Friday, September 21, 2012

OBU Evolving on Women in Ministry?

In the past, we've expressed some disappointment and dismay at the blatant and not-so-blatant sexism in the OBU universe.  I took a crack at the topic early on in the Save OBU era.  Veronica followed up with a post on the plight of two specifically disadvantaged classes of women at OBU: administrators and students pursuing a ministry vocation.  Veronica also did a great post on women at CCCU universities, pointing out that if you're a female administrator in Christian higher education, it's best if you're at an institution that isn't "intentionally Christ-centered," because they are significantly less likely to have female presidents  I also took a light-hearted look at a book on "biblical womanhood" by an SBC seminary president's wife.

Yet this week's Bison had two stories of interest to the subject of women in ministry.  Briefly, the first story really surprised me (page 9).  It was about a female United Methodist minister and her life of service.  I grew up in the UM Church, and had an absolutely gifted female pastor from 1988-1992, during which time I made my Confirmation.  The UMC has been ordaining women since 1956.  I was pleased that the Bison article focused on this clergywoman's ministry and took as a given the authenticity of her call.  Most SBC pastors and almost all SBC elites disparage women's calls to pastoral ministry.  W.A. Criswell, when asked about a woman who believes God called her to be a Southern Baptist pastor, said, "She is mistaken.  God never called her.  Her own personal ambition, or longing for recognition, or a thousand other things led her into that persuasion."

The second story (on page 10) describes a new course being offered on women in ministry.  Naturally, most people expected this class to be the typically restrictive "So ladies, do you want to be an organist or a children's director?  You could marry a pastor..."  But the article indicates that the class is actually much more than that.

There are two required texts, according to the Tree of Life bookstore.  One is The Feminine Mystique, which I would be amused to see on the shelves at Tree of Life.  The other is a 20-year old evangelical takedown of feminism.  Well, takedown is too strong a term.  Presumably there are other readings.  And the class no doubt includes a lot of discussion of the issues raised.

I don't know what perspective the (adjunct?) instructor is coming from, and, contrary to what some of Save OBU's critics believe, I don't really care.  The news account indicates that the course is going well.  Students at least have the option to come away affirming that God calls women to  be pastors, bishops, professors of theology, and any number of ministerial vocations that the SBC and much of Christendom has obsessively restricted women from entering.

This new ministry class is happening in the context of other issues and events that suggest that OBU is relatively more progressive on gender than most Baptist institutions.  A number of female OBU graduates are admirably serving as ordained pastors.  On OBU's Facebook page over the last year, I've seen at least a couple women preaching in the Raley Chapel pulpit.

Perhaps most significantly, President Whitlock may not be nearly as retrograde in his views on this subject as his BGCO and SBC elite friends would like.  Most of the H.R. problems regarding women originated in the provost's office, not the president's.  And, significantly, multiple sources report that Whitlock told a group of laypeople at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City that he didn't see anything wrong with women deacons.

The context of this admission was a speaking engagement at OKC, First shortly after OBU put Herschel Hobbs's name on the religion and ministry department.  Showing his relative ignorance of Baptist politics, Whitlock asked, "Why have people been upset in the past with FBC?"  Of course, anyone who knows anything about this subject knows that FBC has for decades been relatively moderate and virulently hated by the BGCO.  It elected women deacons for at least a few years in the 1970s and early 1980s.  This prompted the Capital Baptist Association to refuse to seat FBC's messengers at its annual meeting.  FBC also had a few relatively liberal pastors since that time.  Whitlock is on record as affirming "complimentarianism," so all in the conversation were shocked that he would affirm women deacons.  He would never utter such blasphemy in the presence of, say, Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan.

I'll be the first to admit that I've perceived OBU to be quite backwards in its attitude toward gender.  I've thought this from the first days I spent on Bison Hill until now.  But maybe things are changing.  If David Whitlock isn't a sworn fundamentalist who wants to send women back to the kitchen, he may yet be a great leader as OBU evolves on this issue.  From women deacons to the Baptist World Alliance to allowing a course for students to explore the issue of women in ministry, Whitlock is proving to be quite the moderate.

To which we say: Come on in, the water's fine!


  1. This post makes me very happy :)

  2. Jacob -- I, too, am pleased that the Women in Ministry class seems less restrictive than I imagined it would be (love the fact that they are reading The Feminine Mystique). However, I think I am less optimistic about OBU's stance towards women in ministry.

    As a female that took pastoral ministry in the Fall of 2010 at OBU, it was made clear that women were not affirmed as pastors. Gender exclusive language was used both in the classroom and in our three required "textbooks." If I remember correctly, we only (really) devoted one class period to discussing women as pastors and then the subject was dismissed as a non-issue (and, of course, the professor and my classmates continued to utilize gender exclusive language).

    However, on a positive note, I will always encourage any ties that OBU wants to make with FBC OKC. I am proud to say that FBC has and continues to ordain women not just as deacons but as ministers. FBC was an oasis for me during my last two years at OBU.

    1. I should note that any step towards the inclusion, acceptance, and encouragement of women in leadership roles (e.g. deaconess) is a GOOD step forward, OBU just needs to keep walking onward in order to leave discrimination behind.

  3. History majors at OBU have been reading The Feminine Mystique for years in the Women's History class. That book changed my life more than any other book except the Bible


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