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Getting to know Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Getting to know Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the new presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church comes off as smart and self-effacing in this interview with Elizabeth Dias of Time.

What are the biggest challenges facing the ELCA today?

Like all Christian denominations in this country, all of us are seeing either a decline or a plateauing [of membership], so I think the increasing secularization is kind of a shock for a lot of our folks. We no longer have a place of privilege in the culture. I’m old enough to remember public-service announcements from President Eisenhower telling us all to go to the church or synagogue of our choice. Those days are over. …

You support the decision to allow partnered gay clergy, but you also believe that the church should make room for people who don’t. Why?

Lutherans have a history of living with paradox. There are some things that are nonnegotiable for us. But there are other things that it is possible for people who love Jesus holding the same faith together, can have very strong, very sharp disagreements, but it does not have to lead to disunity. Things like marriage or the ordering of government or certain political positions, we can and we do disagree, but we agree on the cross. …

I hear you have a spiritual director. What is your process of spiritual direction, and how has it shaped you?

There are people now who are spiritual and not religious. I would characterize myself as religious but not spiritual. I am a faithful person, but taking a closer look at my relationship with God in a more intentional way was something that gave me the willies sometimes. So I thought, By golly, if I really believe what I preach, then I can’t do this on my own. If everyone of us depends utterly on God, maybe I need to start finding a way to have a discussion about that with God, and I thought, I might need someone to help me dial into the God frequency.

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