Honoring our Foremothers

Address by Christine Grumm—March 10, 2010

First of all let me just say it’s wonderful to be here, to be with my wonderful women colleagues, many of whom I’ve quoted in speeches, always giving you credit. It was easy to find great quotes. And for those of you in the audience today who I know personally who have been a part of this journey, just kind of picture that all of you are standing behind me, because that is what this is all about.

When Jo said to me, tell a story about the past, I realized that I oftentimes ask this question of people, are you a past, present or future person? When you do a trip, is it more fun to plan it, to be on it, or to remember it? And I’m very clear that I’m not very good at the past. I’ve been there, done that, and moved. I have never been to a reunion of my high school or college, and yes, when I come to events like this and I see the faces I know, I’m just awash with memories. So indeed the past is such an important part.

I just flew back from New York. I was with […] the Commission on Women, so I spent a week there, so I spent time on the airplane on two things: on figuring out what stories I was going to tell, and watching the last of the Academy Award nominated films. So I saw “The Hurt Locker,” but I had a lot of time.

So what I’m going to do today are two things. One, I’m going to go into a stream of consciousness of my past, because I think one story is so hard. One of the things many of you know, the Lutheran Church is a family business in my family. So in many ways a lot of the things that I got involved with in the church, I didn’t do really willingly. I kind of went kicking and screaming; I was at the wrong place at the right time. And one of those happened to be, I was at an AELC church convention gathering to visit family, because this was the place where you saw all the relatives. […] But as I’m standing in the back of the room, they’re taking nominations for the board of the AELC. And suddenly—I guess somebody saw me; I’m only 5’2”. And I don’t know how they saw me, but my name got put in nomination and I got elected to the board of the AELC. And that began an interesting journey for me. I was one of two women on the board. I think I was in my late 20s at the time. I remember I’d been to Saint Louis a lot, and I think when we think about tokenism, it takes its toll. And for me, that toll was I spent the first three meetings flying back from St. Louis to San Francisco in tears, because it just didn’t make any sense to me. I was a community organizer in my real life, as I called it. I had no idea how hard it was to get people to listen to you. And once I kind of figured out how to do that, then I became comfortable.

I allowed my name to be in nomination for the vice presidency of the ELCA on the promise I would not win. They said they needed an AELC representative. I said, I’m going on sabbatical and so I cannot do it. And after the first ballot I said, God faked me out. This is not acceptable. And needless to say I did not go on sabbatical. I think there were many bishops in the church during that time that saw this 36-year-old, long blond hair woman from California wearing bright colors, who sat in the back of the room at the Conference of Bishops when there were no women bishops. I was one of two, maybe one of one, women in that room. When I got bored I won’t tell you what I thought about, because I won’t say that in public, but it was an interesting way to keep my interest in the meeting.

The role of vice president in the ELCA, I don’t know if you know, but at that time was one line. It was chairing church council. So I spent those four years taking that line and expanding it […] I gave some power to that position. And I think that has gone on to be a key place. They still don’t pay; they should. But that’s one of the many things.

Also during those four years and the subsequent years I spent with Lutheran World Federation, there were interesting moments around the inside/outside strategy of women. And so many of us had been used to knocking on the door on the outside. We didn’t have a good strategy for when we got inside. And it was a lot of battling and fighting and pain and agony. I think we have to acknowledge that movement. And know that we struggled in those early years just to come up with a strategy of what we were supposed to do here. […] So there was a lot of back and forth. How do I define this? How do I talk with my colleagues, etc.

