example, one woman who took part in the study said, “I believe in God. I’m just not sure I believe in God in a real personal sense as in ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He cares for me.’ I’m not sure about that.” Another woman admitted her faulty understanding of a relationship with God when she said, “Well I’ve never been a particularly spiritually person…The churches I’ve been a part of have always been really socially active churches with the emphasis more on we’ve got to get these draft resisters to Canada; we got to do this, as opposed to let’s sit back and pray or whatever…I am a Christian, but I don’t pray much.”

In case you aren’t outraged at this point, you should be. The rub lies here within their understanding of the true glory of “Camelot.” In this article, there is absolutely no mention of the Gospel, or the mere name of Jesus. Rather, these women merely proclaim a “self-wounded-gospel” developed by the very hands of their own pride. These women are certainly hurt. But the pain they speak of is not the real pain. This hurt they speak of is only as skin deep as make-up they put on every morning. The issue of their pain is that they think they are the victims of social injustice and that they have since lived a life destroyed by a mutiny of male egos. The truth of the matter is that they, like me, are not victims of injustice, but rather perpetrators of the greatest injustice there ever was and is, the penalty Christ Jesus Savior suffered in our stead.

The Real Battle Is Within

The real battle of this world is not one against gender issues, but against our selfishness. Instead of seeing ourselves as General of our own battle, we should rather look to the Word as our authority, consider Christ Jesus, and then give it all we have in battle, not for us but for Him. As we look to the Word of Jesus Christ, our “rights” will fade in the midst of the light of glory and grace, and that is one thing that neither you nor I deserve. Jesus Christ came to bring freedom to a people bound by their chains of self. As Christians, and especially as women, we must surrender against the struggle for authority promised to us in His Word, and instead embrace the Gospel. After all, we are but “grass” swept away by the wind and forgotten by its field. “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him…to those who keep his covenant…” (Psalm 103:15-17 ESV).

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8 Responses to When Southern Had To Choose: The Gospel or Theological Feminism

  1. Jerry says:

    I am certainly thankful that SBTS has been rescued from a godless gospel. I was stationed with the military at Ft. Knox in the early-80’s, and my limited experience with SBTS students in those days made certain that I attend SWBTS (MDiv ’89) a few years later.

    Looking at the state of our seminaries today I think that my decision would be changed.

    Jerrys last blog post..Christian Freedom – Introductory Post

  2. Tony Kummer says:

    When I first read about this, I found it hard to believe. Southern has really come a long way since the 1980’s

    I appreciate the way you put this issue back on conditions of the heart and it’s implications for the Gospel.

  3. Matt Svoboda says:

    This was a great and even refreshing post. Thank you!

    Matt Svobodas last blog post..John Piper’s Small Group Series

  4. Thanks for the informative post. Lest we forget…

    Massimo Lorenzinis last blog post..Four Stages on the Journey to Meaning

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  6. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Please also read Dr. Moore’s article that’s linked above!


    Much, much thanks for all the prayer warriors who prayed for institutional reform at SBTS. God mercifully answered their prayers which resulted in His Glory shining more brightly at SBTS and elsewhere.

    And much thanks to the courageous reform and leadership by Dr. Albert Mohler. We all bear the sin of selfishness and pride, but the sin of selfishness and pride through the victim-whine of militant feminism is a particularly pernicious variant.

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