Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Women at OBU

Obviously, I am probably not the most qualified person to talk about women at OBU. I graciously welcome any students, faculty, or alumni who would like to use this forum to tell your OBU story.

I grew up in a denomination (United Methodist) that has been ordaining women since 1956. When I was 7, a very capable and talented woman came to serve our church as pastor. I was raised in a very traditional family. My mom did not work outside our home after I was born, and we followed a very traditional division of labor with regard to gender roles. But until I arrived on Bison Hill at age 18, it had never occurred to me that Protestant churches should be sexist. How quickly I learned.  Men telling women what to do and how to think is a twisted dynamic that pervades a lot of religions, and evangelicalism is one of the worst offenders.

At OBU, I was surrounded by young men who had grown up believing a lot of things about gender that I was simply never taught. It was just one of the many areas where I thought I was conservative, then I came to OBU...
The first thing that struck me was the lack of women teaching in the religion department. It took some time before I realized just how few opportunities there are for women in Baptist academia, such as it is. The next glaring disparity I noticed was the intentional exclusion of women from the pulpit in Raley Chapel. Once a year, we had a "Women's Day" chapel. Usually it was a seminary president's wife gushing about how she met her husband the first week of college and couldn't be more giddy and elated to support him in his ministry. It really made me sick. Once in a great while, there might have been a woman who spoke on a non-compulsory Friday chapel service. But when it came to women in Raley Chapel, they were always "speaking," never "preaching."  I even learned that the Holy Spirit, which I always assumed was an "it" is actually a "Him."

Once a year, we men were encouraged to participate in "OBU Day in the Churches."  We wrote sermons that made some use of our newfound biblical scholarship, but mostly we were supposed to thank Oklahoma Baptists for contributing their hard-earned offering plate dollars to OBU through the Cooperative Program.  What did female students contribute on OBU Day?  Usually they sang a solo or taught Sunday school.  I don't remember them being welcome to preach on OBU Day.  Maybe I'm wrong and things have changed, but I doubt it.

What made all this sexism so ironic is that women were (generally) so much more advanced in scholarship than we men. Women routinely outpaced their male classmates in Bible and theology classes. They earned higher scores on Greek and Hebrew exams. They won departmental honors and served as assistants to the faculty. Yet where were these bright young women supposed to go? Options in Southern Baptist academic and clergy life are almost literally nonexistent.

(In later years I learned that the SBC seminaries make a ton of money off women who enroll in "Christian counseling" degree programs. It's a total win-win for fundamentalists. They can boost enrollment in the seminaries, have a stock of young ladies on hand to marry the yet unhitched seminarians, rake in revenue, give women a place in a more typically nurturing kind of field, and populate church counseling centers with people who practice the quack science of "Biblical counseling." But I digress...)

At first, I thought "ring by spring" was just a bad joke. But then I realized it pretty much represents the ideal embodiment of what fundamentalist Baptist elites want for women. OBU sells itself to parents as a safe place for their daughters to go. (Though, from the stories I heard, way more girls were deflowered at Falls Creek than at OBU.) But at the end of the day, there is simply no place for women in church leadership. "Gracious submission" to a husband is the stated ideal.

This sexist dynamic has become worse over time.  We were all told about the legendary Rowena Strickland, a great woman of God who taught Bible at OBU from the 1950s to the 1970s (I think).  She even left an endowed professorship in her will.  So far, two men have held the Strickland Chair, but under the current leadership, no woman ever will.  It wasn't until 2000 that the fundamentalist SBC finally added deliberately sexist language about "submission" to the Baptist Faith and Message.  By then, Baptists had already clarified their opposition to women in church leadership "because men were first in creation and women were first in the Edenic fall" (1984).  And what if a woman believes she is called by God to be a Southern Baptist minister?  According to W.A. Criswell, it's simple: "She is mistaken.  God never called her."

Personally, I believe all these sexist men are mistaken.


  1. Right on, Brother Jacob! Got another horrible example not from OBU but SBC in general to add. Apparently, the new controversy is who can baptize. The fundies think only pastors (which obviously includes only men in their world) can baptize. I'm not gonna name names but I know of a few BGCO churches that may lose their precious status when Big Brother finds out they allow women to baptize. My aunt has taught Sunday School at a BGCO church for decades. Her knowledge of Scripture could keep up with any of us, yet I know of at least one 2003 OBU grad who says she shouldn't be allowed to teach grown men. Stuff like this just confirms my decision to join a church where we have women leading worship and perish the thought, allow them to have "pastor" in their title. We had some profs who were open to women in ministry but I'm afraid their days are numbered.

