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Former Professor Sues Southwestern Seminary for Gender Discrimination

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A former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has sued the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated school, claiming she was dismissed from a position for which she was fully qualified simply because she is a woman.

Sheri Klouda, who taught Hebrew at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, for four years before her contract was terminated last year, seeks damages for lost wages and expenses incurred because of her dismissal, plus additional damages for loss of reputation and emotional distress.

Klouda was one of seven faculty members elected by seminary trustees in April 2002. The crop of new professors included two women and the seminary’s second African-American faculty member.

President Ken Hemphill commented the faculty might have been the greatest in the seminary’s history. “These new faculty appointments only add to the diversity and quality of our faculty,” Hemphill said, according to Baptist Press. “There really is not a comparable faculty anywhere in the nation.”

Klouda’s class of new faculty was the first to participate in a new document-signing ceremony intended as a tradition during the seminary’s annual convocation, symbolically affirming and agreeing to teach in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

Among revisions to a 1963 version of the confession of faith was a phrase concerning women and the church: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Klouda said in a news release she was honored to participate in the signing ceremony.

“What a privilege to participate in the inauguration of a new tradition which has such profound significance for our institution,” Klouda said. “I welcome the opportunity to affirm publicly my deep and abiding commitment to academic excellence and to those tenets of our faith which define our message and our mission to the students of Southwestern. The book signing underscores my personal accountability toward my students, a responsibility that can only be met through prayerful and total dependence on a wise and gracious God.”

In her lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Klouda said she was concerned when, a year after trustees approved her tenure-track position, the seminary hired a new president, Paige Patterson, who said he intended to build a faculty with “God-called men.”

At a meeting with Patterson about whether his election would jeopardize her position in September 2003, she claimed, he told her “she had nothing to worry about” and he had no intention of reversing any previous board decisions.

On or about April 25, 2006, the suit claims, Southwestern Seminary informed Klouda her contract was terminated effective Dec. 31. Patterson allegedly told Klouda he would not renew her contract or recommend her for tenure for one reason: because she was a woman teaching men.

Klouda says she was told she was “a mistake that the trustees needed to fix.” The chairman of the seminary’s board of trustees, Van McClain, was quoted in the Dallas Morning News as describing her unanimous election by trustees a “momentary lax of parameters.”

Klouda alleges that both McClain’s statement and Patterson’s implying she is unfit to teach are false. She says commitments made to her when she was hired were an oral contract, and she kept her part of the bargain.

Because of assurances about her employment security, she claims, she made financial commitments like purchasing a home and other steps to establish her family in Texas. After the seminary reneged on those assurances, she says, she had to take a lower paying job and lost money moving to a new job in Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

Due to illnesses suffered by her husband, Klouda says she is the family’s primary financial provider. The couple has a daughter, who at the time of Klouda’s dismissal was enrolled in high school.

Klouda says Patterson’s main objection to her teaching men at the seminary is based on I Timothy 2:12, where the Apostle Paul describes the role of women in the early church. The New International Version translates it, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, is a tenured faculty member in Southwestern’s School of Theology, but, unlike Klouda, she teaches only women.

But Klouda, who earned her Ph.D. from Southwestern and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the conservative Criswell College in Dallas, said that distinction goes beyond the school’s official parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message.

“I am not sure that the SBC consensus believes that 1 Timothy applies to an academic institution,” she wrote in a recent op-ed piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “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.”

She also said she doubts the seminary’s trustees would have voted unanimously to hire her in 2002 if they didn’t believe her election was consistent with the Baptist Faith & Message.

Klouda noted that her dismissal came while many Southern Baptist colleges are moving toward increasing diversity on their faculties, further suggesting there is no consensus that women shouldn’t teach men in academic settings.

A supporter of Klouda, Pastor Benjamin Cole of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, filed a letter of complaint with the Association of Theological Schools asking the agency to investigate Klouda’s dismissal as “a serious breach of the accreditation guidelines.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.