Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Elects First Native American Bishop

A story about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America electing its first gay, Native American bishop, Rev. R. Guy Erwin, Osage Nation.

In electing its first Native American Bishop, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) also elected its first openly gay Bishop. 

The Rev. R. Guy Erwin was elected May 31 to a six-year term as bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) at the synod’s assembly May 30-June 1 in Woodland Hills, California.

Rev. Erwin is Osage Indian and is active in the Osage Nation, according to the ELCA. He is also gay and in a partnered relationship officials said.

The bishop-elect is interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, California, and the Gerhard and Olga Belgum Professor of Lutheran confessional theology at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. The university is one of the ELCA’s 26 colleges and universities. He serves as the ELCA representative to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches since 2004.

Rev. Erwin said he brings a “deep faith in Christ’s presence in his church lived out in 20 years of parish experience blended with university and seminary-level teaching. In the years I’ve waited for the day I could be ordained, I lived out both vocations at the same time. They have been mutually enriching, and I am a stronger scholar (and a better pastor) for having done both,” according to his biographical information. He was ordained in 2011.

From 2010 to 2012, Erwin served as interim pastor for two ELCA congregations in California. Prior to that, he served as minister for worship and education at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, Calif., principal instructor for the Lutheran Studies Program and lecturer in church history and historical theology at Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Conn., from 1993 to 1999. He served as parish associate at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in New Haven from 1986 to 2000. Erwin also served on a variety of boards and committees for ELCA-related institutions and agencies. 

Erwin earned a doctorate degree, two master degrees and Bachelor of Arts degree at Yale University. He engaged in seminary studies at the University of Tübingen in Germany and at University of Leipzig in Germany.

The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.