Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sheri Klouda: Gender Discrimination, Federal Law and the Law of Christ in the SBC and SWBTS

Dr. Sheri Klouda, Professor of Hebrew, The School of Theology, Southwestern Theological Seminary, 2002-2006.
Dr. Klouda pictured at the seminary's convocation, August 29, 2002 affirming her adherence to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message

"Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought." J. Rawls

"For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God" (I Peter 4:17).

It is essential for Southern Baptists to speak out when there is an injustice within our convention. This post is written for the purpose of drawing attention to a brilliant theologian who served Southern Baptists as a professor of Hebrew at Southwestern Theological for a total of seven and a half years, three and a half as an adjunct professor and four as full time elected faculty, establishing impeccable credentials and an extraordinary track record, only to be forced out from the job of her dreams for solely one reason --- her gender.

A Bright Light in the SBC

Dr. Sheri Klouda joined the faculty of Southwestern in April, 2002, as assistant professor of Old Testament languages. She received her Ph.D. from Southwestern in May, 2002. She had previously been conferred her bachelor's and master's degrees from Criswell College in Dallas, and as already stated, she served three and a half years as adjunct professor at Southwestern prior to joining the faculty as professor. In the summer of 2001, Sheri served as assistant professor of biblical Hebrew at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Alabama.

Her conservative credentials are unquestionable. During the same trustee meeting at which she was hired, the SWBTS trustees passed a resolution thanking fellow trustee Ralph Pulley for his 22 years of service as a SWBTS trustee. One can rest assured that all eight faculty hired that day, including Dr. Klouda, were solid, evangelical conservatives who possessed a record of unashamedly defending the authority, sufficiency and inerrancy of God’s Word. Ralph Pulley and his fellow trustees would have guaranteed that to be the case.

Dr. Klouda was an exemplary employee of Southwestern and a tremendous representative of the Southern Baptist Convention to the evangelical world at large. She excelled in the classroom, building a strong reputation as both a scholar and teacher. Her classes were frequently full, and her students testified often of their admiration for Dr. Klouda. Donald Moore, a theological student at Southwestern who was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma during his tenure, expressed his appreciation for Dr.Klouda in an article published by the school's journal. “I was taking first-year Hebrew with Dr. Klouda at the same time I was going through my first round of chemo,” Donald Moore said. “I thank God for (her) grace and good teaching and patience.”

Sheri Klouda gained the respect of the evangelical academic world. She served on the editorial committee and as a regular contributor to the Southwestern Journal of Theology. Klouda also contributed to The Bulletin for Biblical Research, a journal specializing in ancient Near East and biblical studies. Sheri also was a guest lecturer at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 2005, and the 58th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington DC, in 2006. She also served as guest lecturer at SBL in 2006. In March of 2006, Sheri received a grant from The Association of Theological Schools, the prestigious Lilly Grant for Theological Scholars to partially fund her work entitled Building a Biblical Theology for Today: The Theology of Intertextuality.

A Sad Story

Paige Patterson was a hired as President of Southwestern Theological Seminary on June 24, 2003, a little over a year after trustees had hired Klouda. The trustees voted voted unanimously to hire Dr. Patterson just as they had Dr. Klouda a year earlier.

Some of the faculty at Southwestern were concerned about the hiring of Paige Patterson. Paige was asked during a June 24, 2003 press conference following his appointment if he would hire women in the school of theology. He responded that “Dorothy serves on the theology faculty at Southeastern”, and that “ provides somewhat of an answer.” Then he added, “there are ample numbers of men who are well-qualified for those positions.” Patterson said he planned to build the faculty with “God-called men.”

Patterson’s philosophical perspective on the roles of women in theological education prevented him from feeling comfortable about women teaching biblical studies or theology to men. In September of 2003, two months after his appointment as President of Southwestern and a one month before his official inauguration, Paige met privately with all staff and faculty . David Allen, the 2003 chairman of the board of trustees responsible for hiring Dr. Patterson, and who himself would be hired by Patterson in 2004 to serve as dean for the SWBTS School of Theology, said of that private meeting with faculty and staff, "While some speculate about Patterson's compatibility with our faculty, I have high hopes that our excellent faculty will work well with Dr. Patterson."

At that closed door meeting in September 2003, Paige gave personal assurances to faculty that their jobs were safe, regardless of gender. Sheri acknowledges her concern at the time, but after the faculty meeting, and the personal assurance by Dr. Patterson that her job was secure, she relaxed and continued in her commitment to invest her life and service in the school she loved. A few days after Patterson's inauguration, four professors resigned unexpectedly, including Dr. Bruce Corley, however, Klouda placed her focus on serving her school and being loyal to President Patterson and the constituency that hired her.

