Thursday, July 12, 2007

My thoughts on a baccalaureate concentration in Homemaking, Part 2

(For those of you just joining this conversation, please read Part 1, especially my two-part preface, so that there is no misunderstanding regarding my intentions.)

As I return to my critique of a baccalaureate concentration in homemaking, I would like to address what I see as the ideology driving the recent decision at SWBTS. To some, this may seem like stating the obvious. Perhaps. But, the reason I desire to state the obvious is that I differ from Dr. and Mrs. Patterson in their views of gender roles and family life. My perspective on this matter is informing my difference of opinion with the Pattersons on the relevance of the homemaking concentration for Christian women seeking a baccalaureate education. I will explain in more detail below.

By now, it is no secret to most observers that the Pattersons have a decidedly uncompromising view of gender roles and the family. The propagation and defense of what has been termed "complementarian" gender roles has been a lifelong commitment of Mrs. Patterson, in particular. Her corpus of publications rarely departs from this subject and her teaching record has focused in this area as well. I reiterate that I am not critical of her for this commitment. Mrs. Patterson is convinced of the truth and importance of her perspective and her sincerity is evidenced by her tireless effort to convince others. Anyone who would conclude otherwise should consider the following on-line resources: Southern Baptists Lead the Way: An Interview with Dr. Dorothy Patterson; The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective (pp. 371-383); and Sarah Sumner's Men and Women in the Church: A Review Article (pp. 39-50). One might also take a look at the following resources in print: The Women's Evangelical Commentary on the New Testament and The Family.

It is certain that one cannot determine another's motivations with certainty, but I think in light of the widespread documentation of the Pattersons' desire to forward the cause of complementarian gender roles, it is safe to conclude that an underlying agenda or ideology is at work. To be clear, I do not use the term "ideology" in a derogatory manner. A definition of an ideology is "a system of ideas or beliefs that forms the basis of a program or policy." I think the Pattersons themselves would gladly affirm that their view of traditional gender roles is a, if not the determining factor in their decision to forward and vehemently defend the new homemaking concentration. You may recall the impassioned response of Dr. Patterson at the SBC this past June, when questioned about the program. It was clear to me, at least, that he genuinely believes the instruction of women in the tasks of homemaking is essential to the maintanence of the Christian family, Christian churches, and the nation as a whole.

Mrs. Patterson believes it is every (married) woman's calling to be a homemaker in the traditional model she represents and teaches. This is what I call a 1950s-style model because of its similarities with the conventions of that age. Some may see this comparison as unfair, but I am unable to come up with another illustrative comparison that does justice to the model. In one-on-one interaction and in print, Mrs. Patterson has been unequivocal in her affirmation that a woman's God-ordained place of service is the home, as a helper to her husband and full-time mother to her children. Frankly, it seems silly to me to conclude anything else but that Mrs. Patterson desires for the legitimization of the homemaking program at the College at Southwestern to forward her cause of solidifying the traditional model of the family in Southern Baptist life. The institutions of higher education is where the next generation is trained. In order to ensure the survival of a certain perspective, one must ensure it is taught. (This was the reason behind the motivation to shuffle the trustee boards of the major seminaries during the "conservative resurgence" [or "fundamentalist takeover," whatever descriptor you prefer].)

Of course, for many reading this post, such an ideological agenda is fine and maybe even laudable. Certainly, if you agree with the Pattersons, you have the right to feel that way. Yet, as one who's perspective is not in keeping with the Pattersons, I am uncomfortable with a baccalaureate concentration that forwards such an agenda. You may say this is a non-issue ultimately, and you would be right. It doesn't matter much that Emily Hunter McGowin doesn't appreciate the homemaking concentration at Southwestern because of theological differences. It certainly isn't a good argument against the program of study as a whole. But, in order to be honest with my readers, I feel its important to "tip my hand," so to speak, and tell the whole truth. I will reserve further explication of my views for a later time.

Now then, I anticipate some objections to my perspective. To the conclusion that the baccalaureate concentration in homemaking is unwise and unnecessary, some may say: "Many women don't know anything about homemaking. If they need the instruction and they want to take the courses, why not provide it for them at the College?"

