At Summit 2012, I attended Dr. Everett Ferguson’s presentations on women in ministry. The first one, offered on Monday at 9:00 am in Hart Auditorium, was as interesting and well researched as I expected. Dr. Ferguson does not believe that women should be participating in the public assembly of church and this presentation covered women’s roles in the New Testament and offered his belief that, due to his understanding of Genesis 2, the prohibitions found in I Cointhians 14 are not culturally limited but apply to the church across time.
Ferguson had elements of design in his presentation. Clearly he had organized the information in preparation for the talk. It was well ordered and followed a logical sequence. In addition, he had slides that had the bulk of his information–including the Scripture references–for each point. Unfortunately, he often changed topics before I could type in the information and I was too far away from the screen to get good screen shots with my phone. There were also design choices with the colors as the slides were black with blue words. There was a problem with that in that it is harder to read a dark background with light words. I did not have a problem with his slides, but I know that someone else could have. So color choices in slides, the slides themselves, and the organization of the lecture were all elements relating to design that showed that the speaker had considered and included design in his talk.
Dr. Ferguson would probably agree that the main focus of his speech was on meaning. While some visual choices made meaning, he might not have thought of them quite as carefully as the actual text of his speech. Dr. Ferguson’s attire had meaning. He wore a suit so that he would be respected and recognized. No one attending the event wore suits, except those who were working or presenting. The suit he wore was a light gray, showing that he was being formal (gray) but not stuffy (dark gray or black). His tie was a brighter color, to give a focal point and perhaps lighten the formality, while his shirt was standard men’s-wear white, which would increase formality. Dr. Ferguson did think carefully on the meaning of his presentation. He focused in his talk specifically on the meaning of various Bible scriptures. He also talked about the meaning of various doctrines, including women in the assembly and God’s plan of creation. His main focus was on discussing I Corinthians 14 and the meaning of the verses there in terms of women’s participation in the public assembly of the church. Throughout his presentation he was careful to articulate the position that women were active participants in the early church, which Scripture clearly shows, while arguing that specific parts of Paul’s letters and especially I Corinthians 14 were not cultural issues but foundational issues of doctrine, belief, and theology.
As far as narrative and/or story, Dr. Ferguson invoked this conceptual element minimally. He used the Bible as text and sometimes discussed the culture and context of a verse. There were no stories related to the topic, however, so story did not play a significant part in his presentation.
Empathy, innovation, and play were not evident in Dr. Ferguson’s Summit talk on Monday at all. Innovation and play were also absent from the Tuesday talk. There may have been a move towards empathy in Tuesday’s speech, but, if this was his plan, it was unsuccessful. Tuesday Dr. Ferguson repeated Christ’s statement that whoever would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven should be the servant of all. Then he argued or suggested that women should be happy with their subordinate role in the public assembly, as required by his exegesis of the text, because being subordinate means they have a strong place in Heaven. Both the senior psychology major sitting in front of me and I thought that he was being patronizing with this presentation, rather than sympathetic. As Dr. Ferguson is a well-known and well-respected scholar; his intention was not to offend or hurt anyone. He intended to show that he could understand that this rule of Christ might not be an easy one to accept and follow and to suggest an emotional response that might be more palatable to the women in his audience. The women in the audience who were already in agreement with his beliefs would find this successful at showing empathy.
Dr. Ferguson is a well-respected early church historian and was a well-known professor even when I was in college over thirty years ago. While I do not agree with his position on women serving in public ministry, he effectively and succinctly articulated the position which was generally accepted in the churches of Christ when I was growing up. His use of the conceptual elements were limited, but that is not particularly surprising since he came of age in a very different generation, with incredibly different expectations.