NOTE : A presentation of the importance and need of the woman Bible instructor in God's work was given during the Ministerial presession at the General Conference session in Detroit, June, 1966. The following is what was presented by Bible instructors Cora Marina (Miami), Esther Roberts (Tennessee), Felicia Phillips (California), and Elva Dreos (Maryland), under the above title.
No, we had no trouble getting to Detroit. Train, plane, and car brought us with relative ease and with little effort to ourselves. Nor did we find it necessary to instigate a crusade against the General Conference for a place on the pre-session program, though we admit that the excitement was intense when the gracious invitation was extended from Elders R. A. Anderson and J. R. Spangler.
But let us explain. As each of us was considering preparation for the Bible instructor field, we were given little encouragement. "Counsel" like the following was given: "There is no need in the field. Many of those who are graduating are even now not receiving employment. Supposing you were hired, you would receive scarcely enough for a meager living. You would have to be at least forty-five to fifty-five years old to be an asset. No, don't even think of teaching Bible. Our academies are already crammed full of Bible teachers who flunked the ministry. You would have less chance there. But you like to teach. I've heard others say you were born to teach. You ought to study education and be an elementary teacher."
Smiling, your supposed benefactor resolutely believes that he has solved your problem. College brought an added terror, "And you know you will have to take Greek." Even this year one well-meaning staff member tried his hardest to talk one of us into being a social worker. Yes, almost everyone of us had to fight for the qualification to be here!
Whose Idea Was It?
Whose idea was it to hire women in the first place? According to the counsel we received, it must have been a big mistake. But let us see what the book Evangelism says. On page 467 the question is raised: "Who can represent the truth and the example of Christ better than Christian women who themselves are practicing the truth?" On pages 464 and 465 the promise is given, "The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life." "God calls for earnest women workers, workers who are prudent, warmhearted, tender, and true to principle."—Page 478. "This is a sacred work, and those engaged in it should receive encouragement."—Page 469. "It should be the aim of our schools to provide the best instruction and training for Bible workers."—Page 475. Truly "our work has been marked out for us by our heavenly Father. We are to take our Bibles, and go forth to warn the world."—Page 456. Whose idea was it that Bible instructors are no longer needed? Most surely not the Lord's!
Why should this be of importance to you ministers and evangelists? Your reaction to the Bible instructors' field has more to do than you realize with the number of trained women who could help finish the work. Each one of you is the determining factor. Ellen White said women should be encouraged in this line. "There are noble women who have had moral courage to decide in favor of the truth from the weight of evidence. They have conscientiously accepted the truth . . . and will make successful workers for their Master."—Ibid., pp. 478, 479.
In response to letters sent to Great Britain, Canada, various conferences and unions in the United States, including Hawaii, the following results were received: About 85 per cent were in favor of women Bible instructors, 10 per cent were fence riders, and 5 per cent unfavorable. Listen to some of the objections we received. You be the judge as to whether the logic is sound:
1. "I would . . . favor an intern rather than a Bible instructor because interns are able to take a little heavier responsibility in such missionary projects as Ingathering and going into new areas with an evangelistic program of preaching," versus "It is good to have people on our working force who do not have to wrestle with the administration of the churches. A Bible instructor can definitely be more effective in the area of personal soul-winning, since she does not have so many distracting responsibilities."
- "Many Bible studies being held in the evening pose the problem of women traveling on darkened streets for night Bible studies . . . in large metropolitan areas." Yet "God is calling . . . Bible workers . . . to consider the needs of the unwarned cities."—Page 533. Other letters explained, "A homemaker can take the time to listen to a Bible study and not feel under suspicion by neighbors as she might were she allowing a man to enter during the day when her husband is away" or "without the liability of being misunderstood by the head of the household." "The opportunities for coming close to people, particularly to ladies who are alone or whose husbands are not interested in studying the gospel, is manifold."
- A "lonely life" because evenings are filled versus finding Bible work an "inspiration and a deeply satisfying profession."
- If they [conference presidents] hire an intern, they not only have his services but they have the services of his wife as well at the price of one. But we read: "The method of paying men laborers, and not paying their wives who share their labors with them, is a plan not according to the Lord's order, and if carried out in our conferences, is liable to discourage our sisters from qualifying themselves for the work they should engage in."—Ibid., p. 492.
- The major reason in all letters was that the Bible instructor, after being in the field only a few years, is taken up with family cares. Really now? Don't schoolteachers have evenings filled with lesson plans and grading papers? Nurses must work the evening and graveyard shifts, thus leading a lonely social or family life. No one would think of not paying a doctor's wife or a teacher's wife who shared the same professional work. Then, too, how many teachers would there be if each school board refused to hire women because the board feared that the teacher may sometime have family responsibilities—or executives concerning secretaries, or hospitals concerning nurses!
Yes, we had to fight. However, the picture is not all dark. Dr. N. F. Pease from the Theological Seminary said, "The Bible instructor is one of our most valuable assets. Not enough dignity and stress and importance is given to her work." The former secretary of the Ministerial Association, R. A. Anderson, wrote, "As a denomination we are very remiss in training women for this particular type of work. Other denominations such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians are far ahead of us, to say nothing of Roman Catholics." He added, "I'm 100 per cent behind any worth-while program for the training of women." Then later he declared: "We need more Bible instructors. We need more ministerial wives who are Bible instructors!" This is one area in which our eyes need to be lifted up and our interest broadened.
A statement by Elder Ray Turner is significant: "We have about the same number of Bible instructors today as we had thirty years ago. The only trouble is that today's Bible instructors tend to average about thirty years older than they were thirty years ago." Then where is the problem? In a taped interview, when asked for his first mental image of a Bible instructor, one minister said, "Humph, you want my first mental image of a Bible instructor? An old maid." Following the mental image in importance the second major problem seems to be insufficient training. Here I must speak humbly and tread lightly because I know that our training yet lacks refining in the crucible of experience. But I am hold to suggest that part of the problem is in our educational-conscious age.
These problems arise from a lack of understanding of the role and contribution of the Bible instructor. Elder Phillip Follett wrote, "The hiring of untrained and occasionally poorly qualified ladies to do this work simply in order to have some lady on the evangelistic staff has not contributed to the over-all health of the Bible instructor."
Southern Missionary College, as well as several of her sister colleges, is now developing a well-organized four-year Bible instructor program. To qualify for the B.A. degree with a major in theology, students take the same courses as the men, excluding Introduction to Ministry, Homiletics, Introduction to Preaching, and Pulpit Delivery. Instead, training is received in personal evangelism and home economics. Especially valuable to the Bible instructor student is the course in food demonstration techniques, which enables her to effectively conduct health and cooking classes.
Yes, we also take two years of Greek, which we appreciate because it strengthens our belief in the sure foundation of God's Word. Soon a second semester will be added to the personal evangelism class so that we may receive live experience with truth-seeking people and the questions they ask. In addition to regular school terms we may attend summer field school between the junior and senior years. In college the Bible-instructor student receives a thorough training—not a watered-down course for wilted girls.
Being a woman theology major is quite a unique experience. It is interesting to watch the reaction of an inquirer as we reply to the question, "What are you studying in college?" "Theology."
The more uninformed question us, "Are you going to be a woman preacher?"
The Bible-instructor student replies, "No." Then she goes on to explain -what we are presenting to you this morning. Receiving our training is a lot of hard work and has its amusing moments. But your main question may be, How can the Bible instructor help the pastor?
(To be continued)