The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected its first openly gay bishop just four years after it began ordaining openly gay clergy.
The church’s Southwest California Synod voted Friday to elect the Reverend R Guy Erwin, a North Hollywood professor of theology, to the role during a three day assembly in Woodland Hills.
Erwin has taught theology and the history of Christianity at Cal Lutheran University since 2000 and was ordained in 2011.
Emily Eastwood, executive director of Reconciling Works, the Evangelical Lutheran LGBT network, told the LA Times that Erwin’s election as bishop marked a turning point for LGBTs in the church.
‘One of our own has been chosen not in spite of being gay, but because he is truly gifted and skilled for the office,’ she told the LA Times, ‘Once again, today we are proud to be Lutherans.’
Erwin and his long term partner Rob Flynn are both members of St Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood.
It is unlikely that Erwin’s election as bishop will result in any conflict within the church as most congregations that oppose LGBT clergy have already left the church.
In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided that people who are in ‘publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships’ were acceptable for ordination – though Evangelical Lutheran congregations that do not wish to ordain LGBT clergy are not required to.
Despite that over 600 congregations split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church over the decision.
Evangelical Lutheranism is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States with over 4 million baptized members and is the seventh largest religious denomination in the United States.
Most Lutheran churches in Western Europe and Scandinavia already allow LGBT clergy.