Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Women at OBU, Part 2

Today, we move from looking at women in the CCCU specifically to women at OBU. (See our first post on this subject here.)

In general, it is not terrible to be a woman at OBU. There are, of course, two major exceptions to this rule.

First, it is not terrible to be a woman at OBU, unless you are an administrator. Then, it might be terrible to be a woman.

After all, David Whitlock is known to have said that he will not be alone in his office with a woman.

Well, that's one way of presenting himself as one with integrity. But it's also a way to say a woman can never be his number 2 or his right-hand-man-- pardon the phrase. Of course, then, it makes sense that in order to bring in a wingman, the easiest person to demote is a woman. After all, he couldn't have meetings alone with her anyway. 

So what is the current female administrative situation at OBU? Right now, the two highest ranking women are in sort of a weird situation. One, the oft-referred to demotion, holds a double title due to the addition of a lower-level job without technically taking away her former job. So, is she a dean or a Senior VP? It's a good question. 

The other, as the token yes-woman, has received a promotion, yet still holds her original title as well. So, is she a dean or the associate provost? Also, a good question.

In fairness, I don't know much about higher education administration, so some of this may not be what it looks like to me. But I do think the double title business is a little fishy. Is it too much to actually promote a woman within this regime? Probably. From my point of view it seems that a woman cannot be trusted to actually hold a position any higher than dean, although she may be given the illusion of such a title. 

But before I find myself delving into the sexual presuppositions which support a system as such described, I will move on.

Because the second scenario is one I know much more about. It is not terrible to be a woman at OBU, unless you want to do ministry. Then it is almost necessarily terrible.

Once, after telling an administrator's wife that I was a biblical languages major, she asked me if I wanted to do missions or children's ministry.

I wish I was kidding.

You see, those are the only viable options for women at OBU. As a former chapel CREW co-chair, I can tell you that it's very true that women cannot preach in chapel on Wednesdays, unless it is women in missions and ministry day.

Once, when asked to preach at a student-led chapel on a Friday, I was told by an administrator to, "just speak, and not make a big deal that you are preaching."

I wish I was kidding.

But, you see, a woman cannot be trusted not to spew feminism anytime she is given a public platform. Every woman we ever put forward as a speaker in my two years on chapel CREW was assigned to a Friday chapel. And, who, you may ask, has the final say in these decisions? Why, it is the president's chapel-- and the president ultimately chooses who gets to come.

So, is chapel a place where we should all be led in worship? Because it looks to me like the only people asked to lead, except by students, are white men in suits. 

It is interesting to me that OBU is going in such a direction that it discriminates against its own alumni. Both the overlooked theology applicant and the mistreated female administrator are former Bison. Upon walking across the stage last May, being hooded summa cum laude, holding the distinction of outstanding senior in religion, I knew that if I was walking into that same school with a PhD, I would not be hired. Or if I took another route and became a pastor of a large baptist church (not SBC, of course, but perhaps CBF), there is only one day per year in which I might be able to bring the good news to those who are in the shoes I once filled.

The truth is, I was almost always encouraged by my (all male) faculty. They surely believed in me and supported me in ways I'm still not sure I understand. With the help of one of them I ended up at the school where I study now.

Don't get me wrong. OBU still remains in my heart four of the best, call-defining, years of my life. Given the chance I would not change my alma mater. I do still love it.

But, the truth is also this: when I left OBU, parts of me were dead.

And that is what it's like to be a woman at OBU. It is to live between a tension of a community which is supposed to care for you as if you are all members of one body, but refuses you the agency to define your own spiritual gifts and calling. It is to be ignored and rejected by some-- working hard to receive deserved recognition, not just for yourself but for all the sisters who have been marginalized before you. It is knowing that no matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work, no matter how much more qualified you are than any man against whom you might compete-- you will not be asked to do certain things or hold certain positions, for these are not women's positions. It is knowing in your heart those are the exact things which make you feel alive, which God had in mind when crafting you. There's only so long when you must start every conversation with a justification for your voice to even be there before you just give up.

It is parts of you dying, and forgetting that there are indeed communities which encourage them to live.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have found such a community and I grew up in such a community. Slowly but surely, I am coming back to life. But four years at OBU nearly pushed me past the place of remembering the possibilities. 

