I love Mark Hanson, the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Every time I've heard him or seen him, I've been amazed by his pastoral presence. He is kind, faithful, generous with his time, dedicated to the church and a spiritually attuned preacher. He has led the ELCA through stormy waters.
This is something most women pastors I know do (it seems as if most groups who represent a minority in leadership do this same thing).
Out of 65 local bishops, only 9 are women. That's less than 15%, and that's after 40+ years of ordaining women. I didn't think there was reason to cheer when one finally made it into serious contention.
Well, a woman just got elected. Our new presiding bishop is The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton. (Incidentally, she wasn't the woman in contention yesterday. Church elections aren't like governmental elections).
With the news, my phone screen filled with exuberant texts from female clergy friends.
These cheers have nothing to do with our respect for Bishop Hanson. These same friends love and honor his gifts, as do all the pastors I know. He has been the right leader for these past twelve years.
Still, we cheer. We cheer because clearly, Bishop Eaton also has great gifts. We cheer because we trust that Bishop Eaton will be the right leader for the future and we cheer because her gender did not disqualify her. These cheers have everything to do with knowing just how hard it is for a female leader in the church to survive, much less thrive.
There's some social media chatter that she was elected because she was a woman and so those who cheer for her are sexist. To those folks, I ask that you keep in mind that in most of the world's religions, women can't serve as clergy/leaders; in other words: being female is an automatic disqualification. When the last Pope was elected, the only qualification was that he be male. He didn't even need to have already been baptized, as long as he was willing to be baptized and then ordained.
We didn't elect a pope; but we did the equivalent for our relatively tiny church - the ELCA. This election indicates that the stained glass ceiling really is cracking. I love Bishop Hanson, and I join my voice to the chorus of cheers for Bishop Eaton.