Sheri is the primary provider for her family due to several illnesses which have plagued her husband over the years. In July of 2003 William and Sheri purchased a home in Arlington, in order to be closer to the seminary so that she could spend more time at the school and with her family than on the highway commuting.

A little over a year after Sheri received the personal assurance that her job was secure, she was called to attend a meeting in June, 2004, where she was informed that she would not be granted tenure because 'she was a woman.' Ironically, Dorothy Patterson was serving as Professor of Theology in Women's Studies, but unlike Sheri, Dorothy 'only taught women’. Though it was often said by Paige and Dorothy that Dorothy worked ‘officially’ under the auspices of the School of Education at Southwestern, she was listed on the school’s web site as teaching in the School of Theology. As of January 2007, Dorothy Patterson’s name continues to be listed on Southwestern’s official web site as teaching in the School of Theology.

In that June, 2004, precisely a year after Patterson had been appointed President of the school, Sheri was told that it was ‘the President’ who would never recommend her for tenure. Why? It had nothing to do with her professional performance or collegiality, but simply her gender. She would not be given tenure by the President, because she was the only female teaching biblical studies in the school of theology, and that was not the proper place for a woman. There were many qualified men that could fill that position and it was the President's desire to replace her. Southwestern would give her two to three years to find another position at a reputable school, but she was to do her best to find another position as quickly as possible.

Sheri was stunned. In her mind she had the job of her dreams. While the issues surrounding tenure do not guarantee that a professor will retain his or her position at an institution, she saw herself as working towards tenure at Southwestern. She had invested her life, her family, and all her energy to be close to the school she loved. There was not one thing she had done to discredit her school. Rather, she was well liked by the students, had been loyal to administration and faculty, and had done her best to bring excellence to the school of theology in evangelical circles.

She was being forced out because she was a woman.

The Dark Ages of 21st Century SBC Life

If one wonders what goes on in the psyche of a man (or woman) who does not believe a woman should teach men Hebrew or teach men to properly exegete the Scripture through the study of the languages, one only has to read the words of Paige and Dorothy Patterson.

On October 25, 2004, just one year after Paige was inaugurated, and four months after Sheri was told to look for another job, Paige Patterson gave an interview with Baptist Press. He addressed the rumors that circulated a year earlier, just prior to his inauguration, that women would not be allowed to take classes with men at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and “the rumor that women would be drummed out of the theology school altogether."

Patterson said he knew at the time that he would have to speak to the rumors one day, “But I sort of enjoyed watching the rumor mill work for a year," the Texas seminary president said. "Every once in awhile I've been known to feed one and watch how far it goes.” {Editorial comment: I am surprised at Paige's confession here and wonder if the content of some of the rumors he 'fed' will one day be revealed.}

According to the October 25, 2004 Baptist Press article entitled 'Women are Treasured by God.' Patterson said he purposefully scheduled a discussion of the issue of women in ministry because others often misrepresent his views on the subject, calling such misrepresentation a “diatribe and lie of the left.” Of the many attempts to explain what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote the passage about the submission and silence of women (I Timothy 2:12), Patterson said, “Oftentimes, the answer of the evangelical world is that a woman cannot serve as a senior pastor.”

”Would somebody please find that in the text?” Paige asked. “It is not in the text. That is not said. There is no mention of occupation in this text at all. This is not a question of occupation. It is a question of an assignment from God, in this case that a woman not be involved in a teaching or ruling capacity over men.” Patterson concluded by saying "It is a prohibition of a woman teaching or ruling over a man . . . ."

There it is. Patterson's narrow interpretation of I Timothy 2:12 says it all and should cause our convention some serious concern. Paige is saying that this verse is not just addressing 'women pastors', but rather no woman shall have 'authority' over a man - period. No woman shall teach a man - period. No woman shall have 'authority' over a man - period. Dr. Klouda needed to be replaced as a professor because she was a woman.

Dr. Klouda was not a pastor of a church. Dr. Klouda was a professor at Southwestern. Dr. Klouda was not performing 'ministerial' services and was not 'ordained' or 'licensed' as a pastor. Dr. Klouda had been trained to teach Hebrew; in fact, Dr. Klouda had been trained to teach Hebrew at Southwestern Theological Seminary. Dr. Klouda was unanimously voted to be professor of Hebrew by the trustees of Southwestern in 2002. It cannot be argued that the institution had religious convictions that a woman cannot teach men - the institution's ultimate authority (the trustees) hired Dr. Klouda. It cannot be argued that the institution had religious convictions against a woman being in a position of 'authority' over a man -the institution's ultimate authority hired Dr. Klouda.

It can be argued that, in violation of federal law, Dr. Klouda was discriminated against because of gender.

