CNN reported Thursday that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary expects about 15 women in its inaugural class of a for-ladies-only bachelor’s degree specializing in homemaking.

Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, defended the program, which has sparked controversy in recent days, on CNN’s evening news program “The Situation Room.”

“It should be the option of a young woman who wants to give herself to her home to have that option and be able to do that,” Patterson said. “It’s basically a question of religious freedom.”

Media attention has focused on the new degree, unveiled in June at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, since the Associated Press profiled it in a story earlier this month. first reported the story June 15. Robert Parham, executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics, criticized it June 18 in an editorial that appeared the same day in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Last week Parham debated Patterson about the program on Fox News.

Benjamin Cole, a Baptist blogger, has repeatedly lampooned the “M-R-S” degree since hearing about it at a seminary trustee meeting where he reported he “nearly shot Diet Coke out of my nose.”

Formerly a pastor in Texas who recently moved to a church staff in Oklahoma, Cole offered a more sober critique Thursday on CNN. “Divinity schools have never offered courses–of which I’m aware or can even trace any hint of–in sewing, cooking, culinary arts, interior decorating,” he said.

Cole said he found it “somewhat strange” that after training able and God-called women to ministry roles for generations, the seminary would now “send them home without a job and tell them it’s time to start putting their aprons back on.”

A one-time protege of Patterson–co-founder of the “conservative resurgence” that rescued American’s second-largest faith group from so-called “liberalism” in the 1980s–Cole is now one of Patterson’s chief critics. That is not only for Patterson’s views on women, which Cole argues attempt to turn back the clock to the 1950s, but more for his effort to continue to exercise tight control over denominational politics that some younger Southern Baptists feel is no longer necessary now that most “moderates,” as they prefer to be called, long ago lost interest in winning back the SBC.

Dismissing critics of the homemaking emphasis Thursday on CNN, Patterson said, “It’s mystifying to us and quite amusing to see these people so upset about what a theological seminary is doing to assist in having good homes.”

Cole and Parham are not alone in their criticism of the homemaking degree. It has bounced around several blogs and earned editorial criticism from the Virginian-Pilot in Hampton, Va.

“Women today hold jobs that only men could hold 50 years ago, bringing fresh perspective and vibrancy to every industry,” the newspaper said. “Still, according to Patterson, the future depends on American women taking advanced classes in cooking, sewing and homemaking, as well as course work in ‘the value of a child,’ and the ‘biblical model for the home and family.'”

“Don’t get us wrong,” the newspaper continued. “Domestic skills are all that stand between Americans and a diet of Ding-Dongs and diet soda. And it would certainly be nice to be able to darn a sock, if only to be able to say it and reduce the knot in the rag bag. Still, offering such opportunities only to women seems curious in a place like modern America, as if officials have faith that today’s men either know such things intrinsically, which they certainly don’t, or won’t need to.”

The editorial called the new course of study “further evidence that the SBC is more comfortable with the values of the 1950s than the 2000s.”

Reuters, meanwhile, gave Patterson space to defend his homemaking degree.

“Frankly, I find it mystifying that anyone would have a problem with it,” Patterson said in a Q&A interview format. “One of the amazing things to me is that somebody would have an objection to providing all the education that we possibly could provide, and certainly that is true of anything as vital as the home. It is the basic unit to all social order…. It is a course of study whereby a woman can prepare herself intellectually and in her basic skills to be a better homemaker.”

Patterson said the program is needed because of problems like divorce, abuse and women entering foreign missions who “find themselves in situations where the ability to be a good homemaker is a survival technique.”

Asked if he believes it is best for women to stay in the home and have children, Patterson said: “I am wary of the crusade against mothers … who choose not to have a career but to devote themselves entirely to their homes. That’s noble and our society is worse for not maintaining it as a noble cause.”

Patterson said people who say two incomes are necessary in today’s society are “ignorant.”

“The fact is that we have discovered that those two-income households actually have a harder time by the time they pay child support and by the time they pay for wardrobes for work and the extra automobile and the time they spend eating out,” he said.

“Once you get through all of that, our argument is nine times out of 10 that you don’t come out any better,” he said. “One of the things we are doing in the course is helping people find out how they can survive and survive very well on a single income.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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