SBC women who work and the ultra-complementarians they support

According to a small but vocal minority of ultra-complementarian faculty at Southern Baptist seminaries, our society’s most pressing infirmities would be cured if only Christian women would fully embrace their God-given role as homemakers. These men are less vocal about the fact that they accept salaries from institutions that depend upon the financial contributions of women who are employed outside of the home. You might say that they want to have their complementarian cake and get paid, too.

The inconsistency between what these men say and how they are paid cannot go perpetually unnoticed. Southern Baptists are increasingly hostile toward institutional hypocrisy—particularly as it concerns the church’s treatment of women and other historically disenfranchised groups.

So, when public scrutiny descends upon the uncomfortable fact that working Southern Baptist women are contributing to the salaries of men who earn their pay by declaring that women should really stay at home, I fear that the financial consequences for Southern Baptist institutions may be catastrophic.

In the hope that such a catastrophe might be averted, I have a modest proposal for reconciling doctrine and practice among seminary faculty on matters of gender and authority. I’ll begin by stating the ultra-complementarian position in the language of its most enthusiastic proponents.

ultra-complementarianism

In describing his own commitment to ultra-complementarianism, Owen Strachan, an associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Seminary, notes that: “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.”[1] He goes on to observe the distinct roles assigned to men and women:

Husbands will have long days and experience physical problems from work; when given children by God, wives will face some stress and tiredness from caring for active little ones all day. … Men can image Christ the savior-king by folding laundry on occasion, by getting down on the floor to play with their kids, and by doing dishes when they can. But they must commit themselves primarily to the work of provision, whether of spiritual leadership in the home or financial breadwinning to sustain it.[2]

Strachan, Owen. “Of “Dad Moms” and “Man Fails”: An Essay on Men and Awesomeness.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood XVII, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 26.
Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

In a blog post that refers to stay-at-home dads as “man fails,” Strachan gives something of a finer point to his position:

Men are not called by God to be “working at home” as women are in Titus 2:5. The ground is not cursed for women in Genesis 3:17, but for men, whose responsibility it was to work outside of the home—and to protect women… The curse bore down upon Eve’s primary activity, child bearing, showing that her intended sphere of labor and dominion-taking was the home (Genesis 3:16).[3]

Strachan, Owen. “The “Dad Mom” and the “Man Fail”.” Patheos. Last modified November 2, 2011. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2011/11/the-dad-mom-and-the-man-fail/.

And in a debate on Moody Radio in 2012, Strachan summed up his view of gender roles in the following way:

I would say both men and women bear the image of God and so are fully invested for a life of meaningful service for God. That’s my starting point, but I would say then from a broad biblical theology that men are called to be leaders, providers, protectors and women are nurturers. Women follow men in the home and the church. Women are called to the high calling of raising families, given that God blesses them with children, and making homes, being homemakers. These are roles that I think Scripture hands down for us pretty clearly in texts like Genesis 3.[4]

Allen, Bob. “Prof terms stay-at-home-dads ‘man fails’.” Baptist News Global. Last modified September 27, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2019.
https://baptistnews.com/article/prof-terms-stay-at-home-dads-man-fails/#.XTPPWy-ZN0u .

Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary and former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, captures his commitment to ultra-complementarianism more succinctly: “Clearly, God made men stronger and bigger, as a gender, and he made women able to give birth to, feed, and nurture children.”[5] (I offer my thoughts on this sort of masculinity here.)

