On Feminist Pioneers & White People Getting Out of the Way

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made history today by electing the first woman to serve as its Presiding Bishop.  Rev. Elizabeth Eaton has served as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the ELCA since 2006, and was ordained in 1981.  That was eleven years after the church began ordaining women in 1970.

It took 43 years to go from battles over whether or not women can be ordained to calling a woman to lead the national church body.

There will be more news coverage in days to come, you can be sure.  For now, I transcribed a few notable things from Bishop Eaton’s initial remarks to the Churchwide Assembly that elected her.

On sexism and the importance of feminist trailblazers, she recounted an early conversation with a male colleague:

He said, “You don’t seem to be strident like the other women.”

I said, “I don’t have to be because they were the pioneers who made it possible for me.”

On racism and white privilege, and getting out of the way, she described the work that the church has to do in coming years:

“We are an overwhelmingly European American church in a culture that is increasingly becoming more pluralistic, and we need to find ways to get out of the way, those of us who are in this position of privilege, to welcome the gifts of those who have come from other places, or other cultures, or who have different histories or different colors of skin.  That’s a conversation we must have as a church.”

The four million members of the ELCA have some important work to do, to really be made new, and now we have a gifted leader called to serve that task.


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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Linda J. Klinefelter

    As a member of the ELCA I am so happy to know this has happened. Women need to have more of a voice in the church to provide direction, dialogue and examples.

  • Kristina Skepton

    Very excited to hear this news! I am a woman who loves Jesus and I am a natural leader and teacher. I am tickled to see more and more places opening up for gals like us :)
    Founder, SeeingGod Ministries

  • Pamela Challis

    Did you have my daughters in your classes at IC? Ashley and Aubrey Challis?

    • carynriswold

      Yes, Pamela, I had Ashley as a student several years ago! :-)

  • RobW

    The Lutheran Church isnt the Church our Lord established and she has no authority as a bishop. If shes a bishop Im Babe Ruth. Is that intolerant? No, just truth.

    • pagansister

      What church would that be that was established by “our Lord”? Really? There are many religions in this world…NOT just one established by anyone’s lord. My guess? The RCC?

  • pagansister

    YEA! Good to seen another denomination recognize in full the value of WOMEN in their ranks! G