Is that the kind of University we wish to pursue in the name of Christ? Perhaps it's time to put BGCO politics behind us and be faithful to our own, caring for them and helping them grow.

I am very glad that Clayton's OBU experience prepared him for ministry-- but that is not everyone's story.


  1. I've heard this "I won't allow myself to be alone with a women" about President Whitlock before. While he may want it to come across as a sign of sexual integrity, it makes me question someone who has so little control over the passion burning in his loins that he can't handle a car ride with a female colleague without being tempted to cop a feel. Or whatever. It's weird.

    1. That's not necessarily the case. I am an OBU alum and a youth director. I do not allow myself to ever be alone with a female student or volunteer. Not because I cannot control myself but because I want to make sure I can never be falsely accused of anything. I am protecting myself by keeping myself from any situation where I have no alibi. It's common practice just about everywhere in student ministry and education. So I understand why Dave may have this rule. At many churches they have similar rules (men may not ride alone with a woman in an elevator etc).

      Mostly though I'm playing Devil's Advocate as I think it is ridiculous that two professional adults of different gender's cannot have a meeting together. He should maintain this stance with regard to female students, but colleagues?

    2. To the youth director, I appreciate that you're mostly playing devil's advocate. I think the policy you described is great for a youth minister or a schoolteacher. As a teacher, I applied it rigorously in my own life/work. But the original commenter's point, I think, is that it's kind of strange for a middle-aged adult who works with other middle-aged adults to publicize such a policy as some kind of signaling device regarding personal integrity. I think maybe it actually points to larger problem in OBU/evangelical culture: the obsession underlying the policy inherently sexualizes even the most trivial and routine kinds of interactions. How awkward it must be if, hypothetically, the president, provost, and two female colleagues have to travel to Tulsa or OKC for a meeting. If Dr. Norman calls in sick (and thus can't chaperone), do they just cancel the trip? Or find another chaperone? It's just odd. It would be one thing if it was just a private preference that he took care to abide by whenever practical. But so many people have told me about this little rule that, rather than just wisely/appropriately avoiding even an appearance of impropriety, it creeps people out. But heck, who can blame him? The obsessive, pervasive, and excruciating sexual tension on Bison Hill has the most ironic unintended consequences. Anyone who's spent any time there can attest to that. This little matter is completely irrelevant to our core concerns, but sadly points out that -- from the top down -- women at OBU are in large part just temptresses who are always liable to cause a brother to stumble. As long as this view dominates, we're not going to make much progress. Should we just go all PCC/Bob Jones and dress them in floor length denim skirts? Maybe that's the road we're headed down. Ugh, this is depressing.

    3. This comment is ridiculous and absurd.

      To Jacob, no where has Whitlock ever "publicize[d] such a policy." Veronica publicised it.

    4. Anonymous, several faculty have mentioned (independently of one another) that he will never allow himself to be in a car or an office alone with a woman (besides Mrs. Whitlock, presumably). Obviously, if so many people know that about him, it's obviously a signaling device of some kind that he's revealed to colleagues.

    5. Revealed. You assume he has "revealed" this to several faculty, but you state he has "publicised" it. Two different things. I think that is a bit of an exaggeration, and misleading, which is how I find most of these posts.

  2. "Given the chance I would not change my alma mater. I do still love it."

    Perhaps true for me as well. However, at this time I would discourage my children (male and female) from attending OBU, and I have stopped recommending it to other potential students.

  3. First, thank you. I was very aware during my time at OBU of the double standard that existed there between men and women. Doors opened automatically for me, while they closed automatically for you. I have no experience of the Whitlock administration, but it sounds as if Brister was less rigid (though I certainly wouldn't call him a feminist.)

    Second, one of the most powerful pastors that I have ever served under was a woman. Truly excellent.

    Now being married to a female pastor, I see how much the institution of the church can restrict itself and deny its own members. Thankfully, her denomination has been ordaining women for fifty years, and the hurdles are fewer.

    Mostly, I just want to say thank you for this post.

  4. I'm sorry to say it, but this article is absurd.
    There is no intentional double-standard between men and women at OBU, and regarding Dr. Whitlock's policy about being in an office with another woman, that has no relation to your statement, Veronica. A woman can be Dr. Whitlock's personal assistant, he simply will not be alone in his office with her because, as previously stated, it is a matter of personal integrity. He does not want to be falsely accused of anything.

