Christian homemaking will save the Southern Baptist Convention and the nation, according to the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the nation's largest training schools for pastors.
Actress Barbara Billingsley created an icon of American motherhood, June Cleaver, for TV's "Leave it to Beaver," which aired 1957-1963.
Paige Patterson announced at the SBC meeting in San Antonio that his school was offering an academic program to train women how to make a Christian home.
Yes, there is evidently a Christian way for wives to water houseplants, wash clothes, warm leftovers and wax floors.
Having made June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, training the wives of ministers to be June Cleaver with a Christian twist shouldn't have come as a surprise.
The SBC adopted a doctrinal statement in 1998 that a wife had "the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household."
The chairman of the convention's Council on Family Life even wrote in a denominational magazine, "The wife should not be burdened with the necessity of working outside the home."
The SBC's faith statement also limits the office of church pastor to men, meaning that no men will be enrolling in the seminary's Christian homemaker program while their wives study to be ministers.
Southern Baptists have definitively stated that the man is the breadwinner and the wife is the homemaker.
"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 told messengers in San Antonio. "If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed."
The so-called cultural crisis apparently necessitated the seminary's program which will require 23 hours of course work, including seven hours of "design and apparel" with a lab for clothing construction. Another seven hours of course study covers meal preparation and nutrition.
The three-hour course on the biblical model for the family did not disclose whether polygamy, a commonly accepted Old Testament practice, was encouraged.
Since the seminary's only female faculty member is the president's wife, who wears hats to symbolize her subservience to her husband, she may be the program's primary instructor for classes that start in the fall.
When a conservative SBC-supporting Texas pastor heard about the new program, he said it "nearly shot Diet Coke out of my nose."
Calling the idea "quite silly," pastor Benjamin Cole wrote, "A seminary degree in cookie-baking is about as useful as an M.Div. [master of divinity degree] in automotive repair."
But the program is more than an absurd aberration. It's a Southern Baptist seminary educational trend.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., has a similar, albeit less demanding, 13-hour certificate for seminary wives.
The Seminary Wives Institute teaches women femininity, fitness, hospitality and how to meet the needs of their pastor-husbands. Courses teach wives ways to avoid clutter, use day planners, organize the kitchen and manage the household.
The institute is directed by the wife of the seminary's president.
Strengthening families is an important religious and cultural goal. Teaching basic homemaking skills and learning conflict management are valuable tools.
What is dangerous about Christian homemaking programs is that they diminish the Christian faith and deceive naïve Christians. Faith speaks to moral, social and spiritual matters, not matters like boiling water. Water boils, spoons stack in kitchen drawers and sewing machines sew the same way for Christians and non-Christians. For Christians to think otherwise is a frightening split from reality.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Today's editorial also appeared Monday on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's op-ed page under the headline, "Southern Baptist classes for wives? Holy smoke."