“Acknowledge Those Who Work Hard among You”: The Absence of Women’s Work in Complementarian Seminary Curricula

by Chesna Hinkley | October 23, 2018

At the height of this year’s outcry over Paige Patterson’s long pattern of sexism and mishandling abuse, it seemed like complementarianism might face a reckoning. For all the happy, mutually respectful couples who identify as complementarian, can a system that rests on women’s essentially submissive nature really keep them safe when something goes wrong? At a deeper level, can a system that bans women from participation in certain ministries of the church produce a sustainable culture of respect for women? The answer, it seems to me, lies partially in the way the theology is applied to “exceptional” situations by its boots-on-the-ground practitioners—pastors.

Patterson is not the only pastor—nor the only famous pastor—to set an example of misogynistic and dangerous appropriation of complementarianism at those crucial moments when a philosophical system is shown to be ethically viable or bankrupt. Whether he acted in line with some sort of “pure” complementarianism or not, systems like this one, that in practice are highly relevant to the lives of the whole church, do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, they are partially constituted by the actions of those who define their terms. Patterson, until recently, was one of those powerful evangelicals whose ministries and writings inform what complementarianism is, and his position as an educator gave him great sway over the formation of those who would preach and practice it all over the world.  

Two weeks before Patterson was forced to resign as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, historian Beth Allison Barr responded to the situation with research on Southern Baptist (SBC) education published on her blog.[1] Positing that a failure to understand women’s place in Christian history was behind the toxic brand of sexism that eventually brought Patterson down, she looked at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) course catalog to find out what men were learning as they prepared to be pastors.

Barr found eight courses on history and four that mentioned women among the 148 offered that semester. She also counted content on women in the history textbooks being used, and found that 98.6% of primary sources (all but one) and 94% of the content of the secondary sourcebook concerned men.[2] Barr suggests that without any knowledge of women in church history, nor much of history in general, SBC pastors are left assuming that women play little or no role in Christian history and ought to play diminished ones in today’s church. In a chapter for a forthcoming edition of Discovering Biblical Equality, Mimi Haddad argues that disinterest in women’s history plagues the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in a similar way, leading to incorrect and androcentric assumptions among evangelicals. I provided research for this chapter on ETS conference and journal content, which forms part of the data reported in this paper.

I am further concerned that people are led to believe that complementarianism is “traditional”—a misconception that allows the inconsistencies at the heart of the system to be treated as longstanding spiritual mysteries instead of recent logical flaws. I expanded Barr’s project to fifteen conservative seminaries, including SWBTS, as well as to all the history content published by the Evangelical Theological Society in the last thirty years. At each seminary, I investigate not just history, but all departments, as well as faculty. While I agree with Barr’s contention that a lack of historical awareness contributes to sexism in the church, I further find that women’s issues are systematically compartmentalized, women’s academic work is ignored or suppressed, women faculty are not treated as equals, and academic interest in women is primarily directed toward the maintenance of male power. Across multiple disciplines, men are educated for ministry that both overlooks women’s work and blames them for problems, while asking students to uphold a system of thought that is logically flawed and inconsistent with experience. The knowledge of God, meanwhile, is misappropriated as a possession of men, rather than a gift of the Spirit.

Methods

Women in History at ETS[3]

I read through issues of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society from 1988 through the first issue in 2018, counting all the history-related articles and reviews of history-related books. I did the same with conference programs from ETS annual meetings for the years 1998–2000, 2002–05, and 2007–17. ETS informed me that conference programs no longer exist for the meetings through 1997, in 2001, and in 2006. I excluded content from the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which shares meeting space and lists its sessions in the program.

Women in all subjects at Evangelical seminaries

Sample

For my sample, I chose the following fifteen Protestant seminaries with conservative views on biblical inerrancy. Broadly, they represent four streams of Reformation thought. I selected three Reformed schools, one of which is the only official seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The other two frequently educate PCA pastors. Both schools affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) are on the list, as well as both connected with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). I included all six Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries and finally, two non-denominational schools. Bethlehem College and Seminary is important to any complementarian sample, as John Piper is its chancellor, and it maintains the most exclusionary admissions policies of any school on this list by banning women from all its graduate programs. Bob Jones University is a relatively close approximation of what I expected to find at the influential Liberty University Rawlings School of Divinity, with a far more manageable dataset. Bob Jones is certainly stricter in its views on gender than is Liberty, but is known for many of the same commitments to social and political conservatism and falls within a similar sector of evangelicalism. These schools vary in their attitudes toward women in ministry, though most state complementarian views.