It is critical to understand that Dr. Patterson replaced Sheri Klouda with a male on the basis of an interpretative application of I Timothy 2:12 which, according to Patterson himself, goes far beyond a prohibition of women pastors. According to his rigid and narrow understanding of this Pauline text, Patterson believes that it is God's will for a woman to not serve in any position of ‘authority’ over a man. Understanding his thinking answers several questions that have been raised in my own mind over the last two years:

(1). Why would Keith Eitel and Paige Patterson write a 'White Paper' and 'cover letter' respectively, taking to task the International Mission Board for women serving overseas as strategy coordinators with the International Mission Board?

(2). Why would the North American Mission Board no longer endorse women as military chaplains, particularly when the military is facing a shortage of women chaplains for ministry to women soldiers?

(3). Why would Dorothy Patterson only 'teach' women in Southwestern's School of Theology?

(4). Why would trustees serving any Southern Baptist Convention agency have a problem with a competent administrator of an SBC agency simply because she was a woman?

(5).Why would Dr. Sheri Klouda, one of the finest Hebrew professors our convention has ever produced, be forced out due to her gender?

Dr. Patterson closes out his October 2004 interview by giving us a concise answer to the above questions: “Ladies, the highest and noblest calling of God is mother and grandmother. Write it in bold letters with a big magic marker . . . (even) though it runs counter to an American culture that drives women to succeed in business and other endeavors."

Obviously, there are many of us who would oppose any philosophy that minimizes and marginalizes the role of women far beyond that of pastor in a local church, but when people in our convention are hurt by the application of that philosophy, then it is time for us to do something.

The Law of Christ and the Law of the Land

Sheri Klouda did not want to leave her job at Southwestern Theological Seminary. She had outstanding job performance evaluations, a student body that appreciated her, and an academic world that respected her. She was at the job of her dreams. Her family established themselves in Arlington, and her daughter was active in high school there. Dr. Klouda was focused on giving her best efforts to the service of the school. When she was told that she would not be given tenure because she 'was a woman' in a man's position, she was troubled. Her confidence in the adminstration was shaken. She and her family operated under the assurances of Dr. Patterson, given in September, 2003, and as a result took on the responsibilities of a more expensive home in order to be closer to the seminary, relying on her hospital benefits to meet William’s medical needs.

Through a series of broken promises that eventually led to Patterson quietly not assigning her teaching responsibilities for the fall of 2006 because of her gender, and then seeking to terminate her contract and benefits in December by 2006 (the middle of an academic cycle, and the worst possible time for an academician to find a job), this popular Hebrew professor found herself being phased out. Only because of the prestigious Lilly grant, which required seminary support of Dr. Klouda’s research, Paige agreed to find a way to pay Sheri until the spring of 2007. However, in the summer of 2006, Sheri was graciously elected to a professorship at Taylor University in Indiana, where she is appreciated for her work and for the contributions she is making to the academic community there.

The Klouda's house has not yet sold the Fort Worth metroplex, causing unnecessary hardship for the family, since the salary levels for professors differ greatly among institutions. When asked why she said nothing about her situation in 2004 when she was told she would have to leave because of her gender, she said she did not want to jeopardize her family by saying something that would cause the seminary to sever her salary while she was looking for a new job. In addition, she did not want to bring reproach on the seminary or on those who had effected her appointment to the faculty, hoping to make a quiet transition without publicity and conflict. Her husband's health has not improved, and he is currently having difficulty finding regular work in central Indiana, an area known for its economic struggles in recent years.

Our church has helped the Kloudas from our benevolence fund and I have personally given money to help support them. However, this post is not designed to draw out sympathy for the Kloudas. Sheri herself speaks highly of God's providence, and though she struggles to, she has expressed to me her solid belief that God is gracious and that he will bless her in whatever place of service she finds herself.

What bothers me is the extraordinarily restrictive views of certain leaders in our convention regarding women. This is not about 'being a pastor’' of a church. This is not a BFM 2000 issue. This is all about the belief among some that women should not have authority over men, whether it be in the home, the church, a business, or society in general.

The United States federal law forbids discrimination of employment based upon gender:


SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703]

(a) It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

It is argued that churches and religious institutions do not follow under the authority of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines (EEOC), but my good friend, Gary Richardson has given me some great counsel in the past regarding the law and Christians. He told me that every good principle that forms the basis for government protecting her citizens is a principle that can be found in the Word of God.

For our convention to treat in such a poor and humiliating manner a Christian who is as gifted and competent as Sheri Klouda – just because she is a woman- is a very poor witness to the love of Christ in us, a sense of His justice over us, and an appreciation of the equality He brings to us all.

