Wednesday, May 09, 2018

"Deep Down I Was Scared." Dr. Sheri Klouda about Her Time at SWBTS under Dr. Paige Patterson

Dr. Sheri Klouda (Tom Strattman, Associated Press)
Dr. Sheri Klouda served as Professor of Hebrew at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas from 2002 to 2006.  In 2003, Paige Patterson became President of Southwestern Theological Seminary.  Patterson eventually released Dr. Klouda from her faculty position at the seminary because she was a woman.

I've written extensively on Dr. Klouda and the dark days she endured. Shortly after her termination, Sheri's husband had his leg amputated, and then in 2014, he died from his heart condition. Dr. Klouda relocated away from the south and from her family of origin to find work. There are not many jobs for a woman trained to teach Hebrew.

Sheri has rarely spoken publicly about what happened at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during her tenure. Because of my knowledge of her situation, and my firm belief that the Southern Baptist Convention has been going down the wrong path in its views and treatment of women, I made a promise to do all I could to move the Southern Baptist Convention toward a more New Testament understanding of the equality of women. Christians who believe the Bible should be on the cutting edge of encouraging and empowering women.

I reached out to Dr. Klouda to ask if she would write her thoughts about the current Patterson controversy and her time at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It took some cajoling, but I finally convinced Dr. Klouda that her voice needs to be heard. On today's blog, I present Sheri Klouda in her own words. Shari is transparent, humble, and respectful. I've learned a great deal from reading her story. 

You will too.

This is Part One.

Part Two of Sheri's story in her own words can be accessed here.


Written by Dr. Sheri Klouda

You might wonder what motivates me to talk about this now.

I believe that it is time to end the tyranny, time to eliminate control through fear and intimidation, and time to work together to clarify and redefine the position of the Southern Baptist Convention leadership on the issues of women and spousal abuse, if our Convention is going to grow and flourish in the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that this is our opportunity to underscore where we stand and to demonstrate that the Convention represents all of us and that Paige Patterson does not, cannot, represent the Convention’s views on spousal abuse, the denigration and objectification of women, and the general assumption that somehow, women are inherently more wicked just by virtue of their existence.

It is time to acknowledge that while we affirm the traditional roles of women in the family, that sometimes the circumstances of life and sin require that a godly woman may be called upon to help support a family when a husband is sick and no longer able, that spousal abuse represents the breaking of a sacred covenant, that we must seek to protect our children by modeling healthy marriages and the love of Christ for one another.

I also speak out now because Paige Patterson can no longer hurt me. He has nothing left to take away from me.

First, let me say, I am a proponent of strong and permanent marriages, and I believe in a lifetime commitment between a husband and wife. After all, I was married over 30 years before I became a widow. I suffered consistent and regular abuse at the hands of my husband; most of it was verbally cruel and chipped away at my self-esteem. I struggled to find reassurance of my value through my teaching. I was blessed with encouraging and supportive mentors, all male, and I realized some marginal success in research and writing and my work in the classroom.

It was not a secret that Paige Patterson did not advocate divorce or separation in cases of spousal abuse. I heard about the recorded statement. I read the things he said. That is why I talked about the abuse with a couple of my colleagues during my time at Southwestern. They were really at a loss to advise me. How can you actually prove systematic verbal abuse?

While my husband was often violent, he rarely laid a hand on my child or me physically, although it began to escalate during the time I served at Southwestern. I had, for the first time in our marriage, managed to get family medical coverage through my job. It was the first time we had hospitalization in 18 years. I could not endanger that medical coverage, let alone put our family in financial jeopardy by losing my job. My husband had just had triple by-pass surgery. He was seriously diabetic. He had been in and out of the hospital for years. 

It was in fear of how Paige Patterson could destroy my life that I remained silent. It was also because I did not want to put the jobs of my colleagues at risk by speaking out, even after I left Southwestern. It was a weighty responsibility. I think there is something inherently wrong about giving one man so much power and influence that he could capriciously destroy the lives and careers of others without question and somehow, justify it biblically. 

I remember the day I was formally elected by the Board of Trustees as a full-time faculty member. I had been teaching at least 18 graduate credit hours that year, courses in Old Testament Survey and Biblical Hebrew. I also served as a graduate assistant to another professor and graded the majority of coursework for another 3 classes each semester. I had submitted an acceptable dissertation that spring. Some said I had the opportunity to advance the academic reputation of Southwestern, and there was a great deal of pressure to write a dissertation that made a difference academically. 