Dorothy Patterson, wife of former seminary president Paige Patterson, expresses the same sentiment in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a text that Strachan commends as a “theological masterpiece,”[6]

Women have been liberated right out of the genuine freedom they enjoyed for centuries to oversee the home, rear the children, and pursue personal creativity; they have been brainwashed to believe that the absence of a titled, payroll occupation enslaves a woman to failure… In fact, the opposite is true because a salaried job and titled position can inhibit a woman’s natural nesting instinct and maternity by inverting her priorities so that failures almost inevitably come in the rearing of her own children and the building of an earthly shelter for those whom she loves most.[7]

Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 372. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

She goes on to spell out exactly what a woman’s priorities might look like when properly ordered, in the absence of a salaried job or titled position:

Keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife—even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floors. … Few women realize what great service they are doing for mankind and for the kingdom of Christ when they provide a shelter for the family and good mothering… No professional pursuit so uniquely combines the most menial tasks with the most meaningful opportunities.[8]

Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 373. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

So, according to Strachan, Ware and the Pattersons, God created men to provide financial stability for the family; and God made women to care for children and keep house.[9] They don’t state explicitly that it’s wrong for a woman to work outside the home. But it’s clear that any actual human woman who fulfills her wifely and motherly duties in the way that they describe would find it difficult to pursue a professional vocation; and that fact is not incidental to their position.

Finally, it’s worth noting that ultra-complementarians claim that their position on gender roles is a biblical mandate that is worth fighting over—especially when it comes to teaching or the exercise of authority in religious organizations. Consider the words of Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (at Southern Seminary) and current president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. When Campus Crusade demoted Daniel Hartman for prohibiting women from leading co-ed Bible studies associated with CRU, Burk stated:

I commend Daniel for standing upon the truth of God even at great personal cost. This conflict threatens not just his ministry but his livelihood. … I’m sure it would have been easier simply to let it go and revise his personal beliefs in order to protect his position. He didn’t do that, and I am grateful for the stand he has taken.[10]

Burk, Denny. “When It Costs To Be Complementarian.” Denny Burk: A commentary on theology, politics and culture. Last modified December 1, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.dennyburk.com/when-it-costs-to-be-complementarian/.

Moreover, in criticizing the decision of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship to incorporate leadership roles for women in their church, Burk states that “the issue would definitely be one worth dividing over.”[11] So, according to ultra-complementarians like Ware, Burk, Strachan and the Pattersons, their commitment to patriarchy is more than a matter of conscience. It’s about submitting to the gender hierarchy that God prescribes for human flourishing. (And, ultimately, it’s about winning the Culture War.)

working Southern Baptist women

What Strachan, Ware, Burk and their ultra-complementarian colleagues seem to ignore is that their employers rely on financial contributions from women who work outside the home. These contributions come in two forms. First, the Cooperative Program (CP) allocates funds to each of the six seminaries based on enrollment; and an estimated 35% of the CP’s annual budget comes from the tithes and offerings of working Southern Baptist women.[12] Second, an estimated 25% of seminarians depend on income from their spouse’s employment to pay tuition and living expenses while completing their degrees.[13]

Here’s the big picture. If Southern Baptist families conformed to the patriarchal fantasy that ultra-complementarians describe, then Southern Baptist seminary faculty like Strachan, Ware and Burk would have to take a massive cut in pay. By way of detail, let’s consider the financial situation at the two SBC seminaries that employ the most strident ultra-complementarian faculty: Midwestern (Strachan) and Southern (Ware and Burk).

According to the Council of Seminary Presidents’ 2019 report, Southern received about $10.1M from the CP for the 2017-18 academic year (roughly $4400 per student).[14] That makes CP contributions Southern’s second-largest revenue stream, accounting for a little over 19% of Southern’s total income. But in the ideal world of ultra-complementarians like Burk and Ware, Southern Baptist women wouldn’t have any income on which to tithe. Given that 35% of the CP’s annual budget comes from the tithes of working Southern Baptist women, that would mean 35% less money for the CP to distribute among subsidiaries like the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Lifeway and seminaries like Southern.

If we set aside fixed operations costs (e.g. energy bills, maintenance, transport, property rental),  and assume (charitably) that the CP would make even cuts across the board, eliminating the tithes and offerings of working Southern Baptist women would reduce the CP’s contribution to Southern from $10.1M to $6.5M.[15] That would constitute a 7% reduction in Southern’s total income.

