What kind of academic institution are you running here?

I was asked a rather disturbing question in an interview recently.

I was asked “When teaching, how do you both teach and protect the faith of the students in your class? Specifically, how do you protect the faith of godly young men who do not believe women can be in ministry and will likely struggle with females in class who think this is possible?” The unpacking of the question went on to include me, in that I am female, and might actually make a young man uncomfortable having me teach in a position of authority. Ultimately the question was clarified to ask how do I skillfully teach a class, not harm the male students or even push them to a point of questioning what they have been taught about roles of men and women in ministerial leadership and state that it is good and right for them to not believe in women in ministry while standing before them as a woman in ministry.

I think the person asking thought it was rather innocuous. In hindsight, this one question revealed a tremendous amount about the person and consequently the institution asking.

So I'm curious just what this interviewer was thinking teachers do, specifically teachers of theology and ministry. I can appreciate not wanting someone whose agenda was to destroy the faith of young people. But to frame a class around not harming a specific category? This would even have made more sense to me had the person followed with a question about the balance of protecting young women in class who did feel called to ministry and may struggle with the men in class who disagree. But this didn't happen. There was also no concern for what this may do to me as the professor AND a woman in ministry.

The lunacy of this question was that it was posed not by a random peripheral person, or even someone just curious. It was posed by the one charged with casting the vision and protecting academic freedom. There was an immediate assumption that I was going to dismantle the faith of others which is annoying enough itself. The more troublesome assumption is that students can't handle anything beyond affirmation of what they already believe. That students are not mature enough to listen, discern, discuss and have their faith deepened by actual scholarship. Frankly, this person painted the students to be fragile boys who couldn't handle anything outside of their already existent worldview.

We do a disservice to young people when we refuse to pose controversial topics or present a variety of views as valid. We breed future ministers who fail in reflective practices for fear that their precious theological glass houses will shatter. We dishonor God when we treat young people as if they are pathetically fragile in the name of preservation of faith. Assuming these same young people are created in the image of God… That god too is fearful and unreflective.

I am not interested I dismantling faith. I am however interested in helping young people, men and women, to be in ministry for the long haul able to draw strength in the face of diversity and new ideas.


Welcome to the conversation

Every once in awhile there are moments that could not have been scripted any better to make a point.

Several years ago I taught an upper division theology course at a Christian liberal arts college. Before I even took role, a visibly agitated student stood up and announced he had a problem with the reading due that day. He then went off for two minutes though it felt more like twenty. He accused me of pushing my agenda making them read theology from the perspectives of women, Latinos, African Americans, African American women, Asian Americans, etc. After his tirade, he took a breath and asked what I had against white males and where were all of the readings from white men? In a moment of beautiful poetic justice, I pointed out that the chapter he referred to made up 23 pages out of a 400 page textbook and that the other required texts for the class did not emphasize the issues he was so upset about.

In that course I used Daniel Migliore’s book Faith Seeking Understanding. For many reasons I have enjoyed using this book as a solid introduction to a host of concepts within theological conversations. I chose this book for one chapter in particular. Chapter 9 is titled “Confessing Jesus Christ in Context”. I like this chapter because it opens a new way of thinking to many students. It gives voice to women and people of color. But a danger in compartmentalizing the voices in this way is that students may begin to think of “white male” theology as theology proper, whereas any other type of theology, like “African American” theology, as theology-plus-something.

This is a mistake. “White male” theology is no less contextualized for its space than any other theological presentation. “Latino” theology is not necessarily theology-plus-something. It is theology. Just like “white male” theology is theology. White males offer one voice at the theological table. Black women offer another. Latinos offer yet another. Each voice is important. None is a supplement to theology proper.

Even still, there is relatively little being put out there that is not being relegated to a contextual space. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been asked to speak somewhere followed by the assumption that I will speak about women’s issues. I am a woman and I think women’s issues are important, but they are not the only topics on which I have training and an opinion.

This blog is the result of years of conversations between three women. We have finally decided to go public with what we discuss behind closed doors, over meals, at conferences and any time we get to hang out or talk on the phone. In this space all voices are welcome, including white males.

We’re excited to see what comes of this conversation.