The Voice: Spring 2001
Using the gifts of everyone
By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra
There was a reason why my mother waited until she was twenty-six to get married. It was because she knew that the day she got married was the day she lost her job in the Christian schools where she had been teaching since her eighteenth birthday. I don't know whether it was gender discrimination. Maybe it was just the fact that jobs were so scarce during the Great Depression that no Christian school would pay hard-earned tuition dollars to any family that had two incomes. In any event, that's just the way it was. Men could be married teachers. I suppose widows could be married teachers. Married women lost their jobs.
We've come a long way from the 1930s. Today the Christian community places more emphasis
on providing men and women with equal opportunities to exercise equal gifts. And although
strong opinions remain regarding the appropriate use of men's and women's gifts within the
church, few today would argue that God has provided clear gender-based biblical restrictions on
the use of gifts in Christian schools and colleges.
But there are issues that remain, and this issue of the Voice profiles some of them. Some may
think that Dordt has tried too hard to be egalitarian and not respected sufficiently women's
traditional nurturing role in the family--given that almost one third of our full- and part-time
faculty and staff are women. Others may think that Dordt College is hopelessly
paternalistic--pointing to the fact that no woman serves as a dean, vice president, or president of
I prefer to think that our institution has made a conscious effort to nurture and respect the
diversity of gifts that God has given to the Reformed academic community, women and men
alike. And we have to be honest that we still have more to do. Our female and male students both
need to see embodied among our faculty and administrators the variety of ways in which their
own gifts can be developed in service to our Lord.
But that leads to a rather new and emerging problem. Simply put, young men are no longer
coming to college to have their gifts nurtured in the same proportion as are young women. When
I came to Dordt College five years ago, our gender ratio was roughly 50/50. Today we enroll
fifty-seven percent women and forty-three percent men.
And it's not that Dordt College is unusual. Quite the contrary. Nationally, women make up
sixty-one percent of liberal arts colleges and men only thirty-nine percent. Among evangelical
Christian colleges the percentage of male students is even lower.
We at Dordt College are committed to developing the gifts of Christian youth, women and men
alike. And so we are encouraging young women to develop their gifts and realize that we still
have greater steps to take in order to do so more effectively. And we're also encouraging young
men to develop their gifts and are reflecting on ways in which to serve young men of the
Christian community in the same proportion as young women.
But we can't do too much until they finally get here. If Christian parents, pastors, youth leaders,
and fellow church members don't encourage young men to attend Christian colleges, then in the
long run the Christian community will be depriving itself of the developed gifts of its men just as
it sometimes deprived itself of the gifts of its women.
My mother had to set her gift of teaching on the shelf seventy years ago in order to fulfill her
calling as a wife and mother. But that experience didn't sour her on the value of education.
Indeed, she fully expected all her daughters and sons alike to develop their own gifts through as
much education as they could possibly obtain.
Today my wife, Gloria, and I have three grandchildren. Two are handsome little boys, and one is
a beautiful little girl. All three have great gifts that a proud grandfather can see clearly even now.
My prayer and, as college president, my task is this: to take those steps already today that will
help ensure that twenty years from now Dordt College will be a place where all three of my
grandchildren (and their classmates too) can find the resources and inspiration to fully develop
their own gifts for service to their Savior's kingdom.