Seminary for a Woman Among Men – costly change in the face of opposition

[Kathy Calvert’s guest post on her seminary experience outlines the opposition she faced even among men who claimed to support her ministry plans, and the cost of finding a new way to pursue her education.]

Nothing in life prepared me for the attitudes regarding women I encountered in seminary.

Born in the Midwest, to a family with three girls, I never doubted my worth nor opportunities available to me. Sophomore year at a top university, I was introduced to Christ. Graduating with a degree in business administration, I secured a position in a tech firm, and moved to California. Marriage to a supportive man followed, and subsequently three children.

Early in our marriage, we settled in evangelical circles. When the children were born, I never questioned putting my career on hold to care for them. As they grew, I grew, investing my energies in a parachurch organization, teaching the Bible and training hundreds of women, for twenty plus years. I was among “the large number of people in the faith community who occupy a gray or middle area in this (gender) discussion, including those in denominations, churches, parachurches, and the academy… looking for a reason to believe differently” (Paul and Gender, by Cynthia Long Westfall). Desire for additional training led to seminary, where it became impossible to operate in the gray zone.

Taking summer intensives and participating in a year round cohort allowed me to maintain ministry commitments, while pursuing a Masters in Biblical and Theological Studies. Men were predominant and women occasionally expressed frustration at being overlooked, but sexism was not overt, until the final intensive, Pauline Theology. During the off record Q & A, the professor expressed his view: women should not teach men, women, nor children- not even homeschool their own. But, women should be allowed to learn! I sought clarification, “Are you saying every woman is more gullible than every man?” He would not give a direct answer to the question. The implication was clear: the Cross had been effective for Adam (men), but something was still wrong with Eve (women).

Participating in an all-male cohort that fall, I was assured my experience would not be a repeat of the Pauline Theology course. Yet, continually, members questioned, “What should be the role of women in the church? Should women occupy official positions, or perform the functions, of teaching and/or leading?” The professor, not an egalitarian but supportive of women in ministry, refrained from weighing in, letting us struggle and draw our own conclusions.

Only one of many assigned readings addressed women in ministry.[1] Having opportunity to formally address the cohort regarding the subject, I was upfront regarding my aim: to shock, discomfort, and challenge thinking regarding women, roles, and the church. I had come to seminary seeking equipping, not permission. Reactions were strong and varied, ranging from “What should I do – implement affirmative action?” to “Women are pushy”, to my favorite, “You could avoid the tension by transferring to the women’s track, but you don’t want to work with women.” (I find biblical and theological studies very beneficial in working with women, as well as men.)

Ultimately, the dissonance became too great, and I transferred to another seminary in the area. The switch was costly, in time and money. A year passed, before I could join a cohort at the new seminary. Several thousand dollars were lost, due to non-transferable credits. But, the differing mindset regarding women in ministry has made it worth it.

The time of transition was a crucial time of regaining my shaken confidence, and I read as much as possible which addressed women in leadership, both in the church and in the corporate sphere. I found a wealth of resources available through Christians for Biblical Equality, including Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women, written by Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, which is a must read. Among many other helpful reads were Beyond Sex Roles by Gilbert Bilezikian; Paul, Women & Wives by Craig S. Keener, How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, Alan F. Johnson, general editor; and Paul and Gender by Cynthia Long Westfall.[2]

My current seminary experience is not perfect. The seminary has no particular stance regarding women, although much of the faculty is egalitarian. Men are still predominant, but overt sexism is not tolerated. Once again, I am the sole woman in a cohort – this time Cross-Cultural Engagement – and at times I tire of “announcing myself”, as they say. But, the men in this cohort have years of both life and ministry experience, and there is mutual respect. All members are willing to engage in tough- even explosive- conversation, working to find common ground despite the diversity of our individual views- regarding politics, race, religion, economics, and yes, gender. Together, we are discovering the necessity of not only orthodoxy, but also orthopathy, and orthopraxy, in living the good life as defined by Jesus.

Seminary always requires emotional endurance, and I am grateful for the support of family, friends and colleagues. My own seminary experience proved to be the impetus propelling me out of the gray zone, regarding women in ministry. I have emerged more confident regarding my identity in Christ, and I will not live my life under the shadow of Genesis 3. This resolve permeates the biblical teaching and training I am privileged to provide hundreds of women, every week.

“Praise be to God, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)


[1] Two Views on Women in Ministry, James R. Beck, general editor.

[2] Additional Christian sources: Community 101 by Gilbert Bilezikian; Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James; Finally Feminist by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.; Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William J. Webb. Additional secular sources: Woman Up! By Aimee Cohen; Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel, PhD; The Confidence Code by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman; Her Place at the Table by Deborah M. Kolb, PhD, Judith Williams, PhD, and Carol Frohlinger, JD; Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.


Kathy Calvert

Kathy Calvert is an experienced spiritual leader. She has over 20 years’ service as Teaching Leader with Bible Study Fellowship, where she presents God’s truths in honest and humorous ways, using personal illustrations and connecting with her audience. In her role as Teaching Leader, she has the privilege of training and shepherding hundreds of women. Kathy is currently completing graduate studies in Cross-Cultural Engagement, at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.

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6 Responses to Seminary for a Woman Among Men – costly change in the face of opposition

  1. Ah, yes. In the decision-making process for seminary, I was seriously considering an evangelical seminary. (Actually, the one where Dr. Kaiser taught.) My former husband attended there in the 1980’s, and had Dr. Kaiser for a class. Alas, it was not to be. The seminary kicked up a fuss at me being divorced, and would not let me be a “full student,” but only “on probation.” So, the Lord opened the doors to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I was accepted there in less than a month, and my calling repeatedly confirmed. Women were absolutely affirmed at Garrett. Graduating in 2005, I am living out my calling now, in ways I would have never imagined even ten years ago.

    Keep striving and pursuing your calling, Kathy. God bless you, and surprise you with God’s unexpected gifts in ministry.

  2. jyjames says:

    “Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse”
    TED talk by Jimmy Carter, and his book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power,” connect the dots.

  3. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Kathy.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    When I was in Seminary some older views of the Bible and its history were changing. Many of the incoming students were familiar with these newer very accurate views. We brought these to our professor who acknowledged the changing perspectives and how accurate they were.

    The kicker, he was retiring in two years and did not want to spend the time correcting his teaching material. THAT is pretty significant. With scholarly evidence he would not change his views.

    The area of women in ministry is a changing one and open to differing interpretations, but if one is going to NOT change in the face of solid evidence, it is not hard to empathize.

    We are still sinners, we are all still learning.

  5. I am so thankful for this post!! I have just began my seminary journey as a female with a faculty of all white men, and 2 days ago I have began a blog about it. I am in the Biblical Theological program with leadership gifts! It is difficult to say the least, and I am only 2 semesterd in. What you have to say is close to me heart. Thank You!

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