Today in Dalit History, we honor the Reverend Dr Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, a Dalit spiritual leader whose struggle and contributions have revolutionized the Church’s approach to religion, gender, caste and sexuality.
Dr. Evangeline grew up in a family of 8 children raised single-handedly by her father following the early demise of her mother. Her father was a key influence in her life, planting the seeds of Dalit consciousness and Dalit spirituality in her young mind. He encouraged her to dream big and transcend the boundaries drawn by caste and gender.
Walking the path of his lessons, young Evangeline, at 21, found herself the only girl in her divinity class. On the day of her interview, she was asked, “Why did you choose theological education as your option, when you know that the Church does not ordain women to be priests?” Evangeline’s answer challenged this logic of impossibility: “Perhaps, I will come back to teach in this College!”. And she did. Evangeline came back to teach in the same college where she gained that critical perspective.
In 2006, when the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India made an amendment to let women into their ministry, Evangeline became the first woman to hold office as the Vice President. Evangeline recalls the different painful glass ceilings that had to be shattered during that climb in life. She was told, “Evangeline, you may have secured the prestigious award for being the outstanding student of your theology class, but what will we, the male pastors do, if women opt for ministry and take away our jobs in the church? Women have enough work to do at home!”
In her attempts to revolutionize the church’s relationship to gender, she asserts that the acceptance of body and sexuality is key to faith in God. Her fiery sermons ask why it is so difficult to find acceptance for effeminacy. She asks that we break free from the understanding of women’s bodies as polluting, leaking, bleeding and sexual. She says that the image of God as cis, male, and one who condones racism, sexism, classism, casteism and ethnocentrism has damaged not only the oppressed peoples’ self-esteem but has seriously curbed our communities’ larger possibility for liberation. Her ideas have stood tall and have shook the status quo of both church and caste patriarchal society.
Today the Reverend Dr. Evangeline continues to be a theological juggernaut. She teaches at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina and focuses on building a network of struggle and resistance between Dalits and other people of color.