Evangelical Lutheran Church elects first openly gay bishop

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R. Guy Erwin at his ordination ceremony.
Screenshot by Geena De Rose/Gavel Media.

Rev R. Guy Erwin was elected as the first openly gay bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on May 31.

Despite being shunned by the clergy for more than twenty years for his same-sex partnership, Erwin was elected with 201 votes of 381 cast. He will serve a six-year term as bishop of a Southwest California region including Los Angeles.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the largest Protestant Lutheran denomination with more than 4 million members in 10,000 congregations. Having a gay bishop, the ELCA sends a universal welcome message to the members of the LGBT community.

Christian denominations vary in their positions on homosexuality. Denominations which oppose homosexuality include the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodoxy Church as well as some mainline Protest churches such as the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church in America and the American Baptist Church. Other churches don’t view homosexuality as immoral or sinful. These churches include the United Church of Canada, the Church of Sweden, the Church of Norway and the Church of Iceland.

"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,” said church spokeswoman Melissa Ramirez Cooper to CNN.

Photo courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons.

This powerful message angers conservatives. Around 600 congregations have left for more conservative churches since ELCA lifted the bans on the possibility of a gay bishop and paved the road for LGBT clergies in 2009.

Rev. W. Stevens Shipman, director of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal, said to CNN, “the ELCA is not keeping promises it made in 2009 to respect the views of churches and individuals who regard homosexuality as a sin.”

Having an LGBT clergyman is not unprecedented in the religious world. In 2011, an openly gay Mormon was appointed to serve as a leader of the Mormon Church in San Francisco. Churches in foreign countries such as Finland and Norway even bless same-sex unions.

“In these days, such milestones seem to be coming at an ever-faster rate and eventually what seems revolutionary now will seem normal and predictable,” Erwin told reporters.

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