    And for the record, there is a female professor on board for the College of Theology & Ministry, and she has been there for two years.

    If you have any questions, or would like to discuss this further, email me. first.last@my.okbu.edu


    Jeremy Smith
    Religion major at OBU

    1. No intentional double standard? Are you kidding me? Look at the Bandy hire. With respect to him (I'm sure he's great), the only advantage he had over the other candidate (who was rejected despite the UNANIMOUS vote of the search committee) is a penis. The Princeton M.Div./Ph.D. OBU rejected is at Wheaton now. The intentional double standard (or sexism or whatever you want to call it) is not only present, obvious, and growing -- it's also costing OBU standing in relation to institutions it would like to think of as peers. I think you need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid they're apparently serving up in the ARA.

    2. The fact that the first job you deem worthy of a woman is "administrative assistant" and not "Senior VP" or "Provost" shows that there is indeed a double standard.

  5. While I never felt any underlying double standards as a female in the religion department, I have to say I agree with Veronica in that it was more than likely due to the fact that the faculty members were overwhelmingly supportive of both me and my studies ...

    "The truth is, I was almost always encouraged by my (all male) faculty. They surely believed in me and supported me in ways I'm still not sure I understand."

    Any tensions that might have been there at an administrative level were never displayed by the professors or staff. I too earned the Senior Achievement Award in Biblical Studies (shared with another male student), an award I look back on in wonder. It's still such an honor - both personally and academically.

    While I never pursued a career in academia, it saddens me that had I chosen to, I might not be viewed in the same light as my classmates who went on to achieve similar degrees (Clayton being one of them).

  6. Thank you for this post, Veronica. You were able to articulate something I had not been able to quite put my finger on since I graduated and moved beyond Bison Hill into the "wider world," something that has troubled me despite the support I received from faculty:

    "the truth is also this: when I left OBU, parts of me were dead...
    And that is what it's like to be a woman at OBU. It is to live between a tension of a community which is supposed to care for you as if you are all members of one body, but refuses you the agency to define your own spiritual gifts and calling."

    While only a religion minor...I received the ironically named Rowena Strickland Religion award while at OBU...and while the faculty were all very supportive of me and were formative in my search for God's call on my life and the development of my gifts and strengths, I still carry the baggage that enculturation into such a discriminatory environment has laden me with. Communication about the misogyny is often implicit at OBU, but anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see will catch whiffs of its stench in the way people talk about gender issues and in the structural realities of the institution. I know that God has not called me to pastor or preach, but I also know that if I were to come back to my alma mater in its current situation as a professor, I would not want to work under such an administration that I am 100% certain would neither view me in principle nor treat me in practice as an equal and as first and foremost a human being.

    It's time we cut the ties with organizations such as the BGCO which strap OBU and parishes in OK with false burdens that are hard to carry, yet deign hold inerrant the Scriptures that contain the words: "there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

    There is more at stake in this movement to free OBU from the BGCO than even academic freedom. OBU is being used as yet another tool in which the church is intentionally, mournfully maiming itself by denying women the agency to hear and follow the call of God's Spirit in its life. This is truly tragic.

  7. Caitlin the verse you quoted in Galatians has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of can a woman preach. He was speaking of salvation not polity. Regardless of ones stand on the issue that verse does not speak to either side. We learned at OBU a verse cannot mean What it never meant.
    Kevin H.

    1. Kevin, given the thrust of Pauline theology, I am confident Paul would not make such a distinction. Polity is the expression of the salvation of the community.

    2. Kevin, thanks for your response. The thrust of my argument was much broader than whether or not a woman may speak the words of God behind a pulpit. There is a larger attitude about the fundamental equality of human beings which I mean to address here, as perhaps only a woman can truly understand through what she's experienced in a culture such as Veronica's described. The assumption that I was speaking merely of the limited scope "preaching" perhaps reveals a fundamental problem with a cultural structure that prohibits the principle of absolute equality before Christ in terms of salvation, value, and image-bearers to extend in praxis into either church polity or, weirdly enough, even an academic institution's administration.


We invite you to join in the conversation. However, anonymous comments are unwelcome.