NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary offers coursework in Greek and Hebrew, in archaeology, in the philosophy of religion and - starting this fall - in how to cook and sew.
Southwestern Baptist, one of the nation's largest Southern Baptist seminaries, is introducing a new academic program in homemaking as part of an effort to establish what its president calls biblical family and gender roles.
It will offer a bachelor of arts in humanities degree with a 23-hour concentration in homemaking. The program is only open to women.
Coursework will include seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation, seven hours of textile design and 'clothing construction,' three hours of general homemaking, three hours on 'the value of a child,' and three hours on the 'biblical model for the home and family.'
Seminary officials say the main focus of the courses is on hospitality in the home - teaching women interior design as well as how to sew and cook. Women also study children's spiritual, physical and emotional development.
Yet the program is raising eyebrows among some Southern Baptists, who say a degree concentration in how to be a Christian housewife is not useful, and a waste of seminary resources.
Seminary President Paige Patterson, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has its executive committee headquarters in Nashville, said wives of seminary students asked for the homemaking courses. The program was approved by seminary trustees in the fall.
'We are moving against the tide in order to establish family and gender roles as described in God's word for the home and the family,' Patterson said at the denomination's annual meeting in June. 'If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed.'
Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs at Southwestern, which has its main campus in Fort Worth, Texas, said the purpose of the program is to strengthen families.
'Whether a woman works outside or strictly in the home, her first priority is her family and home,' she said. 'We just really want to step up and provide some of these skills.'
Stovall said the homemaking degree is one of 10 women's programs at the seminary and is 'only targeted to women whose heart and calling is the home.'
A description of the homemaking program on the seminary's Web site says it 'endeavors to prepare women to model the characteristics of the godly woman as outlined in Scripture.
'This is accomplished through instruction in homemaking skills, developing insights into home and family while continuing to equip women to understand and engage the culture of today.'
The Rev. Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and a frequent Southern Baptist critic, wrote about the homemaking program on his blog.
'At first it was almost incredible to me,' Cole said. 'I thought, this is not happening. It's quite superfluous to the mission of theological education in Southern Baptist life. It's insulting, I would say, to many young women training in vital ministry roles.
'It's yet another example of the ridiculous and silly degree to which some Southern Baptists, Southwestern in particular, are trying to return to what they perceive to be biblical gender roles.'
Patterson took a leading role in the 1980s in a successful campaign to oust moderates from leadership posts in the Southern Baptist convention. While he was president of the convention from 1998 to 2000, Southern Baptists issued a statement that women should not be pastors and that wives should 'graciously submit' to their husbands.