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Women increasing in numbers at Southeastern Seminary

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Female students are making their mark at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in record numbers.
The female student population grew by 69 percent from fall 1995 to fall 1996, from 147 to 248.
This is undoubtedly a surprise to those who believed the arrival of Paige Patterson as president of Wake Forest, N.C., seminary would spawn a mass exodus of female students. Women were not supposed to feel at home in the “narrow-minded” world of conservative theology that stifled “women’s rights.” Yet despite the negative forecasts, female enrollment has risen steadily since 1993.
Patterson charged some in the media have misrepresented his view of women, citing an article in the May 4 Atlanta Journal Constitution where he was quoted as saying about women “every man ought to own one.”
That is only true, Patterson stated, “in the sense of mutual possession of wives and husbands.”
Patterson said the Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter misrepresented his “tongue-in-cheek” humor used to reflect “the absurd view” often attributed to him by his detractors. “The fact is that the very earliest verses of Genesis emphasize the full equality, dignity and opportunity for women,” Patterson said.
Patterson contends that equality of essence does not mean sameness of assignment. “Men, not women, are assigned spiritual headship in home and church, but such role assignments are no more demeaning than the roles assigned to children or to the role of the general populace relative to the magistrate,” he said.
These days, Patterson said, the women who are enrolling at Southeastern seem to have different priorities than some of the women who attended the school 10 or 15 years ago.
According to a recent campus survey, most women described themselves as supporters and nurturers. They recognized their role as different, yet equally important. Instead of taking on the God-ordained role of a man, their goals are to fill in the gaps with their unique, God-given strengths as women.
Kelly Warrick of Smithfield, N.C., is enrolled in the master of arts/Christian education degree program. “Many times, women bring a degree of warmth, compassion and servanthood that may be difficult for men to give to the ministry,” Warrick said. “Most importantly, women need to be supporters, encouragers and prayer warriors for their husbands, pastors and other church leaders.”
Many of the current female students said Southeastern was the only seminary they considered attending. A theologically conservative school with an emphasis on missions, sound biblical teaching and the presence of the Holy Spirit were among the qualities Southeastern women cited as their reasons for enrolling.
“I saw that the Lord was working in the (lives of the) faculty and students,” said Melissa Burch of Eastman, Ga. Burch is pursuing a master of arts degree in Christian counseling. “I like the people here and the spiritual vision Dr. Patterson has for revival in each one of us.”
Jennifer Engele, of Mystic, Conn., chose Southeastern for several reasons.
“I wanted to go to a school based on conservative theology, seeking to honor Christ,” Engele said. “The church-planting program is also unique to Southeastern, and the Lord was leading me to get training to go overseas.”
Anthony Allen, director of admissions at Southeastern, credits the increase of female students in large part to the implementation of new programs that appeal to women, such as church planting and Christian counseling. Both programs were added in 1995.
The most popular degree program remains Christian education where 35 percent of the women are enrolled. Slightly more than 27 percent of the women enrolled in degree programs at Southeastern are pursuing degrees in Christian counseling.
The third degree program most chosen by women is the master of divinity program at 17.1 percent. The master of divinity program is the degree tract most chosen by men training for the pastorate and other teaching ministries. Five percent of the women enrolled in degree programs are working on a master of divinity degree in church planting.
“A lot of times people think seminary is just a place for pastors to train,” Allen said, “but more and more, with the increase of degree programs we have at Southeastern Seminary, we are attracting a lot more female students.”
Many female students said they feel they are being well prepared for the ministry to which God is calling them. Equally important, most said, they feel a sense of affirmation and support from seminary faculty and administration.
Gina Wilbanks, a master of divinity student from Four Oaks, N.C., said God’s call on her life to career Christian service has been affirmed repeatedly at Southeastern.
“I think Southeastern has done a great job of showing female students, ‘We want you (and) we want to encourage you to be educated to meet needs in ministry that men cannot reach,'” Wilbanks said.
Southeastern’s female student population is expected to continue to rise. Currently a proposed master’s degree program in women’s studies from a biblical perspective is being reviewed by L. Russ Bush III, academic vice president and dean of Southeastern’s faculty.
The new women’s studies program, pending approval by the National Accrediting Association, could begin by fall 1997.
Dorothy Patterson, adjunctive professor of Christian family ministry and wife of Paige Patterson, created the proposed women’s studies degree program. “I was the only woman in the school of theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary during my seminary career,” she recounted. “I feel there ought to be a program fashioned to be more helpful to women. There are unique problems that women have that can be addressed much more effectively by another woman. That is our goal in developing this program.”
“Our purpose statement,” admissions director Allen noted, “is to train men and women for Christian ministry around the world. We are looking forward to more women coming to Southeastern to prepare for God’s calling.”

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  • Alison Wiseman