Thursday, July 12, 2007

My thoughts on a baccalaureate concentration in Homemaking, Part 1

In recent weeks, there has been a significant amount of discussion and debate on the new homemaking concentration at the College at Southwestern. The most recent coverage of the controversy is featured in this ABP article: Criticism of Southwestern homemaking courses angers professor, radio host, which was brought to my attention by Paul Littleton at SBC Outpost.

I have remained purposefully silent on this matter. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important of which is my desire to refrain from addressing what could be construed as issues of SBC politics on my blog. Of course, the new homemaking concentration has nothing to do with SBC politics on the surface, but observers of SBC internal conflict in recent days are aware that in this environment everything can be construed as a political statement. Yet, as a woman who has been following the blogosphere discussion for some time, I am compelled to say what I think.

To head off any misunderstanding, though, let me begin with this two-part preface:
(1) I am not, nor have I ever been, a student at Southwestern Seminary. I do not have anything personally against Dr. and Mrs. Patterson, nor do I have any underlying "agenda" to harm or belittle their ministry. My personal criticism of the homemaking concentration does not mean that I question their integrity or sincerity.
(2) I find enjoyment in certain aspects of traditional "homemaking," including cooking and entertaining guests. Because my husband and I have full-time jobs--he is a youth pastor and I am a full-time graduate student and part-time graduate assistant--we have found a healthy balance of sharing most "homemaking" responsibilities. So, the following critique is not the repressed contempt of a scorned housewife, or the anti-marriage rant of an angry feminist (though this description of feminists is mostly caricature, I assure you). I am not belittling homemaking as a practice or denying its importance in family life.

With the preface behind us, then, let me sketch Part 1 of what I perceive to be the problems with a homemaking concentration in an Christian educational institution's baccalaureate program.

Our primary purpose as followers of Jesus Christ is to make apprentices to him of all nations, immersing them in the Trinitarian reality, and teaching them to carry out all that Jesus commanded. Of course, this purpose assumes that we ourselves are apprentices to Jesus, whose character is being conformed into Christ's more and more every day. Although seminaries and other formal schools of education did not exist in the early church and are not addressed in the NT, it would seem to me that, above all, institutions of Christian education should be commited to preparing their students to be equipped Jesus-apprentices and Kingdom citizens, possessing a core of wisdom, knowledge, character, and skills necessary to be catalysts for God's reign in the world. It seems to me, therefore, that every program of study should be evaluated in light of this purpose and a concentration in homemaking is no different.

There is something to recommend a course of study in caring for the home, especially as it relates to raising children. Although many changes have beset the American home in recent years, it remains the central hub for family activities and the so-called "nuclear family" is still very much the norm. Moreover, for biblical support of their program, both Pattersons routinely refer to Paul's instructions in Titus 2:3-5, where older women are exhorted to teach younger women "to love their husbands and children, to be...good homemakers..." (HCSB).

The content of this verse is undeniable, but I wonder if the interpretation employed by the Pattersons gives proper credence to the motivation behind Paul's instructions. Paul clarifies exactly why such instruction is needed at the end of v. 5: "so that God's message will not be slandered." Now this is a strange reason to teach women to be homemakers, isn't it? Why would Paul say this? The answer, I believe, is in the missional, Kingdom-focused direction of Paul, who read all things through the lense of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom (including marriage, women's roles, and slavery). The homemaking skills of the women in Titus' congregation were essential so that the good news would not be slandered by outsiders.

In the Roman world, the wife's vital role was as administrator of the husband's (pater familias) household. She oversaw slaves, financial books, entertainment, and, yes, cooking and cleaning. Roman wives were expected to fulfill such tasks as a duty both to her husband and to the Empire. In the mind of most Romans, the security of the Empire rested upon the faithful administration of the home.

So, if a non-Christian Roman encountered a household like mine, where the husband and wife shared responsibilities, it is certain that the non-Christian would assume, not only that the couple is treasonously out of sync with Roman society, but also that the Christian message is simply backward nonsense. Therefore, in order to be sure that the good news is not slandered and the Kingdom is not thwarted, Christian wives in Titus' assembly must be faithful to do what is culturally necessary.

I think a comparable situation is in the roles of missionary wives in middle eastern countries. For a Christian family living in Syria, it is essential that the wife learn to adopt the patterns of wives in Muslim households so that the witness of the couple is not hindered by her apparent lack of homemaking skills. In some situations, the husband simply cannot help his wife with dishes or clothing or cooking because such actions on his part would shame her and bring reproach on him as a man. For the sake of the good news, therefore, the wife and husband adopt the appropriate cultural roles and perform them to the best of their ability.

