For The First Time in 170 Years, Eden Seminary Will Have A Female President
Eden Theological Seminary is preparing to appoint its first-ever female president.
Longtime Eden faculty member and former academic Dean Deborah Krause will replace David Greenhaw, who has been president since 1997, in July.
An ordained Presbyterian minister, Krause joined other religious leaders in Ferguson calling for justice after Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014 — an event she has called “an everyday occurrence that turned into an execution.” In the years since, she has worked closely with local activists in St. Louis and led efforts to boost on-campus diversity at Eden.
Krause spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Shahla Farzan about the role of the seminary in confronting oppression and her thoughts on becoming the first woman to lead the institution in its 170-year history.
On the role of the seminary in advocating for social justice
We are here to interrogate the Christian faith for how it has been complicit with sexism, racism, homophobia, heteronormativity — and how this constellation of oppressions and ideologies has been born in the Christian faith. We're here to be people who are critical about that, who dismantle that in their churches and communities, and who empower the people of God to see their calling to be about the work of doing that in the community. I really do not believe that the white mainline progressive Protestant church has a reason to exist anymore, except to be here to respond to this call.
On how the 2014 Ferguson protests ‘focused’ the seminary
Eden is a Euro institution; it is predominantly white. Up until a couple of decades ago, [it had] an African American enrollment of anywhere from 5-8%. Then, as we began to change our scholarship and really understand ourselves to be a resource for the black church in St. Louis, our enrollment moved to 25-35%. As that developed, our eyes were open that our African American students are coming here to Eden’s campus, traversing dozens of municipalities that are predatory on black people to generate revenue for their city governments. We knew about that because our students were getting pulled over on the way here, and they were getting pulled over here in Webster. We [had] to found a chapter of the NAACP in response to that — and that became a plank from which we were able to really move further into an understanding of advocacy.
We were about that work, but Ferguson focused us. Ferguson gave our feet the opportunity to move into spaces and make relationships and hear testimony that prioritized the ways in which race and the threat of these systems to black and brown people are embodied here and how the church has largely been silent in calling those systems to account. Ferguson opened us in this way to see the movement in the streets as a calling of the church — to be open to that call and to understand it as a call of faith, even though it wasn't coming from the church.
On taking concrete action to advance social justice
Religious leadership in this time, I think has the opportunity to enter in these spaces and enter into this dialogue and bring the resources of Christian faith to it. Because for a while, our alumni were looking at us from all around the country and world and saying, ‘Oh, look what's happening in Ferguson.’ But now it's happening in their towns. Now they're into the conversation, now their bodies are moving into the streets. For us, as horrible and tragic as these events are, the response of the people to demand change, to demand justice, and the ways in which parts of the church are awakening to see this as a part of our vocation really gives us hope and gives us energy to keep at it.
We're also really challenging ourselves to look within. How are we organized? How are we staffed? Who's doing what? Who has power in the system? How is that organized? We’re doing a sort of racial equity analysis of our own selves as we continue to work with our students and in the community.
On becoming the first female president of Eden Theological Seminary
Gender roles remain fairly well defined. Sexism is still a thing. That has been a part of my career, and I'm sure I will continue to encounter dimensions of that. What it means to be president, at this point, I'm really seeing it as an opportunity. That historic moment of being the first creates a space to say, ‘We're doing it differently.’
I know we will run into obstacles. I know there will be a yearning to return to the way it was. But I think being so well known here by the faculty, staff and many in the community helps defray some of that. Who I am, of course as a woman, but also as a leader in the community, is already known.
Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan
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