From the Ft Worth Star Telegram: 'To teach or exercise authority over a man' 'Tis a puzzlement By SHERI KLOUDA Special to the Star-Telegram I recently made a transition to a new academic community after leaving Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. People would expect me to be brittle and full of malice, but I am none of those things. Rather, I am puzzled. What is belief? Webster's defines belief as the "conviction that certain things are true." Belief assumes the existence of objective truth, truth that is unchangeable. I am not a philosopher, but the broader evangelical world, and Southern Baptists in particular, agree on the existence of objective truth. How could Southwestern's trustees and the seminary's then-president, as representatives of the Southern Baptist constituency, elect me to the seminary faculty if they didn't "believe" that my election was consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a document that I signed proudly and publicly? Board President Van McClain notes that Southwestern returned to its "traditional, confessional, and biblical position" concerning women teaching theology to men, suggesting that the "biblical position" on the issue was either misunderstood or misinterpreted by the same faculty members and many of the same administrators and trustees who serve at Southwestern today. Are "objective truth" and a "biblical position" inconsistent with one another? I am not sure that the SBC consensus believes that 1 Timothy applies to an academic institution. The correspondence I've received suggests that there is no widespread agreement in Southern Baptist life on the view that the polity or paradigm of the local church should provide the model for her academic institutions. Many Southern Baptist colleges are moving toward diversity on their theology faculty, further suggesting that the "biblical position" regarding women teaching men in the academy does not reflect an "objective truth" about which Baptists agree. The same faculty members and administrators who diligently trained me -- and who held nothing back, treating me and male students equally in terms of career direction, development and competency -- were essentially the same folks who allowed me to serve as a teaching fellow at Southwestern for three years preceding my formal election. If there were doubts concerning my integrity, abilities or theological position, would they have been comfortable asking me to join them in a potentially permanent position? I am told that many people supported my election. I was busy teaching biblical Hebrew that night. When I was hired, my mentors advised me to "keep in mind the constituency that I serve." Who was my constituency? It seems that I had several: the students, the trustees and the Southern Baptist Convention. I fulfilled my commitments to all of them, and I never once made them regret their decision or lose confidence in me. I was grateful every day for the privilege of working in such a gracious environment, where people worked together to train men and women to serve God in ministry. So how would I expect that faith community to respond? That no one immediately rose to my defense did not surprise me, nor did I expect it. Families are important to Southern Baptists, and I would never ask someone to defend me if it meant jeopardizing that person's family's livelihood or welfare. But the needs of my family -- the medical needs, the pressures of changing positions, moving away, uprooting my daughter from high school -- apparently did not matter to those who made administrative decisions. How could they, in good conscience, lose sight of my family while caring so deeply for their own? What about fairness, equity and justice -- biblical principles that characterize the faithful? Is it not fair and right to allow a female professor, hired under the same terms as other faculty members, to undergo the same tenure evaluation process and receive objective affirmation or denial on the basis of her teaching abilities, professional development, scholarly achievements and publications, collegiality and service to the students? Or does another standard exist, applying only to those women who inadvertently find themselves serving teaching roles in biblical studies? And if the trustees, faculty and administration truly made a mistake in judgment hiring me, or "relaxed well defined parameters of objective truth" that reflect the majority position on women and the Baptist academy, why did they want me to leave unobtrusively, as if my departure were my own idea? Why didn't someone acknowledge the tremendous financial and emotional burden placed on my family through no fault of my own? Why not, as the Scriptures teach, make right the wrong? After seven years of dedicated service, shouldn't I at least receive an apology?