The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has 3.5 million members, who are predominantly white. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, it is one of the least racially diverse religious groups,. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found only two percent of the denomination's members identified as black.
However, on Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, May 6, two black women broke the cycle.
The Huffington Post reported Rev. Patricia A. Davenport became the first black woman to be elected into America's largest Lutheran denomination. Davenport was elected into ELCA’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. The 63-year-old currently serves as her synod’s director for evangelical mission, and her installation is set for September.
Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld was elected one day later into ELCA’s South-Central Synod of Wisconsin. The 65-year-old was the interim pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Beloit, Wisconsin, and her installation is set for August.
“This is good news for the ELCA,” wrote ELCA’s presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. “Both women are leaders who have served our church for years. I think God is opening our eyes to see the giftedness of people of color. I am excited and honored to serve with them.”
“I think that, sometimes, our beloved ELCA is stuck on just being, ‘Oh, this is the way it is.’ There’s a reason we look the way we look. It’s because we have not valued those who don’t look like us,” Thomas-Breitfeld told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Davenport touched on "systemic racism and socio-economics" being factors in the denomination's low diversity rates, adding, “And there is white privilege that does not permit equal opportunities for people of color to serve in all three expressions of our denomination: congregations, synods and the national office."
“I was the first of two African Descent women who have pushed through the door marked ‘for whites only’ for 30 years too long,” Davenport continued, as she hopes these elections will become a "tipping point" for the ELCA. “Change has come because people of color will be at the table, even more so because we are resilient, equipped and willing to live into the Prophet Micah’s call, ‘To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ on behalf of those who have elected us to serve.”