by Ross Murray
In a historic move, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has elected its first-ever openly gay bishop. The Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin has been elected to a six-year term to the Southwest California Synod, which encompasses the greater Los Angeles area. GLAAD is working with Dr. Erwin and LGBT advocacy organizations within the Lutheran Church to bring media attention to this historic election for the denomination.
This is a significant step for the ELCA, who, until 2009, had banned clergy in same-gender relationships. Prior to 2009, hundreds of gay and lesbian clergy were forced out of congregations or served under secrecy. Hundreds of seminary students were not granted ordination, simply for being gay. Many left the denomination to more welcoming denominations or to join a roster of Lutheran pastors who refused to comply with the policy.
Dr. Erwin is a native of Oklahoma and an active member of the Osage Tribe of Indians. Dr. Erwin also sits on the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which expands ministry opportunities for publicly-identified LGBTQ people called to leadership in the Lutheran church as ordained pastors and rostered lay leaders.
“I know that many will see my election as a significant milestone for both LGBT people and Native Americans, and I pray that I can be a positive representation for both communities,” said Erwin about his election. “There was a time when I believed that I would not be able to serve as a pastor in the ELCA. Our church has now recognized the God-given gifts and abilities that LGBT people can bring to the denomination.”
Because he is openly gay and partnered, Dr. Erwin did not seek ordination in the ELCA when he was completing seminary. Instead, he completed a PhD in Lutheran history and spent most of his career as a teacher of Lutheran history. He met his partner Rob Flynn while he was studying for this PhD at Yale University. He and Rob are members of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, CA.
He is currently Professor of Religion and History, holder of the Gerhard & Olga J. Belgum Chair in Lutheran Confessional Theology at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, a seat he has held since 2000. Following the policy change allowing clergy in same-gender relationships, Dr. Erwin was ordained on May 11, 2011.
“All kinds of diverse leaders are called to positions in the church – and the Lutheran church is blessed with many committed LGBTQ pastors, whose callings can now be fully recognized,” said Amalia Vagts, executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. “This church has come a long way in 4 years. More and more people are realizing all the time that LGBTQ people have important ministry gifts, including the gifts to lead the church as a bishop. We are thrilled to see such a wonderful leader from the LGBTQ community called to the position of bishop at this time in history.”
“Pastor Erwin is an eminent scholar and church leader. He is a teacher at heart and was an excellent pastor long before he was ordained in 2011. In many ways his election is simply the logical and appropriate next step for our denomination following the 2009 elimination of policies precluding pastors in committed same-gender relationships,” said Emily Eastwood, executive director of ReconcilingWorks. “In other ways, Pastor Erwin’s election marks a new and brighter day for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Lutherans as one of our own has been chosen not in spite of being gay, but because he is truly gifted and skilled for the office.”
“This is such an important step for both LGBT people of faith and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Dr. Erwin’s fellow Lutherans recognize that LGBT people have the gifts for ministry and trust him to be a leader within the church,” said Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives at GLAAD. “His election demonstrates the rising tide of Christians who accept, love, and embrace LGBT people in our communities.”
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