Editor's note: Yesterday Gender Blog reported on the gender component of the leftward theological drift many alumni and former trustees contend is taking place at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Today's post concludes its examination of NWC's shift on the gender issue.
Over the past five years, complementarianism seems to have become something of a pariah among the leadership at Northwestern College. The St. Paul, Minn., school, founded in 1902 by William Bell Riley, was once a welcoming place for students and faculty who held the traditional biblical position on gender roles in the home and church. But events over the past few years signal a significant shift toward the embrace of egalitarianism or at least away from an affirmation of complementarianism. Courtney Tarter, a 2006 graduate of NWC, witnessed the institution's move first-hand.
Tarter, who worked as a student assistant and intern for a NWC vice president who actively promoted egalitarianism, points to a couple of significant events during her time at the school that demonstrate the institution's shift. The first came in 2005 when Mimi Haddad, president of the egalitarian group Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), spoke in chapel at NWC. Tarter's boss hosted the event and attendance, at least for her office, was mandatory. The second telling event came in 2007 when complementarian New Testament scholar Jim Hamilton preached in chapel on gender roles; Hamilton's address provoked a profoundly different reaction from administration, Tarter said.
"After Jim Hamilton spoke in chapel the faculty received e-mails from administration officials ‘apologizing' for the way women were spoken poorly of in chapel," Tarter said. "I was there. That didn't happen-women were not spoken poorly of. Dr. Hamilton merely upheld the biblical complementarian position."
Hamilton's presentation prompted NWC leadership to instruct campus pastor Dean Paulson to ban outside groups from speaking at Northwestern on the gender issue, a former trustee told Gender Blog. Many faculty members, particularly those in the Bible department, remain committed to the complementarian position. Many professors in other departments are egalitarian.
NWC's shift toward a more postmodern view of truth first came to public light last year when a group of NWC graduates and former trustees launched a website, "Friends of Northwestern College and Radio." Contributors to the site contend that NWC began to compromise on a host of theological issues-including biblical authority-when Alan Cureton was elected president in 2002. While the school has ostensibly sought to remain neutral on gender under Cureton's leadership, one paragraph from a 2005 monograph authored by Cureton entitled "How Religious Colleges and the ‘Missionary Generation' Can Bridge the Divide Between Red and Blue America," seems at least suggestive regarding his personal position on the issue. Cureton seems to imply that NWC has embraced feminism from its beginning:
"When feminism was marching across campuses a half-century ago, Northwestern's march dates back to our beginning in 1902 when women graduates set sail for foreign countries-many single-to serve as medical missionaries. They shared their faith by treating the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the orphans and widows and housing the homeless…" (Emphasis added)
Tarter says NWC's shift on gender has forced some students to think more carefully and deeply about the issue. Other students, Tarter said, are clearly frustrated at NWC's lack of commitment to a specific viewpoint on such a crucial issue.
"For many students the gender issue has sparked a discussion that has allowed them to learn about it. It has brought the issue to the forefront and taught many students about God's design for men and women. For others it has only made them angry and frustrated. I think the hope among students now is to raise awareness about the issue. God is doing great work to equip and train the next generation even when the administration has abdicated their responsibility to do so."
In early 2007, a group of like-minded students formed a complementarian organization called Gender Matters Task Force. GMTF holds regular meetings and events that promote the traditional biblical view of gender roles in the home and church. Zach Tarter, Courtney's younger brother, is one of the group's founders. Tarter says she hopes many students at NWC will take the time to search the Scriptures on this critical issue.
"Being at Northwestern really challenged me to study the gender issue," she said. "If I hadn't been there and faced the opposition form the vice president and others, including professors, I don't think I would be as passionate about complementarity now."
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