For this reason, I think the use of Titus 2:3-5 as a support for the importance of a homemaking concentration in a Christian institution in the US is sorely mistaken. As I see it, Paul is not teaching the universal, inalterable responsibilities for all women at all times. (If it were so, surely they would have shown up in more places than Titus.) He is teaching the right way to submit to the expectations of the surrounding culture in order for the good news to be advanced. This is not uncommon for him, as you know (see esp. 1 Cor 9:19-23; cf. 1 Cor 10:23-33; 1 Thess 4:11-12; 1 Tim 6:1).

(In fact, I think an argument can be made that the view of women's roles and homemaking propogated by the Pattersons and others may actually do more to hinder the reception of the good news in the US than help it [albeit, in a relatively limited way]. I know, I know, this sounds terribly wrong. But I would urge you to think about the status of women in the US and the new cultural norms that have developed in the past fifty years. Paul's principle is that things like occupations, household roles, food choices, etc, are to be submitted to the mission of the good news. Is it possible that in our context, the insistence on a very "traditional," 1950s-style model of the family is serving to drive some young women away from the Kingdom? Would Paul intend for us to slavishly repeat the culturally-rooted model of the family present in the NT when we have the good news to preach and people to disciple?)

As a result, it is my opinion that a Kingdom-driven mindset, one that puts the propagation of the good news first and foremost, will lead us to pursue other means of education for women in American Christian institutions. With wisdom and discernment, we will focus on the things now expected of American women that are essential so that "God's message will not be slandered" (Titus 2:5b).

What are these areas? I cannot be exhaustive at this point, but I would suggest that the American milieu demands that our women have the same well-rounded education that is essential for college educated men. At least in theory, American women are deemed of equal value as men and just as capable of functioning in all aspects of public life. So, for their education, how about we ensure our women learn mathematics, sciences, literature, world history, world religions, foreign languages, and political science? And, for the distinctly Christian context, how about biblical languages, OT and NT, historical theology, ethics, and philosophy?

(This is not to suggest, of course, that the Pattersons do not advocate women learning such things or that they propose all women enroll in the homemaking concentration. But, I think the attempt to elevate the homemaking curriculum to the same academic level as other curriculum is unwarranted and, ultimately, ideologically driven.)

Although I have much more to say, I must wrap up an already lengthy post. Please check in later for Part 2 of my critique, where I will address what I believe to be the multi-faceted and misguided ideology behind the defense of the homemaking concentration.


Bennett Willis said...

Goodness, a blogger who can write in clear, complete sentences and express an idea without sarcasm. Not sure I ever ran across one of those before. :) But seriously, this was a nice note. I'm looking forward to part 2.

I teach a number of "on-line" classes and thus I have a lot of files to read and comment on. If I ever got one like this, I'd score it as about 175 out of a possible 100. Even the "apologies" were pleasantly done.

Having raised two daughters (one who spent 4 years in east Asia and one who is a stagehand in DC, I agree with your observations. The first daughter was a chemistry major--and it has proved to be a good homemaking degree. It is really hard for us to understand the cultural "boundaries" that exist and what they lead the people of that culture to do--and to suspect that we have some similar boundaries that we don't even notice. Personally, I think that the US needs all the help that it can get--morally and professionally--and I hope that each of us becomes "all we can be."

I think that I could see the use for a course in "cooking for 150 adults or 50 teenagers" which might have a strong lab component and would prepare both men and women for the unexpected but real parts of church life. :)Personally, I subscribe to the "if I can read, I can cook--just not really fast" theory of home keeping.

I plan to bookmark this blog. It is nice to have a positive place to go from time to time.

Thank you.
Bennett Willis

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thanks for stopping by and for your vote of confidence. I appreciate your thoughts very much. I am young and do not have children (yet), so my perspective is limited in some ways.

You make a good point about the way church functions often go. My education in large group entertainment has happened on-the-job, with plenty of mistakes along the way. I hope to say more about this issue (homemaking in local church ministry) in Part 2.

Grace and peace,


Jason Epps -- Salt Lake City, Utah, USA said...

Dear Emily,

Thanks for a very thoughtful essay. Your ability to consider contextual situations behind the biblical text is certainly to be commended. However, my only question at this point concerns what, after reading your post, could be perceived as a misrepresentation of the intent and theology behind this degree program. Now, I'm not a Southwestern grad, nor the son of one :), and I've only been to Texas once, but from what I know of Dr. Patterson, I'm not sure he would disagree with the spirit your assessment regarding the passage in question. It may be that he and Mrs. Patterson also recognize that for some women in the body of Christ, the avenues that you describe are not desirable or beneficial. It may be that Dr. Patterson and Mrs. Patterson are merely providing "another option" to help equip SOME women. In other words, when you imply that the Pattersons view the passage in Titus as containing "universal, inalterable principles for all women at all times," I'm not sure that this is correctly representing their heart and intention.