I affirm the fact that many women enter marriage unprepared for the responsibilities of managing a household. This is especially true of women who grew up in a two-income home or single-parent home. That said, I affirm as well that many men enter marriage unprepared for the responsibilities of managing a household, for many of the same reasons as the women. In my view, the Bible does not explicitly instruct all women in all places to be the primary managers and caretakers of the home. So, I take issue with the idea that women alone need to learn such skills. Perhaps I would be more inclined to support the homemaking concentration if it were intended for men as well as women. If so, I imagine I would recommend adding courses in small engine repair, car maintanence, carpentry, and accounting. (Dare I say that those men who turned up their noses at the prospect of taking a homemaking course reveal more about their views of homemaking than my blog ever will?)

Also, I take issue with the idea that homemaking is a course of study appropriate for an institution of higher education (meaning, a college or university). I know this is going to come across as elitist or snobby to some, but that is not my attitude or intention. I am not denigrating the homemaking responsibilities, only pointing out what I believe to be true. As a part-time homemaker, with all due respect, planning and preparing nutritious meals is not the same kind of academic pursuit as debating ethics or studying WWII. I think I could understand and support these kinds of courses being offered in a "continuing education" program or weekend seminars (as Mrs. Patterson has done for some time with her etiquette conferences), but to put such studies on the same level as music, humanities, etc, seems unmerited, even in the most charitable analysis of the issues.

Some may say: "But, homemaking is vital to the ministry of women in most Southern Baptist churches. Women need to know these things before they launch into ministry with their spouse."

Outside the rural areas of the South and Southeast, I am not convinced that traditional homemaking, as Mrs. Patterson envisions and models, is as vital as it has been argued by some. In contemporary America, where the mission field is predominantly suburban and urban, homemaking is no longer a significant concern to most. What I mean by this is that ignorance in matters of clothing construction and entertainment are not going to hinder the advancement of the good news the way they would have some years ago (see my discussion of Titus 2:3-5 in Part 1 below for more information). I cannot produce "evidence" for this assertion, so this is merely a statement of my studied opinion. As I interact with contemporary women, especially young women in generations X, Y, et al, homemaking is not at the top of their list of concerns. (Of course, there are exceptions. In a small, rural town, the pastor's wife needs to know which is the dessert fork, how to prepare meals on a budget, etc. But again, this information could be provided through another avenue and does not need to be a part of a baccalaureate program.)

Some may say: "Homemaking is a valuable skill and should not be frowned upon."

I agree completely. As I have said before, I consider myself a part-time homemaker and there is no doubt in my mind that the preparation of meals, management of the budget, and, most importantly, child-rearing, are vital to family life in the Kingdom of God. But, again, I do not think instruction in such matters belongs in a baccalaureate program of a Christian educational institution.

At this point, I think I have exhausted my thoughts on the matter. (I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Thank God!") I don't pretend to have figured out everything or deeply considered all the possible relevant issues involved in the College's decision to offer a homemaking concentration. It is my conclusion, however, that the decision is unwise and unnecessary, as well as ideologically driven. I welcome input and interaction with my conclusion, but I would ask that comments be respectful and kind-spirited.

(I hope to post something at a later time detailing my specific view of gender roles and the family, but for now, I'm going to give my fingers and my brain a break. Good night.)

5 comments:

Debbie Kaufman said...

Emily: I agree 100% and with your clarifications aka disclaimers as well. You have said exactly what I feel on this subject.

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

Hi Emily,

Once again, a very well-written post. In it, you said:

"It is certain that one cannot determine another's motivations with certainty, but I think in light of the widespread documentation of the Pattersons' desire to forward the cause of complementarian gender roles, it is safe to conclude that an underlying agenda or ideology is at work. To be clear, I do not use the term "ideology" in a derogatory manner. A definition of an ideology is "a system of ideas or beliefs that forms the basis of a program or policy." I think the Pattersons themselves would gladly affirm that their view of traditional gender roles is a, if not the determining factor in their decision to forward and vehemently defend the new homemaking concentration. You may recall the impassioned response of Dr. Patterson at the SBC this past June, when questioned about the program. It was clear to me, at least, that he genuinely believes the instruction of women in the tasks of homemaking is essential to the maintenance of the Christian family, Christian churches, and the nation as a whole."

I think the heart of the issue is here: what is the motivation of Dr. and Mrs. Patterson? Your stated belief, based on the evidence of "widespread documentation" and "the impassioned response of Dr. Patterson at the SBC" is that "it is safe to conclude that an underlying agenda or ideology is at work."