  2. I feel like I must comment on your reference to the Holy Spirit. Doesn't the Bible itself refer to the Holy Spirit as a "He"? I know my ESV and NIV versions say "he" in John 16 and "himself" twice in Romans 8 and "who" in 2 Tim 1:14. I am no languages scholar, but these translations certainly don't say "itself" or "it". Also Billy Graham's book on the Holy Spirit basically starts off with a section on how the Holy Spirit is a person along with biblical references. I do not wish to argue. I just want to respectfully say I do not believe it is fair to use that as one of your points about OBU as if it were their original idea. 

  3. Thanks for the comments. Abby, fair point. The original NT has a few masculine pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. Favored evangelical and fundamentalist translations like the ones you mention retain those pronouns (while they mistranslate other texts such as Isaiah 7:14). Other modern translations, such as the NRSV (which is endorsed by the National Council of Churches), uses gender neutral pronouns for the Holy Spirit. You're right, though, that it's not OBU's idea that the Holy Spirit is a male. I guess my broader point is that it's sad that women are made to believe that spiritual instruction cannot come from women who are "not permitted to teach or have authority over men," and always come from men. In most evangelical and fundamentalist thinking, gender is not just a physical construct, but also a power relationship. And it stinks that females across the life span are made to understand maleness to be that from which spiritual insights necessarily come and that they will never be more than passive receivers.

  4. Sad but true. Until the membership of Baptist churches pull their heads out of the sand, this will continue. I salute you in your efforts to inform, Jacob. While my husband was employed at OBU, I was pleased to be involved with a group called Women in Baptist Life. We raised money and gave scholarships to women (some of them OBU grads) who wanted to follow God's call on their lives into ministry. I was shocked to learn the story of Donna Butler, a gifted musician, raised in a Baptist church, who followed God's call on her life and has never been able to minister in a Baptist church because of her gender. How sad for congregations that could have benefitted from her talent if not for the idiocy of the SBC and the BGCO. I often thought exactly as you do, during our years at OBU, that OBU will never survive as long as the BGCO is in control. But I also went to church with some retired faculty who said, without hesitation, that OBU would be nothing without the BGCO. You're fighting an uphill battle, Jacob, but I encourage you to continue. While we cherish our OBU friends, we're so grateful to have gotten out when we did. I will comment as "anonymous" for the sake of our friends who are still teaching there. Given the current trend of administration cyber stalking of faculty computers, they need to be protected at all costs. May God bless them all.

  5. Why don't you fight for women's rights in Saudia Arabia? Seriously, if women don't like OBU, they can leave the school as a student or faculty. I am a femaile who went to OBU and loved it. If you are focused on bringing down OBU or making them transform to your really need a new life and new passion.

  6. I know it is "Female"

  7. I went to OBU. I was one of those women that excelled in the very classes you mentioned. However, I never felt that I was being told to not pursue what God called me to do. I never felt any anti-women agenda at all. And I certainly didn't want a "ring by spring." (I turned down enough guys at OBU to break out of that stereotype :-D). In fact, one of my professors at OBU took issue with the change in the Baptist Faith and Message. I remembered him quite clearly saying how he didn't like the change and he and his wife had an equal partnership.

    Now, for my confession, I went to OBU and I am not and never have been Baptist. I realized when I was at OBU that there certainly is a Baptist culture. But you know what? It didn't bother me. The reason it did not is that I realize God has allowed the church to experience diversity in the living out of scripture. I have friends that are Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, and from overseas denominations we wouldn't recognize because they are country specific. All that to say, I have no problems with the SBC doing what it wants to do. I agree with Krici, that if this is not your expression or understanding of Christian living, then don't be Baptist. I'm not Baptist. But I still love my Baptist brothers and sisters.

    1. Sorry, Carissa and Krici, you both are showing your ignorance. We're glad you had a positive experience at OBU. We would like for others to have the same. This is not about bringing down OBU, it's about preserving for the future, what OBU has always been about. It's about trying to stop the erosion of OBU's reputation, so that your diploma doesn't become an object of ridicule. Your advice to just "don't be Baptist," is tantamount to burying your head in the desert sand. Foolish notion that will ultimately end in the de-legitimization of your having graduated from OBU. The faculty you loved while you were there, know this to be true. Too bad you don't.
      A Former Faculty Member


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