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Lutherans elect first openly gay bishop
The Rev. R. Guy Erwin was elected the first openly gay bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on May 31.
June 3rd, 2013
02:12 PM ET

Lutherans elect first openly gay bishop

By Dan Merica and Daniel Burke, CNN

(CNN)– For more than two decades, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin couldn't officially be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On Friday, he was elected a bishop.

Erwin's election signals a shift not only for the ELCA – the nation's seventh largest church – but also for American Christianity. Only one other mainline Protestant denomination, the Episcopal Church, has elected openly gay and lesbian bishops.

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

With more than 4 million members in 10,000 congregations, the ELCA is the largest of several Lutheran denominations in the United States. The ELCA's decision to allow gay clergy has strained ties between those denominations, some of whom have partnered for relief work.

"The ELCA is a church that belongs to Christ, and there is a place for all here," said church spokeswoman Melissa Ramirez Cooper. "The election of Pastor Erwin illustrates what many in the 4-million-member church believe - that God calls each of us by name.”

The ELCA lifted its ban on openly gay, partnered clergy in 2009, clearing the way for pastors like Erwin, but angering conservatives. By some estimates, some 600 congregations have since left the ELCA for more conservative churches.

The Rev. W. Stevens Shipman, director of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal, said the ELCA is not keeping promises it made in 2009 to respect the views of churches and individuals who regard 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."

Erwin, a scholar at California Lutheran University, will serve a six-year term representing the Southwest California Synod, a five-county area that includes Los Angeles. His election took place an annual three-day assembly in Woodland Hills, California.

Erwin, who was ordained a pastor in 2011, played down his election as the ELCA's first openly gay bishop. But acknowledged that his very “existence” was a symbol for broader acceptance.

“The work of a bishop in our church 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,” Erwin said in an e-mail to CNN. “In this regard, the sexual orientation of the bishop may not be very important.”

Still, the bishop-elect said, “The very fact I exist will be a signal to others that GLBT folks are respected and have a full place in our church.” Erwin is also part Osage Indian and is active in the Osage Indian Nation, according to the ELCA.

Erwin’s election symbolizes a noticeable change for a church that once banned clergy who were in same-sex relationships, said Ross Murray, director of news and Faith initiatives at GLAAD.

Prior to the 2009 change, “hundreds of gay and lesbian clergy were forced out of congregations or served under secrecy,” Murray said.

“Dr. Erwin demonstrates how far the ECLA has come with LGBT inclusion,” said Murray in an e-mail to CNN. “He could not have been ordained just four years ago, and now he is a leader for the church. It makes me proud as a gay man, and as a Lutheran.”

Although the ELCA church did not allow clergy in same-sex relationships while he was attending seminary, Erwin  said that he “always believed that this would someday be possible.”

Erwin also said the church's 2009 change in policy was more of a "culmination of God's work" than a "start of something new."

Erwin has long been a board member of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a Lutheran group that advocates for the 130 openly gay Lutheran clergy who are members.

Amalia Vagts, the group’s executive director, said Erwin’s election was an “amazing day” for openly gay and lesbian Lutherans.

“This is a powerful message for LGBT people everywhere that the Lutheran church welcomes them,” Vagts said in an e-mail.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Lutheran

soundoff (1,122 Responses)
  1. Douglas

    Sin is sin...collar or not.
    Don't be fooled by the wolf coming on as a lamb!

    June 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • saggyroy

      Which pretty much describes all religions.

      June 12, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • sam stone

      sin is a man made concept, and only bothersome to those who believe in that tripe

      June 12, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Jorge Jimenez

      So you are one of those who just accepts principles from others.

      There are many unfortunately examples of those who "just follow orders." That includes some Germans in WWII and the 9-11 perpetrators. You have most unfortunately company.

      We have reason and human experience. Use them. Just following orders will not serve as an excuse when it is time to answer for your judgmental hatred and exclusivity.

      June 12, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  2. magnus opum

    A world where all behavior is accepted with love and unity. Not Wonderful.

    June 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      then leave

      June 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Donie

    Article has made me sicker than day old chicken fried steak. Kiss my grits you Chriatians with a brain. I like my church like I like my steak....bloody and engulfed by hell fire!
    #sarcasm
    Sarah Palin for President
    Pat Robertson for Veep

    June 11, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  4. Hugh Beaumont

    First thing I thought was, "Hey! That's Barney Frank!"

    June 11, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • Brian from DC

      That would pass for humor in 1993.

      June 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  5. oldowl

    I am a lifelong Lutheran, and the church has taken on many complex issues, always seeking to reconcile where there is acrimony, unite where there is division, and moving forward fully rooted and grounded in the love and gospel which is Christ. I LOVE THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA!

    June 11, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • magnus opum

      OK, but I think you are missing the gospel.

      June 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • RockLakeGuy

      Seems the ELCA has found the map to Sodom.

      June 12, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  6. TexInd

    Wonderful. Simply wonderful!

