The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America elected its first openly gay bishop late last week. Rev. R. Guy Erwin will represent the Southwest California Synod, a region of five counties including Los Angeles.
According to the CNN Belief Blog, the ELCA is only the second mainline Protestant denomination to elect gay and lesbian bishops other than the Episcopal Church. Church spokeswoman Melissa Ramirez Cooper said in a statement, “The ELCA is a church that belongs to Christ, and there is a place for all here. The election of Pastor Erwin illustrates what many in the 4-million-member church believe — that God calls each of us by name.”
Erwin sent an email to CNN saying the job of the bishop is “to lift up the church’s message of grace and peace in the wider society, to administer the church’s work in our area, and to teach and preach.”
“In this regard, the sexual orientation of the bishop may not be very important,” he concluded. But he also said, “The very fact that I exist will be a signal to others that GLBT folks are respected and have a full place in our church.”
Not everyone is pleased with this election: The Rev. W. Stevens Shipman of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal commented that the ECLA is not keeping promises it made in 2009 to acknowledge and respect churches who view homosexuality as a sin.
“The promise was also made publicly that no congregation would be required to call a pastor in a same-sex partnership,” Shipman said, “but now an entire synod has been forced to live under the authority of a bishop who is in such a relationship.”