Most observers of Baptist life know by now that a judge ruled in favor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president Paige Patterson in a case filed by Sheri Klouda. If not, the ABP story by Rob Marus is here.
The former Hebrew professor claimed gender discrimination and breach of contract when Patterson denied her tenure.
The judge said religious freedom guarantees in the First Amendment allow churches and church-owned institutions to make religiously motivated decisions about employment.
I think the judge is right. Religious freedom gives churches and individuals the right to be wrong.
Only a hard-core fundamentalist like Patterson and his dwindling flock of followers would see the dismissal and mistreatment of Dr. Klouda as a good thing. By all accounts, she was a superb Hebrew language professor with conservative credentials (a graduate of Criswell College and Southwestern Seminary).
But forget the logic. Never mind that she is not ordained, is not a pastor and has affirmed the theologically narrow 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement.
Forget that Klouda was hired in 2002, the year before Patterson became president, and did nothing other than serve as a competent and well-liked professor until Patterson denied her tenure in 2004.
Was Patterson wrong? Many think so. But the judge has ruled that — in religious settings — individuals and institutions have the right to be wrong.
While I regret that Dr. Klouda and her family have suffered through this harsh treatment, my sympathy for those caught in the snares of fundamentalism is running low.
Since taking control of the Southern Baptist Convention more than two decades ago, male-dominated fundamentalist leadership has consistently adopted theological positions and enforced institutional policies that relegate women to secondary status.
Klouda’s dismissal is just another along this well-worn path.
Paige Patterson’s dismissal of Sheri Klouda is consistent with the kind of religious fundamentalism he has exhibited his whole life — and has imposed (with majority vote from Southern Baptists) on the SBC since he and Judge Paul Pressler planned the takeover in the ’70s.
As one friend said to me recently: “Southern Baptists got what they asked for — and probably what they deserved.”
And as another friend often reminds me: “If you pick up a snake, don’t complain when it bites you.”
The judge has made it clear: Religious leaders have the right and freedom to discriminate against women and to mistreat employees.
Let me also make it clear: Fundamentalists do that consistently. If you pick up that snake…?