    June 11, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  7. Mary

    Anyone can make a confession of christianity that does'nt mean that they are !! when judgement come each and every one will give account for their lives and will be judged and you will find out for yourself when you find youself in HEAVEN OR HELL There is only ONE GOD and he is not here to make a deal HE IS THE DEAL and eighter your a child of GOD are your not . If we repent of our SINS and ask the LORD JESUS CHRIST to come into your life and forgive you of all your SINS he will forgive you and receive you to to become his own he say in his word that no one comes to the father accept by him . He is the vine and you are the brancehes . In HEAVEN it is a holy place and we will be HOLY and there is no one given in marriage we will be be like the angles and we will be like CHRIST holy we will sever God and be partakers of heavens glory and live in mansons made for us who served him and beleived Amen

    June 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Blah, blah, blah, Mary. Just because you believe doesn't mean it's true. In fact, that YOU believe it is an indication it's probably a crock of poo.

      June 11, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • The real Tom

      "We will be like the angles."

      Obtuse or right?

      June 11, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • oldowl

      Have you replaced God now, as Judge and Prosecutor of his own children? You might want to rethink your power trip here, Mary.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • magnus opum

      Mary, I think you can see now that the proponents of this policy of acceptance of all gay behavior are not interested in Christ or his church. It is all about the abolition of morals, the establishment of the creed of man as animal, the worship of self and gratification. Satan is smiling at them, more souls for him to reap.

      June 11, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • sam stone

      "judgement" is a bad joke played on mankind, mary

      get off your knees

      June 12, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • sam stone

      magnus: what does orientation have to do with morality?

      June 12, 2013 at 7:58 am |
    • Miguel

      I don't want to be welcome in a Heave with people like this.

      June 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Doobs

      and eighter your a child of GOD are your not

      You might be a tad more convincing if you could write a proper sentence.

      June 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  8. ok...

    This is a good thing. But, regardless of the churches and their inhabitants, America is changing for the better on this issue. Congrats to this branch of Lutherans for making a step forward.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • magnus opum

      A church that promotes the acceptance of sin is a step forward?

      June 11, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      a church that works to defeat bigotry is a step forward

      June 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  9. TDJ

    Quote: "“In these days such milestones seem to be coming at an ever-faster rate," Erwin told CNN, "and eventually what seems revolutionary now will seem normal and predictable."" – Yep, apostasy is accelerating in American mainline Protestant bodies. That's too bad.

    June 11, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • oldowl

      A step forward into living and fulfilling the gospel of Christ is not apostasy.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  10. EX catholic

    That is one of the many consequences of the Sin of IDOLATRY a judgement from God.

    This is how the apostle Paul explains it precisely to the then nascent church in Rome:

    Rom. 1:20-28
    20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
    21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
    22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
    23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and 4-footed animals and crawling creatures.
    24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
    25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
    26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
    27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
    28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,

    June 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • oldowl

      It sounds like you are quoting a passage condemning Roman Catholics, Baptists and Mormons. Are you?

      June 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
  11. dgs

    What's next ???

    June 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  12. dgs

    What next???????????????

    June 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  13. get to know your religion

    Take a good look from a rational perspective:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_historical_existence_of_Jesus_Christ

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Why_Won%27t_God_Heal_Amputees

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Failed_biblical_prophecies

    June 11, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  14. Anon

    Why not abandon it all together. According to mythical lore Jesus was the same homóphobic deity from the old testament.

    June 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Well

      Everybody comes to terms with their own death in their own way.

      June 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  15. lazarus00000

    Wait a minute... Aren't all Judeo Christians suppoed to adhere to the laws of Abraham and Moses? This is a dangerous president where other hateful religious might learn tolerance and the love of Christ..

    June 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      "president"?

      Other hateful religions? Implying that Christianity is hateful?

      June 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • One step further

      A religion is an abstraction, if it is hateful or not depends on the interpretation of the viewer.

      June 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Mike M

      "Aren't all Judeo Christians suppoed to adhere to the laws of Abraham and Moses?"

      Err... no. There's a significant chunk of the Christian New Testament about that issue.

      June 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  16. Anna

    Legs of Hollywood.
    http://bit.ly/19gK9mZ

    June 10, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  17. Anna

    Is It Wrong to Make Babies Cry For Art?
    http://bit.ly/19gwagX

    June 10, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    June 10, 2013 at 2:31 am |
    • Science

      You know troll

      Science wins over creationism in South Korea

      Government asks publishers to retain examples of evolution in science textbooks.

      http://www.nature.com/news/science-wins-over-creationism-in-south-korea-1.11377

      June 10, 2013 at 5:37 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      June 10, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      June 10, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  19. One one

    I don't get it. Are Lutherans and Southern Baptists reading the same bible and worshiping the same god ?

    June 9, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • Colin

      No, many who call themselves Christian are as phony as you are.

      June 9, 2013 at 6:54 am |
  20. Jesus

    John 15:26 ►

    "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father–the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father–he will testify about me.

    June 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.