When I finally received the news that I was officially part of the faculty, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of the School of Theology. I was told by my mentors that “I had no time for rejoicing” and that I should avoid all media contact. I should stay below the radar, fail to answer the phone, and make no public comment. 

My new colleague Terri Stovall, who already had an established relationship with the Pattersons, made a formal statement to the press. Later that evening, I received a call from Dr. Craig Blaising, officially informing me of the Board’s decision. However, he made very clear that I would be limited to teaching only language-related courses. In the end, this meant that I could teach Biblical Hebrew and Cognate Languages, and Hebrew Exegesis, but no courses in English Bible or Hermeneutics. 

While some may think this was very limiting, how many new faculty do not have to teach Introduction courses as part of their contract? I had already been teaching Introduction to Old Testament and individual book studies in the past at the seminary. I was blessed with teaching all upper-level courses that specialized in biblical language and exegesis.

However, what I did not find out until later was that, with my election to the faculty, all adjunct women instructors in the School of Theology were no longer permitted to teach. The Southwestern Seminary Board of Trustees though hesitant, I assume, did not find that hiring me to teach in the School of Theology contradicted the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and thus, my hiring did not go against mainstream Baptist religious belief. Yet, other women suffered as a result of my hiring, and I felt tremendously guilty about it.

Those who knew me well also knew that I did not have a chip on my shoulder, that I was too busy trying to excel as an academician and a teacher to think about, respond, or be concerned with my gender and what that meant in my environment. I never felt I had anything to prove. I only wanted to be known for my expertise in the field, known as a good professor, not identified as the “woman” Hebrew professor.

It never crossed my mind that I would want to serve as a pastor of a local church. I never felt called in any way to that role. I knew that I was called to teach in an academic setting, and I have always been satisfied with serving in that way. I also know that I avoided groups of women from the seminary who really seemed to gather primarily to criticize the Seminary. 

In other words, I really didn’t spend any time on gender issues because I was too involved in teaching and writing, taking care of my family and serving in my local church. I was too interested in finding ways to help make Biblical Hebrew user-friendly for my students, whoever they were. I was busy writing, doing post-doctoral work in Comparative Semitics and Historical Hebrew Grammar, meeting with students, grading, and getting home in time to pick up my daughter from school.

While some of the women studying at seminary appreciated having a female role model on the faculty, I was instructed to avoid counseling women or building an entourage, a following, so that it would not appear as if I were encouraging other women to pursue my path and seek to teach at an academic institution.

I was also instructed not to speak at faculty meetings, and while I was asked to work on restructuring the curriculum and reading list for the doctoral program at the seminary, my name was officially kept off of any materials related to that restructuring. My involvement in any work related to curriculum or other seminary work was unofficial and kept quiet.

During the summer preceding my second year at Southwestern, Dr. Hemphill stepped down, and Paige Patterson was elected as the new president. I had already been warned by many that I should feel threatened concerning my job at Southwestern, and I did not know until later that there were a number of individual conversations with Paige and other Trustees in which he tried to block my hiring. 

I remember attending the announcement of his appointment and being very concerned because his words concerning women and the seminary were chilling. I remember thinking that I really needed to be afraid for my job. Then, when I introduced myself to Dorothy Patterson, she looked me square in the eye and said, “We know who you are.”

Later, Paige suggested I talk with Dorothy to ask her if there was some way I could be helpful in the women’s ministry and coursework, and I was met with the cold response: I don’t think there is anything you can do.
I was summoned to the office of the President in September of 2003. I asked Paige if I needed to be concerned about my job. He told me that he was fine with what I was doing and that he had no objection at all as long as I didn’t do anything to cause questions or concerns. He indicated he had no plans to remove me from my position. 

As I think about this, I wonder: if my teaching male students was religiously acceptable and in compliance with his religious beliefs, why later would he argue that what I was doing contradicted historically held Baptist belief and practice? 

Nevertheless, I was gullible enough to believe that my job was safe as long as I did not do or say anything that would jeopardize it. I was once again warned that I should keep my head down, that Paige would plant students in my classes to see if I did or said something that could be used to fire me. I learned very early to clarify my position on all theological and ecclesiastical matters and sought to have my students reiterate them in order to prevent any misunderstanding. 

I admit, though, naïve as I was in some ways, deep down inside I was scared.


Part II to come...