In a historic and groundbreaking move, the country's largest Lutheran denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will install its first openly gay and first Native American bishop tomorrow. The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin was elected bishop of the Southwest California Synod in March. Bishop Erwin serves as Professor of Confessional Lutheran Theology at California Lutheran University.
In 2009, the ELCA adopted a more inclusive policy on human sexuality, ending a rule which required LGBT clergy to remain celibate. This change in policy prompted to pursue ordination and he became a pastor in 2011. The ELCA's change in policy prompted many more conservative members to leave the church and realign with other Lutheran bodies. Due to this, many analysts believe that Erwin's elevation will not cause much controversy, as many of those who would be opposed already left. Erwin, who is originally from Oklahoma, is also a Native American and a member of the Osage nation. In speaking to GLAAD, Erwin commented on the special historical significance of his election:
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. 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.
The installation of Erwin will occur on Saturday, September 21st on CLU's campus. Tune in back here to watch a live stream of the installation service online at 10:00 AM PT, sponsored by Just Lutheran.
Erwin will serve alongside the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, a suffragan bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Upon her election in 2009, Glasspool became the first openly lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Erwin's election and installation illustrates a growing trend within mainline protestant communities. Although the voices of those opposed to LGBT rights within communities of faith seem deafeningly loud, the elevation of many LGBT individuals to leadership roles in the church speaks even louder.