The ELCA is the Whitest denomination in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. I can credit Women of the ELCA for caring about race issues and putting their money where their mouth is since 1997. That’s when the work of the peer educators’ anti-racism network “Today’s Dream: Tomorrow’s Reality” (TDTR) was created. Yet, I and the women of the network continue to cope with strong resistance as many ELCA members refuse to see racial segregation as an indicator of work to be done.
Here’s a personal story:
I was riding down the escalator at an airport when I saw clusters of women at the bottom holding baskets. They wore enough Women of the ELCA paraphernalia for me to recognize them as kin—in the same organization as me. The host synodical women’s organization was greeting Women of the ELCA visitors as we came from all across this nation to attend a triennial convention. What a great idea!
Their baskets were filled with small packets of candy and such. When I got off the escalator, I smiled and said “Thank you” as I reached to the basket. But instead, the basket was snatched back and I heard the words, “These are for Women of the ELCA.” I leveled my gaze at the SWO hostess and said, “I am Women of the ELCA.”
The air fell still. She froze. Her eyes said I didn’t look like Women of the ELCA. Another White woman at this hostess’ elbow reached into the basket and offered me a packet.
There is so much work to be done! In “Confronting Racism,” the live webcast with ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and William B. Horne II, it was suggested ELCA members begin having conversations about race. This concerns me. Women of the ELCA has been training women how to have such conversations for decades. I fear having conservations with no structure might cause more harm than good.
Before more people of color die in churches, the streets or jail cells, we need guided conversations about race, conversations that can move us forward. Women of the ELCA provides its executive board with anti-racism training twice a year at board meetings. We have constitutional guidelines that require a certain percentage of people of color sit on our legislative bodies.
But we, like all of us in the ELCA, could do more before the next crisis happens. Check out these resources on the ELCA website to begin your structured conversation about race.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice for Women of the ELCA. If you would like to find out if there is someone from the TDTR network in your area who could facilitate discussions about race, contact [email protected].
Photo by Jamie Skinner, Creative Commons