category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Sheryl “Sheri” Ann Dawson Adams

Professor Emerita of Theology and Church History

Dr. Sheri Adams
Sheryl “Sheri” Ann Dawson Adams

Dr. Sheryl “Sheri” Ann Dawson Adams was born July 2, 1947, in Baton Rouge, La., but grew up in her father’s hometown of Jackson, La. It was a small town, where she and her three brothers would play outside, and Sheri spent many hours with her friends riding horses.

Next to riding horses, Sheri loved to read. She wanted to major in English in college, but her high school teachers advised her against it because job opportunities were scarce. She also enjoyed playing in the band and decided to major in music education at Northeast Louisiana State University in Monroe. However, she realized too late that she was not gifted in music. “I couldn’t sing harmony,” she shared. “It was a true drawback in music not to have a good ear. By the time I was certain I had made a mistake, I was a junior in college and my youngest brother was coming along. The money was going to him.”

Sheri finished the degree in 1969 and got a job teaching band, but she immediately started going to school at night to get her English degree. When she completed that degree, she got a degree in secondary guidance counseling and worked as a part-time guidance counselor and English teacher. She loved her job, but in 1972, decided to take a year off to pursue a degree in religious education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). When she started her classes, she realized she liked theology more than religious education. At this point, Sheri didn’t know what the future would hold, because in the 1970s women didn’t teach in seminaries.

She went back to her job as guidance counselor and teacher, but couldn’t let go of the dream of teaching theology in a seminary. She met with the doctoral committee at NOBTS. They asked her why she wanted to waste her time and money to obtain the degree knowing that she would never be able to teach. “I told them, ‘I can live with not getting to teach, but I can’t live with not being prepared to teach if an appointment would come along,’” Sheri said.

During her time at NOBTS, she found out from a representative of the International Mission Board that she could teach in a foreign country. She also met Dr. Bob Adams through mutual friends. His wife had died after a 12-year battle with cancer. He was a professor at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and had also served on the mission field. She also knew two of his daughters, because they had been on one of the five trips she took to Timnah, Israel, for archeological excavation and biblical study. Sheri and Bob were married in 1982, and she received her Doctor of Theology in 1983.

In the fall of 1984, she went to missionary orientation and then language school in Costa Rica. She started teaching Theology and Women in Ministry in 1985 at International Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their daughter Rachel was born in 1987, and they came back to the states in 1994. Bob went back to teaching at Southwestern. He was contacted by a friend, who needed a recommendation for his application to teach at the new divinity school at Gardner-Webb.

Sheri told Bob to tell the friend that if the job didn’t work out for him, to let GWU know she would be interested. When their friend interviewed with Dr. Bob Lamb, who was the School of Divinity dean at the time, they agreed he was not right for the job. Lamb mentioned that Dr. Chris White, who was GWU president at the time, would like to find a woman for the job. “White had said, ‘If we hire a woman, we don’t have to explain who we are,’” Sheri related. “Bob Lamb told our friend that he had no clue where to find a woman who had a PhD and teaching experience. Our friend said, ‘I have her number.’”

Lamb called Sheri that evening, and she and Bob joined the GWU faculty in 1995. Sheri was hired as associate professor of theology and church history and was promoted to full professor in 2001. She retired in 2017. During the time they were at Gardner-Webb, Sheri and Bob provided resources for students who were in need. They opened their home to any number of students over the years, to the point it became known as the “Adams commune.” Most of the care they showed to students was done without the knowledge of anyone except the student who was the recipient.   

Sheri taught Introduction to Church History I, Introduction to Church History II, The Cross, The Changing Face of Baptists, Women in Ministry, and Capstone Seminar. Additionally, she led civil rights and women’s rights study tours to Czech Republic and Poland, Italy, Peru, Northern Ireland, Western New York, Atlanta and Americus, Ga., Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee, Ala., Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., and the Highlander School in Greensboro, N.C.

Dr. Adams teaching

“Students and travel were my favorite things,” Sheri affirmed. “The civil rights trips are the highlights of my life. The point I always tried to make was my belief that violence solves nothing. It was one of the most outstanding contributions of Jesus—rather than be mean to your enemy you should pray for them and be good to them.”

Sheri is the author of two books: “What the Bible Really Says about Women and “The Bible and Sinbearing: New Questions about Old Answers.” She is bilingual and has also written numerous articles and book chapters in Spanish, including a commentary article on the book of Esther. She was a Scholar-in-Residence with the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and spent her sabbatical in Chile and Scotland, where she researched the life of William D.T. MacDonald, one of the patriarchs of Baptist work in Chile.

She was the first president of Gardner-Webb University’s American Association of University Professors chapter, and attended the AAUP conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2003. For several years, she worked on the committee that edited the Advent devotion booklet. The position gave her an opportunity to get to know faculty and staff across Gardner-Webb’s campus.

In her classes, Sheri gave students a chance to share openly in a non-judgmental environment. She wanted to challenge her students to think differently about the issues that were dear to her heart. “Women make great pastors when they are given the opportunity,” she asserted. “I like to think that I modeled what I hope was a good woman in ministry. I would also hope I made a difference with the civil rights piece. I grew up a racist. I’m not proud of it, but nobody modeled anything else. I may have been raised one, but I don’t want to die one. It was the African-American adults in the divinity school that I learned so much from. I would hope that maybe there was some understanding on both sides because of what I tried to do.”

Sources: Personal Interview by Jackie Bridges (2018), emerita presentation speech by Dr. Ben Leslie, GWU files

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