Southwestern inaugurates, installs first-ever chair of women’s studies

Writer: Alex Sibley

During chapel on Sept. 16, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary inaugurated the Dorothy Kelley Patterson Chair of Women’s Studies, the first such academic chair in the evangelical world. Named in honor of First Lady of Southwestern Dorothy Patterson, the chair was endowed by her late parents, Charles and Doris Kelley, and friends of Southwestern James E. and Dorothy M. Merritt. Candi Finch, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies, was installed as the chair’s first occupant during the service.

Following his sermon in chapel that day, Southwestern president Paige Patterson summarized, “Today, thanks to the Merritts and my sweet mother-in-law, Mrs. Doris Kelley, we establish a chair that is unheard of — a chair in the School of Theology devoted to women’s studies, teaching women so that we meet one of the greatest needs in the church today, [which is] to stop the fluff being taught out there with virtually no scriptural content. And that’s exactly what we’re doing: We’re rearing up a generation of women here who can handle the Word of God and become teachers of women. That’s why we’re doing the whole thing.”

The chair’s namesake, Dorothy Patterson, serves as professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern. She earned her Doctor of Ministry from Luther Rice Seminary and Doctor of Theology from the University of South Africa. Believing that the highest calling of God for a woman is to be a wife and mother, Patterson, along with her husband, played an instrumental role in establishing women’s studies programs at both Southeastern and Southwestern Seminary.

Patterson was a member of the founding group of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (she was the only woman in the founding group), and she served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ministers’ Wives Luncheon in 2006. She has authored, contributed and edited numerous books, articles and volumes including “Where’s Mom?: The High Calling of Wives and Mothers and The Study Bible for Women,” which received the 2015 Christian Retailing’s Best award.

While introducing her during the chair’s inauguration, Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost at Southwestern, said, “When I think of Mrs. Patterson, I think of Paul’s comment [in 1 Corinthians 15:10], where he said, ‘I have worked harder than any of them.’ When I think of Mrs. Patterson, I think, ‘She has worked harder than any of us.’ Sometimes, we wish that she’d slow down just a little so we can catch our breath, but she has; she has worked harder than anyone.”

He continued, “Dr. [Paige] Patterson recommended Mark 14:8, and that’s where Jesus said of the woman who anointed Him, ‘She has done what she could.’ [Mrs. Patterson] has done what she could in being a sweet fragrance for the Lord.”

Two of the chair’s benefactors, James E. and Dorothy M. Merritt, were present at the inauguration. James is a retired vice president of Steel Heddle Manufacturing Company, and Dorothy is a retired vice president of operations at BB&T Bank. Friends of the Pattersons since their tenure at Southeastern Seminary, the Merritts contributed to the endowment of the chair because of their desire to support the women’s studies program. In addition, the couple has also endowed a women’s studies scholarship.

The chair’s other benefactors are Dorothy Patterson’s parents, Charles and Doris Kelley. Doris, who passed away in 2013, played an instrumental role in teaching Patterson the significance of hospitality as a ministry.

The chair’s inaugural occupant is Candi Finch, an elected professor at Southwestern. Having earned her Master of Divinity in Women’s Studies and Doctor of Philosophy from Southwestern, Finch has established herself as a key figure in this area of academia. She is an active mentor of numerous women on campus and has contributed to several books for youth and women, including the Women’s Evangelical Commentary on the New Testament and Old Testament and The Study Bible for Women.

Addressing Finch from the pulpit, President Patterson said, “I thank God for you. Thank you for taking a stand for truth that is not popular. I want to promise you today a life of strife. I promise you attacks from secular humanism and feminism. I promise you attacks from so-called evangelical feminists. I promise you attacks from liberal theologians. You will stand virtually alone for a while. But you must do it. And God be praised for you in accepting this chair.”