Now, I know that some (I'm not saying that you're in this camp by any means) who have a beef with Patterson are quick to condemn him because of hard "absolutist-type" stances he has taken on other issues in the past. However, from my perspective, I'm not convinced that the initiation of this program at Southwestern is a statement that "this is the way it should be for all women at all times." I think there should be ample evidence of such a belief if that belief is to be taken seriously. Hence, my two questions:

1) First of all, have I understood your essay and your position correctly?

2) If I have, I would be very interested to see any evidence you have that the Patterson's declaration is as strong as you perceive it to be. If there is such evidence, I agree that there might be an issue to be addressed. If there is not, the benefit of the doubt might be in order.

The purpose of my comments here is to, above all else, seek some clarification about this issue - not to disrespect any of the positions you've outlined. I very much enjoy reading your posts and appreciate the synthesis of scholasticism and passion you bring to the table.

I look forward to learning more from you about this situation if you find the time.

Jason Epps

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thanks for your reflection and comments. You raise some important points.

I am in complete agreement with you that Dr. and Mrs. Patterson are seeking to provide "another option" to help equip a portion of women who need such instruction. I have never read anything where they say they intend for all women to pursue this program. It is my fault if I communicated this understanding in my post.

That said, through both personal interaction and reading some of her books (esp. A Handbook for Minister's Wives and her contributions to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), I have concluded that Mrs. Patterson indeed believes it is every (married) woman's calling to be a homemaker in the model she represents and teaches. This is what I call a 1950s style model because of its similarities with the conventions of that age. In one-on-one interaction, she has been unequivocal in her affirmation that a woman's God-ordained place of service is the home. (I disagree with this assertion, however, something I hope to address either in Part 2 or another post.)

Also, I take issue with the idea that homemaking is a course of study appropriate for an institution of higher education. I know this may come across as elitist or snobby to some, but that is not my intention. I would understand these kinds of courses being offered in a "continuing education" program or in weekend seminars, but to put such studies on the same level as music, humanities, etc, seems excessive and unmerited. As a part-time homemaker, with all due respect, planning and preparing nutritious meals is not the same kind of academic challenge as reading Plato or analyzing the Cold War.

Finally, I do not think that the emphasis on homemaking is as needed in most (though not all) American missional contexts, as the Pattersons seem to believe. Perhaps in the South or Southeast, where such practices are still venerated, especially in rural contexts, a homemaking program would be appropriate. But this is a limited situation.

I hope this has been a little more helpful. I will seek to be more clear in Part 2 and include a few of your concerns. Thanks again for the interaction.

Grace and peace,


Jason Epps -- Salt Lake City, Utah, USA said...


Thanks for the clarification AND the speedy response! I was not aware of Mrs. Patterson's writings and comments on the subject. It would see, then, that there may be cause for concern. I figured you had access to information that I did not - and it turns out that you did.

As far as homemaking not being elevated to the status of other selected courses in the liberal arts - I can recall some courses offered when I was in school that would seem to fit the bill as well as, or even more than, a course on homemaking. Examples? Beginning golf, basket weaving, contemporary pornographic cinema - none of which I would put on par with the Plato's Republic or an analysis of the Cold War. Nonetheless, they were still included in the (elective) curriculum. However, it must be noted that these were isolated courses - not full-on "concentrations" or "courses of study." I think therein lies the difference.


Emily Hunter McGowin said...


BTW: My husband is on his way to Salt Lake City right now with a team of students for a World Changers trip. They're going to be working on several houses there all next week.

Its a small world,


Jason Epps -- Salt Lake City, Utah, USA said...


No way! Please let him know that if there is any way I or my congregation can be of service to him, we gladly will!


Jason Epps -- Salt Lake City, Utah, USA said...


Please forgive the excessive posts - but I thought you and your readers might enjoy this article from Associated Baptist Press concerning the subject of this post.


Alan Cross said...

Great thoughts, Emily. You really touched on a major focus of mine, which is that all of our theology should be informed by the Missio Dei. Thank you for making me think.

Paul said...


This is very well done. Keep up the good work.


Lu said...

I take issue with the idea that homemaking is a course of study appropriate for an institution of higher education.... I would understand these kinds of courses being offered in a "continuing education" program or in weekend seminars, but to put such studies on the same level as music, humanities, etc, seems excessive and unmerited. As a part-time homemaker, with all due respect, planning and preparing nutritious meals is not the same kind of academic challenge as reading Plato or analyzing the Cold War."

You took the words right out of my mouth and said them much more graciously than I ever could.

Jonquil said...

Speaking as a woman who sews, sewing is a great pleasure but rather an economic drain on the household than a savings. My mother, who sewed my clothes when I was a child, says she'd never bother today -- cloth is too dear and clothing too cheap. She still sews for fun, as do I.

If you're actually teaching a woman to manage a modern household, sewing is irrelevant. If you're exalting the economic model of the 1950s, then absolutely women should learn. While they're at it, they should throw away their Perma-Press clothes and get out the 100% cottons and the mangle.