Southern’s largest source of revenue is tuition and fees. Full-time seminary students attend class for at least 12 hours per week, typically during regular business hours. As a general rule, advanced degree programs require about two hours of study for every hour spent in class. So full-time seminary students should be studying for about 24 hours per week. Thus, between class time and study time, full-time seminary students are engaged in coursework for about 36 hours per week.

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

That 36-hour time commitment makes it difficult for seminarians to secure benefitted employment that would enable them to pay living costs and raise a family, not to mention pay their tuition. So an estimated 25% of seminary students would be unable to attend seminary were it not for the substantive financial support of their wives.[16] Thus, without the financial contributions of working seminary wives, Southern’s enrollment would drop from 2,339 full-time students to 1,754. That would slash Southern’s tuition revenue by $4.34M.

Now recall that the CP’s contribution to each seminary is based on full-time enrollment. So without the contributions of working women, Southern wouldn’t just stand to lose $4.34M in revenue from the 585 students who would be unable to attend seminary were it not for the financial support of their wives. Southern would also lose the CP’s corresponding $4,400 contribution for each of those 585 students, which comes to about $2.55M. That brings the financial shortfall from a 25% reduction in full-time enrollment to about $6.9M, which is 13% of Southern’s current budget.

Combining the 35% cut to CP funding with the fallout from a 25% drop in enrollment, Southern Seminary’s budget would be about $10.5M lighter without the financial contributions of working Southern Baptist women. That’s 20% of Southern’s $52.1M budget for the 2017-18 academic year.

Making matters worse for ultra-complementarians like Ware and Burk, salary and benefits only account for 52% of Southern’s budget. Give or take a banquet here and a per diem there, the other 48% of Southern’s budget goes to fixed operational costs like maintaining its facilities.[17] Fixed costs can’t be reduced—that’s what makes them fixed. So the 20% budget shortfall would need to come out of the 52% of Southern’s budget that goes to salary and benefits. That would bring total expenditures on salary and benefits from $27.1M to $16.7M—a reduction of 38%. In other words, if working Southern Baptist women withdrew their financial support from Southern Seminary, faculty like Ware and Burk would need to take a 38% cut in pay.

The situation at Midwestern is even more precarious. Without the financial contributions of working Southern Baptist women, Midwestern’s budget would go from $22.1M to $16.4M—a loss of 26%. And their budget for salaries and benefits would go from $11.9M to $6.3M. So, if Southern Baptist women were to stop supporting Midwestern financially, Strachan and his colleagues would need to take a 47% cut in pay.

a modest proposal

My concern is this. Generally speaking, insulting one’s patrons is a bad idea. In light of the views espoused by ultra-complementarian seminary faculty, Southern Baptist women might decide that their tithe dollars would be put to better use by an organization that is unaffiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. After all, nothing in Scripture says that a woman’s tithe must go to the Baptist church that she attends; or that the tithes she gives to her Baptist church must go to the CP; or that her Baptist church cannot contribute to the CP on the condition that its contribution doesn’t support SBC seminaries in general, or seminaries whose faculty promote ultra-complementarianism in particular. Scripture says none of that.

My fear, in short, is that Southern Baptist women might come to the realization that they no longer wish to subsidize the propagation of ultra-complementarianism in Southern Baptist seminaries by contributing to the salaries of men like Ware, Strachan and Burk. And in light of the economic power that women hold over institutions like Southern and Midwestern, the consequences of that realization would be financially ruinous—not only to the few faculty who bite the hands that enable them to feed their families, but to the majority of their colleagues whose public stance on gender roles is consistent with the 2000 Faith & Message.

So, in the hope that such a catastrophe might be averted, I offer the following modest proposal. Seminary faculty who continue to publicly endorse the ultra-complementarianism of Ware, Strachan, Burk and the Pattersons should take a voluntary 20% cut in pay, effective immediately.

Those who profess that employment outside the home is a detriment to the “high calling” of all wives and mothers should not willingly profit from the very employment that they regard as so detrimental to such an important calling.

