The Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America now has an openly gay bishop, the ELCA’s first. The much-credentialed R. Guy Erwin—pastor in Los Angeles, professor at California Lutheran University, holder of a doctorate and two master’s degrees—told the gay rights organization GLAAD, “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.”
The ELCA in 2009 adopted a policy allowing those in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.” The denomination has steadily lost members since its founding in 1987, but experienced a dip in membership after the 2009 decision. More than 600 congregations have left the denomination since the changed policy. The ELCA still has more than 4 million members, spread over 9,638 congregations.
The split echoes divisions among Episcopalians after their denomination opened the door to homosexual ministers in 2009. Many lawsuits over church property between disagreeing churches and the denomination after the decision have ended with church property awarded to the denomination and congregations left to fend for themselves. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) also removed its ban on gay ministers and ordained its first openly gay minister in 2011.
The more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod are separate denominations from the ELCA and do not support its decision to ordain homosexuals. A cooperative statement released May 30 by the Anglican Church in North America, Lutheran Church-Canada, North American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod affirmed a biblical view of marriage and sexuality:
Scripture holds forth a vision of human life as male and female—one which invites us to see that as embodied creatures, our Creator intends great joy for us. … God gave marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. … As a man and woman relate to one another with rich love and profound respect, their one flesh union hints of and is intended to signify the union of Christ and His bride, the church.