If there is not a change in the way we as the Southern Baptist Convention view, treat, and appreciate women, there will be more lights that go out in our beloved convention than the shining luminary known as Sheri Klouda.

For those who say, “But Scripture demands that ‘a woman should not teach or have authority over a man’!” (I Timothy 2:12), I would respond that I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture as much as anyone, and that word ‘authority’ is used just this once in Scripture. A clear meaning cannot be found in any place where Greek is used. It is not in the Septuagint, nor in classical Greek, nor any other literature of the day.

Some have surmised the only way to understand is as a slang word used to describe how the priestesses of the Temple of Diana tried to control and dominate men in that particular mystery religion popular in Ephesus. Could it be that some of those women were converted but were having problems staying away from the habit of using their sexuality and feminine charm to manipulate men, just as the people in Corinth were having a problem staying away from drunkeness which was part of the worship of Aphrodite in their mystery religion? Whatever the case, to interpret that text to teach that a woman cannot teach Hebrew or theology to a man, but at the same time grant doctorates to women in theology and the languages is at best illogical, and at worst chauvanisitc.

For those who say it is nobody’s business what goes on among the faculty of Southwestern, I would gently disagree. This is a Southern Baptist institution, and it is our duty to insure that things are done ethically, judicially, and biblically. The poor treatment of Sheri Klouda leads us to ask several pertinent questions regarding the direction of Southwestern and the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole.

(1). First, will our Southern Baptist seminaries eventually move to bar women from obtaining theological and doctoral degrees? If not, then why would an institution confer a doctorate in theology or the languages but at the same time forbid that woman from being hired in the professional jobs that require such a doctorate.

(2). Why would trustees unanimously hire a woman professor of Hebrew, affirm administration’s excellent job reviews of her, only to then allow her to be dismissed for being a woman? Does no SWBTS trustee comprehend that nothing changed but the President of their institution and his differing views of women?

(3). Do we really desire for just a few to dictate and determine policy that affects people throughout the entire Southern Baptist Convention, including some of the brightest missionaries and educators in our convention, particularly when the interpretive view that excludes people from service far exceeds the BFM 2000?

(4). Is there a conflict of interest when the chairman of the board of trustees, David Alan, adamantly supports Dr. Klouda’s hiring, but then just a year later, as an employee of that same institution, find himself being in a position where he could not object to her removal because of her gender? Or more precisely, how can an institution make decisions that place our convention in possible violation of federal law and nobody say anything?

(5). If someone says, “It is the President’s prerogative to do as he pleases,” then the question becomes, “Do trustees, administrative employees, and others not have the courage to speak out regarding an unjust action?”

The treatment of Dr. Klouda is indefensible biblically, ethically and morally.

I emailed Paige Patterson and Sheri Klouda prior to this posting to alert them and give them an opportunity to respond if they desired. Sheri Klouda preferred not to go on the record. I did not hear from Paige via email so I called Paige before this post went up to speak with him personally. He has not returned my call. I have gone to great lengths to insure that every fact in this post is accurate.

This post will be taken by some as a strike against Dr. Patterson's. It is not. I hope this post is a very strong rebuke against the belief by some in our convention regarding women. The unbiblical, narrow and unjust view of women is at the heart of what I believe to be a growing problem in our convention is putting us all in danger. I will do my best to convince everyone that the continued minimization and marginalization of women is detrimental to the SBC. I repeat: this issue is not about women pastors. It is about spreading a distorted view of women, allegedly based upon Scripture, but contradictory to the true meaning of God's word, not to mention the spirit and power of the New Covenant established by Christ Himself.

It would be consistent with a publicly confessed propensity for feeding rumors that false things might be said about Dr. Klouda in order to justify her removal from Southwestern for reasons other than gender, but those who know Dr. Klouda recognize the foolishness of taking such an approach. In fact, true Christians will seek to address the issues raised through the treatment of Dr. Klouda rather than attack the characters of those involved.

I am grateful for Paige Patterson and his contributions to Southern Baptists. I gladly call him my brother in Christ and I desire nothing but the Lord's blessings upon him. My love for Dr. Patterson, however, does not negate my desire to correct a very distorted view of women that places our agencies in general, and Southwestern Theological Seminary specifically, in grave jeopardy both morally and legally.

I close with the words of Sheri Klouda herself:

"Abraham's willingness to relinquish Isaac expresses his dependence on the Lord himself, not just on the divine promise alone. Abraham recognizes his son Isaac as a gift ultimately belonging to God, and the fulfillment of the Lord's covenant promises as a privilege, not a right." A. Boyd Luter and Sheri L. Klouda, "Isaac," DOTP 448.

Our convention belongs to God. It's time we gave it back to Him.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson