(RNS) The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, to oversee churches in Southern California, four years after the church allowed openly gay men and lesbians to serve as clergy.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, to oversee churches in Southern California. Photo courtesy California Lutheran University

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, to oversee churches in Southern California. Photo courtesy California Lutheran University


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Following a wider trend within other mainline Protestant denominations to appoint gays and lesbians to leadership positions, the ELCA’s five-county Southwest California Synod elected Erwin on Friday (May 31) to a six-year term.

“It’s historic and a turning point, as was the ordination of women,” said Martin Marty, the dean of American church historians at the University of Chicago and a member of the ELCA. “This is just one of many indications that the culture has shifted.”

Erwin, who holds a doctorate, bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Yale University, has spent several years teaching university and seminary classes. He currently serves as a pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, Calif., and a professor of Lutheran confessional theology at California Lutheran University.

Part Osage Indian, Erwin is also the first Native American bishop in the ELCA.

Erwin waited until 2011 to become ordained, after the denomination’s 2009 change to allow people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”

The ELCA, which has lost members nearly every year since its founding in 1987, saw the biggest drop when it lost nearly half a million members in 2010 and 2011, the most recent numbers available. The ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., with more than 4 million members in 9,638 congregations.

The ELCA’s election of Erwin did not come as a surprise to many observers, as the provision for an openly gay leader has been in place for four years now.

“I don’t expect it to cause a lot of ripples, frankly,” said the Rev. Michael Cooper-White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.).

Those who would have been troubled by the decision left four years ago when the ELCA changed its stance on sexuality, he said. “This is not huge news, the same way it was news four years ago,” he said.

Some U.S. congregations have already left the ELCA to join the North American Lutheran Church, and some overseas churches have severed ties with the denomination. Earlier this year, the Lutheran church in Ethiopia parted ways with the ELCA.

“In one way (Erwin’s election is) not earth-shaking, but it’s a decisive move by the ELCA,” said Robert Benne, a philosophy and religion professor at the Roanoke College, who is a member of the ELCA but is involved in the NALC. “There’s a big sorting-out going out in American and world Christianity, so it’ll have some repercussions, but the larger repercussions will be worldwide.”

The election is likely to further strain relations between the ELCA and the nation’s second-largest Lutheran body, the more theologically conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The two bodies work together on disaster relief, refugees and immigration but hold starkly different positions on social issues.

While nearly twice as big, the ELCA has not seen the same kind of public division as the Episcopal Church, which confirmed V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop a decade ago. The Episcopal Church has fought several court battles with departing congregations over property ownership.

Erwin will serve alongside the first openly lesbian Episcopal bishop, Mary Glasspool, who was elected as a suffragan (assistant) bishop in Los Angeles in 2009.

KRE/AMB END BAILEY

25 Comments

  1. Missouri Synod Lutherans, you know what you must do. It’s time to stop being “unequally yoked.” ELCA has gone off the deep end, and despite common projects like “disaster relief” and “immigration reform”, the last thing you need is for ELCA to pull you under with them.

    It’s a tough decision to make, but it’s time to tell ELCA good-bye.

  2. Rev. onah Gregory Ph.D

    Lutherans all over the world, believe, teach and uphold the truth that the Holy bible is the WORD of God and is the final authority in all manners of faith and practice. The sainted C. F. W. Walter has pointed out the fact that those who live such lives are living in abominable sins and such cannot lay claim to christianity, rather he classified them under unbelievers, though they lay claim to orthodoxy but they actually have dead faith. The time has come for all true Lutherans to leave ELCA or it is time for ELCA to stop claiming the Lutheran identity. Our prayers of repentance will always be offered for them all.

    • Rev. Kelly G. Lewis

      Rev. Gregory — I wonder if you remember who said “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female ….”

      I hesitate to mention that I am a seminary trained, ordained Lutheran pastor who, as it happens is also female, because I’m pretty sure that last descriptor disqualifies me as an interpreter or preacher of Scripture in your theology.

      • Little Lamb of GOD

        Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you all know that the end time is approching closer than ever, because Satan has fooled even the elected people of God. When a church openly shows defiance against the Biblical teaching, you know that church is not a church of God anymore. God put rainbow in the sky to promise not to flood the entire earth again. But God never promise no fire, no brimestone from heaven again when he saved LOT and his family out of SODOM. Be aware of this, SODOM will be punished again with fire and brimestone, in a morden language, that is NUCLEAR WAR and mass destruction of the earth with fire and brimestone.
        I pray we all know this and take action to repent ourselves in front of Jesus. Turn away from sinning against God. He is Holy, He forgive, but we only receive his forgiveness when we repent from things that is abominable to Him.

    • Geoffrey Smith

      “Lutherans all over the world, believe, teach and uphold the truth that the Holy bible is the WORD of God and is the final authority in all manners of faith and practice.”

      Why? By whose authority?

  3. Let’s apply an ELCA-revised 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as a consistent standard for would-be ELCA bishops:

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    Since the ELCA has eisegetically excised part of 1 Corinthians 6 to put its denominational imprimatur on homosexual sex, when will Bishop Gonia and other ELCA leaders be gushing over the appointments of the first proudly unrepentant adulterer, thief, and swindler to the office of ELCA bishop?

  4. I used to be a member of the ELCA, but left that denomination years ago. Regarding the election of this gay bishop, Martin Marty says, ““This is just one of many indications that the culture has shifted.” There may be a cultural shift, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and God’s Word is true and never changes.

    I work for a huge corporation, which promotes the gay and lesbian movement and strongly pushes it on us, employees. They pour billions of dollars into the gay agenda every year.

    The Bible tells us to hate the sin and love the sinner. I pray for those, who are gay and lesbian, as well as those, who support them. They are human beings, too, in need of the love and forgiveness of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

  1. [...] Según Religion News Service (RNS), Erwin dijo que “esperó hasta 2011 para ser ordenado, a partir de 2009 el cambio de la denominación para que la gente en ‘sus  relaciones públicsa de rendir cuentas, de por vida,con una pareja  monógams del mismo sexo para servir como líderes incluidos en la lista de esta iglesia. ‘” [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.