This may or may not be the case. Who really knows their heart, right? Here are my three questions for you: First, should God's will be the number one priority in considering a situation like this? Second, is God's will, situationally speaking, the same for each Christian? Third, is it possible that this degree program, as silly as it seems to some (and yes, I admit - it does seem strange), be God's will for some of the women who will attend Southwestern who may come from a background more in line with what you call the "1950's" family mentality?

In my opinion (and I'm totally open to change here), if we are to maintain integrity in our very commendable quest to afford women the same rights and freedom that men enjoy - we should do just that in this situation as well. I may lean more to a "Hunter-McGowin"-model of family and gender roles :0), but I'm not comfortable with telling those who come from a more traditional home that "my way is the right way." In so doing, would I not compromise the very principle I purport to advance - that of women's freedom? If a wife desires to immerse herself in the ideology and training of the Pattersons, we should support and celebrate such a decision no less than we would a woman's decision to work outside the home. As long as she chooses, the principle is upheld, and that's what's important - not whether she sees the passage in Titus the same way I do. And it just may be, at the end of the day, that if I push my women's rights position (which is also, by the way, no less an ideology than which the Pattersons allegedly seek to advance) on one who desires to learn how to be a homemaker from a woman who obviously does a fine job at it, then in effect, I am taking away her right and freedom.

Please don't get me wrong - I am by no means a fan of Paige Patterson or of keeping women in a role they haven't chosen. However, I am very concerned that if certain people in SBC blogtown continue to trivialize and/or discredit and/or make fun of (and Emily - I do not direct these at you - you write very respectfully and in a mature fashion - some in blogtown don't) something that may be close to the hearts of many young women, Christ will not be glorified. My wife would probably never enroll in such a degree program - but I promise you that if I were to meet a young lady who did have such a desire, I would encourage, support, and celebrate her decision to do so - free of any theological discreditations.

Can you imagine a young woman who may have gotten excited at the prospect of enrolling in this degree? Maybe she never learned how to do these things - maybe she had always LONGED to learn them - and now - she finally has the chance! And MAN is she excited! This is what she had always wanted to do - and now there was a very well-known school that was going to affirm her desire and say, with the granting of a degree, that a woman's commitment to the home is just as important as any other discipline! But wait - then the next day she gets online and sees prominent Baptist bloggers making fun of it. Discrediting it. Minimizing it.

Wow. For all our talk about how the fundamentalists are the ones who want to exclude - here we are, doing the exact same thing. Only we don't call it "exclusion," we call it "exegesis." Nice. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And the more we criticize "them," the more we find that they look just like "us."

Have a wonderful day!
Jason

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Jason,

Thanks again for a thoughtful response. I appreciate it.

Let me see if I can respond appropriately:
Q: "Should God's will be the number one priority in considering a situation like this?"
A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: "Is God's will, situationally speaking, the same for each Christian?"
A: Definitely not.
Q: "Is it possible that this degree program, as silly as it seems to some...be God's will for some of the women who will attend Southwestern...?"
A: Yes, it could be.

I am in complete agreement with the spirit of your comment. Women from all backgrounds should have the right to make their own educational decisions based upon their perception of God's will and the Spirit's gifting/calling.

I agree as well that a more egalitarian perspective on women's roles is no less an ideology than a complementarian one. I support the fact that those holding the complementarian perspective have the privilege to believe what they want, without me imposing my system upon them. (I will say, however, that I believe their position is missionally and scripturally problematic [but that is another post for another time].)

I hope it is clear that I have no interest hurting the feelings of young women who are possibly excited at the prospect of enrolling in the College's new concentration. I would support any young woman's decision to pursue such a path, assuming they do so with the Kingdom of God in mind.

But, I think you realize that this post is about whether or not the College at Southwestern should have established the program in the first place. I would not denigrate a woman for choosing this concentration now that it is available. I do take issue, however, with the administration's choice to present it in the first place.

Thanks again for your thoughts, Jason. While I have firm convictions about some things, I hope to avoid the kind of unnecessary exclusion you speak of.

Grace and peace,

Emily

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

Emily,

I thought you were going to bed! It's too late to be up responding to rants like I just gave! In all seriousness, though, thanks for the response. I never thought it was your intent to communicate any kind of exclusion.

Blessings,
Jason

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Yeah, my husband is out of town. I don't sleep well at first. :)