  • Westminster Theological Seminary, founded by dissenting professors during the Princeton controversy of the early twentieth century
  • Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), which educates a large number of PCA pastors
  • Covenant Theological Seminary, affiliated with the PCA
  • Trinity School for Ministry, affiliated with the ACNA, which ordains women to the priesthood (not as bishops) by local option, but is led by a complementarian archbishop
  • Nashotah House Theological Seminary, affiliated with the ACNA
  • Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, affiliated with the complementarian LCMS
  • Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, affiliated with the LCMS
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), affiliated with the SBC
  • Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), affiliated with the SBC
  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), affiliated with the SBC
  • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS), affiliated with the SBC
  • New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), affiliated with the SBC
  • Gateway Seminary of the SBC
  • Bob Jones Seminary and Graduate School of Religion, an independent fundamentalist Baptist school
  • Bethlehem College and Seminary, founded as an expansion of Bethlehem Baptist Church’s leadership training program

Curricula

For each school, I read through the most recent available course catalog, counting courses into five broad divisions:

  • Theology, including systematic theology, ethics, apologetics, world religions, and philosophy
  • Biblical studies, including Old and New Testament, archaeology, and hermeneutics
  • History, including, because of the frequency with which it is the only history offered, historical theology
  • Practical topics, including, but not limited to, homiletics, pastoral care, evangelism, spiritual formation, Christian education, and worship
  • Other. A few topics, such as bioethics, creative writing, and homemaking, fall into the “other” category, and I have also placed women’s studies, where distinct from women’s ministry, in this section.

For each of these divisions, I counted all the courses that are either on women or for women only. I suspected from the outset that many courses that might refer to women or their issues would be about marriage and sexuality or would be limited to women, and I have separated these as far as possible from general curriculum courses about women. Of course, because schools usually release a new catalog every year, it is possible that all of these seminaries offer classes on women every second year that I did not count. I excluded internships, practica, independent study, and languages (except exegesis courses). Because some schools also offer degrees for licensing in non-ministry fields, I also eliminated education, music, and counseling courses, where not explicitly directed toward congregational ministry.

Faculty

Finally, I counted the faculty, including adjuncts, at each school, deferring to the catalog when its list differed from that elsewhere on the school’s website. In the case of schools that offer undergraduate programs, these faculty are included, as many teach in both programs and I consider women teaching in the undergraduate program relevant to a school’s attitude toward women faculty. This also allowed me to report the highest possible figure for each school. The undergraduate programs offered at these schools are typically accessory to the school’s primary purpose as a seminary. The exception is Bob Jones, where the seminary constitutes a department in an otherwise established university; only religion professors are counted here, though they may teach undergraduate and/or graduate students. I counted as “non-adjunct” anyone at or above the assistant professor rank and visiting professors. I calculated gender ratios for each school and as a composite figure. I also consulted the Association of Theological Schools’ (ATS) reported gender distributions. ATS reports only full-time faculty in seminary/divinity school programs, so its figure cannot perfectly correspond to my composite total percentage for all faculty in undergraduate and graduate programs at these fifteen schools. However, it is worth noting that women typically make up a greater proportion of adjuncts than of tenured faculty—women with young children, in particular, are 35% less likely to land a tenure-track position than men in the same situation[4]—and for that reason I expect the ATS figure I report here would be higher if adjuncts were included. At the same time, the figure for these fifteen schools would be lower if only seminary professors were counted. Thus, while this comparison is not flawless, more data would not improve the picture for these schools, but only push the figures further apart than they already are.

Results

Table 1. The Evangelical Theological Society’s output of women’s history as a percentage of all history content, 1988–2018.

Evangelical Theological Society[5]

On history

On women’s history

% women’s history

ETS meeting (1998–2000, 2002–05, 2007–17): plenary address

9

0

0.00

ETS meeting (1998–2000, 2002–05, 2007–17): workshop/individual paper

995

21

2.11

JETS (1988: no. 1–2018: no. 1): journal article

98

2

2.04

JETS (1988: no. 1–2018: no. 1): book review

225

6

2.67

Total

1327

29

2.19

Table 2. Faculty by gender: at 15 seminaries, as a composite figure, and as reported by the Association of Theological Schools.