This proposal is indeed modest, insofar as it reflects a low estimate of the overall financial contributions that women make to Southern Baptist seminaries. It doesn’t account for, e.g., past contributions that women have made to building campaigns that produced the classrooms and offices where seminary faculty now work. It doesn’t account for the contributions that women make to defraying the fixed costs associated with operating a modern academic institution, e.g. air conditioning, electricity and landscaping. And it doesn’t call upon ultra-complementarian seminary faculty to repay years of financial benefits that they have accepted from women who work outside the home.


[1] Strachan, Owen. “Of “Dad Moms” and “Man Fails”: An Essay on Men and Awesomeness.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood XVII, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 25. It’s notable that Strachan was subsequently named president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. To my knowledge, he’s never retracted or revised his equation of “complementarianism” with patriarchy. It would seem, then, that the term “complementarianism” has far more to do with public relations than any substantive aversion to patriarchy per se.

[2] Strachan (2012): 26.

[3] Strachan, Owen. “The “Dad Mom” and the “Man Fail”.” Patheos. Last modified November 2, 2011. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2011/11/the-dad-mom-and-the-man-fail/.

[4] Allen, Bob. “Prof terms stay-at-home-dads ‘man fails’.” Baptist News Global. Last modified September 27, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://baptistnews.com/article/prof-terms-stay-at-home-dads-man-fails/#.XTPPWy-ZN0u.

[5] Ware, Bruce A. “Could Our Savior Have Been a Woman?” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood VIII, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 34.

[6] Strachan, Owen. “A Brief History of Complementarian Literature.” IX 9Marks. Last modified March 19, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://www.9marks.org/article/a-brief-history-of-complementarian-literature/.

[7] Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 372. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

[8] Patterson (1991): 373.

[9] Given her commitment to ultra-complementarianism, I doubt that Dorothy Patterson is in the habit of publishing views that haven’t met with her husband’s approval. Hence, “the Pattersons.”

[10] Burk, Denny. “When It Costs To Be Complementarian.” Denny Burk: A commentary on theology, politics and culture. Last modified December 1, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.dennyburk.com/when-it-costs-to-be-complementarian/. Given the recent controversy surrounding Beth Moore, it’s worth observing that the CRU incident didn’t involve a church or a Sunday morning.

[11] Burk, Denny. “Some reflections on a church that has recently embraced egalitarianism.” Denny Burk: A commentary on theology, politics, and culture. Last modified April , 2016. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.dennyburk.com/some-reflections-on-a-church-that-has-recently-embraced-egalitarianism/. Note that Burk’s emphasis on the importance of gender roles is consistent with Strachan’s view that “To a considerable degree, complementarianism helps us understand who we are and what we have been placed on this earth to do. It does not attempt to answer every question about life. But it does give us a framework for understanding what men and women have been called to do by Almighty God.” (Strachan, Owen. “Complementarianism as a Worldview.” IX 9Marks. Last modified March 19, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://www.9marks.org/article/complementarianism-as-a-worldview/.)

[12] This is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate, based on factors like median income, prevalence of women in the workforce, etc. If the Cooperative Program keeps statistics on such matters, I’d be happy to be corrected.

[13] This is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate, based on my own experience and informal polling. Exact numbers are welcome from anyone who has them.

[14] “The Council of Seminary Presidents Seminary Formula 2019.” Cooperative Program: 2019 Ministry Report. Accessed July 21, 2019. http://www.sbc.net/cp/ministryreports/2019/presidents.asp.

[15] This assumption is charitable because it seems more likely that the CP would make smaller cuts to subsidiaries associated with missions—i.e., the CP’s original mandate.

[16] Again, this is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate.

[17] Actually, the cost of maintaining facilities isn’t entirely fixed. But the modest variability wouldn’t work in Southern’s favor. Empty dorms or family housing units would still need heat during the winter, e.g., to prevent pipes from freezing. But instead of having residents to pay for that heat, Southern would need to foot the bill as an institution.

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