School for housewives

Is Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's new homemaking curriculum a shrewd way to train future conservative warriors?

Published October 12, 2007 4:01PM (EDT)

Wondering about God's true plan for woman? Or rather, conservative Christians' plan for the country? Check out the fascinating piece in the Los Angeles Times about the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's new program in homemaking.

The "academic" major includes coursework on baking cookies, laundering and child rearing. To which I'm thinking, cool -- isn't it time the mundane tasks of so-called women's work got a little respect from the ivory tower? The problem is that the program enrolls only women, and the students aren't simply learning to become better cooks or parents, but more obedient wives, or in the vernacular of SBTS: biblical women.

According to the Times, the coursework on holy homemaking is part of the shift toward conservative "separate but equal" gender roles in the Southern Baptist Church. In 1998, the church dictated that women "graciously submit" to their husbands; two years later they were banned from becoming pastors. Back in 2004, the former president of the seminary lost his nut upon reading the Salon series "To Breed or Not to Breed," concluding ominously: "Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion. To demand that marriage means sex -- but not children -- is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children."

The sharp turn toward the right has driven away more moderate believers like former President Carter. Not surprisingly, some of these Baptists have heaped derision on the homemaking program. Writing in Ethics Daily, Baptist leader Robert Parham referred to the program as an "absurd aberration" that demeans Christianity: "Water boils, spoons stack in kitchen drawers and sewing machines sew the same way for Christians and non-Christians. For Christians to think otherwise is a frightening split from reality." Baptist blogger Benjamin Cole lampooned the program and scoffed: "A seminary degree in cookie-baking is about as useful as an M.Div. [master of divinity degree] in automotive repair."

Well sure, if spirituality and theology are what the folks at SBTS are really interested in. In which case their fixation on menu planning and frozen dinners is indeed laughable. But seminary president Paige Patterson's explanation for the program's true raison d'être gave me pause: "We're equipping them to do home-schooling." Now the idea that cookie baking turns you into a competent educator of your children is muddy. But the intention isn't: In an era where home schooling has become the pipeline for producing the next generation of conservative warriors, indoctrinating a new generation of home schooling mothers seems neither quaintly anachronistic nor remotely religious, but one shrewd political move.

There was one glimpse of sunshine in the article, along with chilling comments from women about learning to "shut their mouths" and "doing God's will." Even at this bastion of traditional gender roles, some men seem to see the inherent absurdity of women being wholly responsible for home and children. One husband of a woman enrolled in the program suggested that, based on his knowledge of other fathers' abilities, it was the men that needed homemaking classes.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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