School

Non-Adjunct

Women

Adjunct

Women

Total

Women

%

Westminster[6]

29

0

44

2

73

2

2.74

RTS[7]

87

4

20

3

107

7

6.54

Covenant (PCA)[8]

21

1

6

2

27

3

11.11

Bob Jones[9]

21

0

5

0

26

0

0.00

Bethlehem College and Seminary[10]

16

1

12

2

28

3

10.71

Trinity School for Ministry (ACNA)[11]

23

3

n/a

n/a

23

3

13.04

Nashotah House (ACNA)[12]

11

0

5

0

16

0

0.00

Concordia St Louis (LCMS)[13]

58

0

n/a

n/a

58

0

0.00

Concordia Ft Wayne (LCMS)[14]

32

0

20

1

52

1

1.92

SBTS (SBC)[15]

113

6

4

0

117

6

5.13

SWBTS (SBC)[16]

103

9

n/a

n/a

103

9

8.74

SEBTS (SBC)[17]

84

3

22

2

106

5

4.72

MBTS (SBC)[18]

24

1

n/a

n/a

24

1

4.17

NOBTS (SBC)[19]

83

10

44

14

127

24

18.90

Gateway (SBC)[20]

53

5

116

11

169

16

9.47

Total

758

43

298

37

1056

80

7.58

Total reported to the Association of Theological Schools in 2017[21]

3449

857

n/a

n/a

3449

857

24.85

Table 3. Courses and programs restricted by gender.

School[22]

Beliefs on gender

Enrollment in some courses restricted to men

Enrollment in some degree programs restricted to men

Westminster

Complementarian

Yes

Yes: Master of Divinity (Pastoral Ministry track) and Doctor of Ministry (Pastoral Ministry and Preaching tracks)

RTS

Complementarian

Yes

No

Covenant[23]

Complementarian

Yes

No

Bob Jones

Complementarian

Yes

Yes: Professional Ministry Studies division (education for non-degreed working pastors)

Bethlehem

Complementarian

Yes

Yes: women are not admitted to any seminary degree program

Trinity

None stated

No

No

Nashotah House

None stated

No

No

Concordia St Louis

Complementarian

Yes

Yes: Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Theology, and Doctor of Ministry

Concordia Ft Wayne

Complementarian

Yes

Yes: Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry

SBTS

Complementarian

Yes

Yes: Master of Divinity (Pastoral Studies track)

SWBTS

Complementarian

Yes

No

SEBTS

Complementarian

Yes

No

MBTS

Complementarian

Yes

No

NOBTS

Complementarian

Yes

No

Gateway

Complementarian

Yes

No

Table 4. Percent of courses by topical grouping at 15 seminaries and as composite figures.

School[24]

Total

Practical

%

Theology

%

Biblical Studies

%

History

%

Other

%

Westminster

152

43

28.3

47

30.9

38

25.0

24

15.8

0

0.0

RTS

178

59

33.1

46

25.8

55

30.9

18

10.1

0

0.0

Covenant

68

40

58.8

7

10.3

17

25.0

4

5.9

0

0.0

Bob Jones

91

28

30.8

18

19.8

38

41.8

7

7.7

0

0.0

Bethlehem

40

16

40.0

10

25.0

12

30.0

2

5.0

0

0.0

Trinity

44

13

29.5

16

36.4

10

22.7

5

11.4

0

0.0

Nashotah House

36

12

33.3

6

16.7

10

27.8

8

22.2

0

0.0

Concordia St Louis

77

25

32.5

16

20.8

19

24.7

17

22.1

0

0.0

Concordia Ft Wayne

162

38

23.5

40

24.7

40

24.7

44

27.2

0

0.0

SBTS

259

137

46.6

43

14.6

55

18.7

24[25]

8.2

0

0.0

SWBTS

509

215

42.2

80

15.7

150

29.5

35

6.9

29

5.7

SEBTS

298

161

54.0

62

20.8

33

11.1

37

12.4

5

1.7

MBTS

276

130

47.1

36

13.0

91

33.0

19

6.9

0

0.0

NOBTS

423

221

52.2

52

12.3

132

31.2

18

4.3

0

0.0

Gateway

246

135

54.9

24

9.8

63

25.6

24

9.8

0

0.0

Total

2859

1273

44.5

503

17.6

763

26.7

286

10.0

34

1.2

Table 5. Practical courses having to do with women or limited to women.

School[26]

Practical

On women

%

For women only

%

Westminster

43

1

2.3

0

0.0

RTS

59

0

0.0

1

1.7

Covenant

40

0

0.0

0

0.0

Bob Jones

28

0

0.0

1

3.6

Bethlehem

16

0

0.0

0

0.0

Trinity

13

0

0.0

0

0.0

Nashotah House

12

0

0.0

0

0.0

Concordia St Louis

25

1