FORT WORTH, Texas — A theology professor at a prominent Southern Baptist seminary said officials told her to leave because women are biblically forbidden from teaching men.
Professor Sheri Klouda's departure from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is the newest source of division between opposing factions within the Southern Baptist Convention.
It is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with more than 16 million members.
Paige Patterson, seminary president, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. Van McClain, president of the board of trustees, said he could not discuss the matter but e-mailed several previously written statements.
McClain said Klouda was not dismissed, but that she was not granted tenure. He also said it has been rare for women to teach theology at Southern Baptist seminaries.
‘A return to the way it has always been’
"With regard to the tightening of the policy of women teaching in the School of Theology, there has been no change in policy, but rather a return to the way it has always been," he said. "There was a momentary lax of the parameters, and (the seminary) has now returned to its traditional, confessional, and biblical position."
Southern Baptist leaders agree that the role of pastor is reserved for men, based on a verse in 1st Timothy in which the Apostle Paul says, "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man." The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message prohibits women from serving as pastors.
Critics within the denomination say the interpretation should not be applied to the seminary because it is not a church.
Baptist pastor and blogger Wade Burleson, of Enid, Okla., has decried the seminary's treatment of Klouda. Burleson maintains that SBC leaders are attempting to expand the church's statement of faith beyond its boundaries.
"The extraordinary belief that women should be forbidden from teaching men the Bible, or 'doctrine,' is held by only a handful of Southern Baptist leaders, including at least one agency head and a few strategically placed trustees in various agencies," Burleson wrote on his Web blog. "Unfortunately, the majority of Southern Baptists let them dictate policy for the entire convention."
Denominational leaders talk publicly about growing membership but have become increasingly focused on purity, Bruce T. Gourley, associate director of The Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
"The leadership of the convention is not that interested in opening wide the doors of the church as they are in preserving purity," Gourley said, "and they keep setting the boundaries of purity narrower and narrower and narrower."
Klouda said she was hired in 2002 at Southwestern to a tenure-track position as an assistant professor. She taught Hebrew.
In 2003, when Patterson became president of the university, Klouda said she became concerned about her future because of statements he made about women and biblical studies. So, she said she met with him.
"He told me I had nothing to worry about," she said.
Based on that assurance, Klouda said, she and her husband bought a home.
But in 2004, she said, a subordinate administrator whom she would not name told her that Patterson would not be recommending her for tenure because she is female. She was told she plan to move on.
"Being the primary financial resource for the family, I depended on the hospitalization and so on for my husband," she said, explaining that he suffers from a heart condition. "I was assured I could stay until I found another position, but I should find another position immediately."
She continued teaching for two more years, receiving good evaluations and usually filling her classrooms, she said.
In January 2006, the same administrator told her she would no longer be able to teach but would be paid through the 2006-07 academic year. A couple weeks later, she was told she would be terminated at the end of 2006 instead.
‘I gave up four years toward tenure’
She appealed to Patterson in April, she said, to no avail.
In June, she took a position with Taylor University, a nondenominational, evangelical school in Indiana.
"I gave up four years toward tenure," she said. "I had to begin all over again. I'm teaching undergrads instead of graduate school, although I'm enjoying what I'm doing here."
Klouda said she doesn't know if she will take any action against Southwestern.
McClain said the seminary's administration was patient with her and allowed her to teach two years after being told she would not have tenure.
"During that time, she looked for a job, and the seminary even agreed to continue her support after her teaching responsibilities were over, so her family would have financial support," he said. "The seminary went far beyond anything that could be expressed as its duty or responsibility."
Flap over speaking in tongues
The Klouda controversy is the second time in recent months that action by the seminary has drawn criticism within Southern Baptist ranks.
Trustees voted in October not to tolerate any promotion of "private prayer language" at the school. The vote came nearly two months after an Arlington pastor said during a chapel service that he sometimes speaks in tongues while praying.
Patterson responded by not allowing the video of the Rev. Dwight McKissic's sermon to be posted online or saved in the seminary's archives.
McKissic's supporters sent a letter to the seminary, International Mission Board and North American Mission Board asking that they reconsider policies regarding "the gifts of tongues and/or the use of a private prayer language."
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