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.