And then I went on to work at the Lutheran World Federation with the deputy general secretary. […] Come to the LWF. Be a part of this world-wide communion, and […] look at our future down the road. And when I got there, I realized that there were three strikes against me. I was a woman. I was not ordained, and I was Midwestern, in the middle of Europe. And it was a very interesting time. It taught true humility all along the way. But one of my most favorite stories about that time was this time that Gunnar, who was a wonderful general secretary and recruited me, but I walked into his office after I’d been on the job for six or seven months, and he said to me, Chris, I want to discuss something with you. I said, Yeah, what’s going on? And—the interesting thing about Gunnar and I is he’s very formal Norwegian, and I’m very Californian. […] He said, you’re spending too much time with women in the building, and you’re spending too much time talking about women’s issues. And I thought, this is interesting. I just said, God, give me a good response. And I turned to him and I said, when you and the other members of the cabinets speak up for women on a regular basis, I will shut up. I have to say that he took that to heart. There was a little more of that. But we still continued the conversation.

So those are kind of my running memories. There are many more to talk about, but I wanted to focus just a little […] in the next few minutes that I have, and that is that my job, and the work that I do, even though it is outside the structure of the institutional church, it’s all about how you take women’s leadership and move it into a place of empowerment, and not only empowerment for women, but change for the whole of community. Because this is not any more about women’s issues. This is about issues that disproportionately impact women that also impact all of us in community.

So I wanted to just share with you a couple of my thoughts. In the early days when we talked about women’s leadership, we talked about it as an issue of justice, as an issue of “women deserve this,” we have God’s gifts, and we deserve to be in these places of power, these places of decision-making. And I think that is all still true.

But I think that if we really want a strong church in the future, we need to begin to take some chapters of books written outside the church. And a friend of mine, Linda Tarr-Whelan, just wrote a wonderful book called, Women Lead the Way. And one of the things—I was just with her on International Women’s Day […] and one of the things she’s talked about is the thirty percent solution. She talks about the fact that you have to have 30%, whether it’s women, people of color, to actually make […] a shift. Something actually happens at that. It doesn’t happen in the midst of tokenism.

And it was interesting to me that if you look at the ELCA right now […] men and women, the heads of units are split about 50-50 at the church house. But the two places where it’s not is the Conference of Bishops, where it is 8 women and 12 percent, and women clergy are about 20% and, more importantly, senior women in large congregations. Now, we have to think about that because we have to look in the church at the nexus of power. And I think to have a church council, one has 50-50 here, and a Conference of Bishops on the other hand that’s only 12%, that we’re still talking about critical mass happening.

So I just want to share with you this morning why having critical mass is so really, really important. One of the things that a lot of corporations are looking at now is that when women are in critical mass at the level of leadership in corporations, their bottom lines go up by 35%. Thirty-five percent. 79% of women are consumers. So let’s just take that to the church. What would happen? What’s our bottom line in the church? What would happen if that critical mass, whether it’s women or people of color, happened at the church? Would that change the growth pattern? Would that change our work out in the world? What kinds of things would that do differently for our church? And when you think about it, companies are looking at consumers, the economists say that women are the key to economic development in the world today. How much percentage are we talking about in our congregations, sitting in the pews? Doesn’t it kind of match the consumer rate? What about if we as the church began to think about diversity as the bedrock of how we grow our church for the future? That the 30 percent solution is as important in the church as it is in companies and institutions around the world?

I think it’s time for us to begin to look at some of the lessons in the secular world, and translate them into the church institution, because in many ways we’re not so radically different. And as we begin to look at that, we begin to look at a future of excitement, of growth, of the ability to say something different to the world. Today, 70% of [those in] poverty are women and children. Today, women are disproportionately impacted by violence, by conflict, by lack of education, by lack of health care. Where are we as a church in that forefront to say, we are at the beginning and at the end of that train, leading and following hope.

So, my story at the end of this is, my dream, my fantasy, is that a woman […] went in to see her boss today, and she asked, why was I not focusing my work on women in the organization? Didn’t I understand that women and girls are critical to the mission and growth of the church? What was I doing to further that agenda? That’s the fantasy that I take with me as I think differently about how we can move forward in the world today. The thirty percent solution is as much about the gospel message as all the other parts of our theology as we greet the world together. When Jesus was talking, and we talk about story after story, Jesus understood the thirty percent solution better than any of us. Does it not make sense for us to follow that? Thank you.

Christine Grumm