The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the country's largest Lutheran denomination, now has its first openly gay bishop from Los Angeles, Calif., who has been elected to a six-year term.
The Rev. R. Guy Erwin was elected Friday to a six-year term as bishop of the ELCA's Southwest California Synod at the church's annual assembly in Woodland Hills, Calif, the denomination said in a statement, noting that "Erwin is the ELCA's first synod bishop who is gay and in a partnered relationship."
Erwin, interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, Calif., was elected on the sixth ballot receiving 210 votes of 381 cast. The synod is made up more than 120 congregations in five counties.
"The ELCA is a church that belongs to Christ, and in it there is a place for all," The Associated Press quoted church spokeswoman Melissa Ramirez Cooper as saying. "The election of Pastor Erwin illustrates what many in the 4 million-member church believe: that God calls each of us by name."
The election follows the denomination's controversial 2009 rule change allowing gays and lesbians to be ordained, a move that has cost the church over 600 congregations since then.
ReconcilingWorks, a "Christian Ministry affirming God's love for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities," released a statement after the election. "The election of Pastor Erwin to the office of bishop occurred because he was the best candidate, not because he was a partnered gay man," the group's executive director, Emily Eastwood, said.
"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," Erwin, who is part Osage Indian, said about his election in a press release by GLAAD, a group that supports LGBT community. "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."
Erwin, who is also a professor of Lutheran Confessional Theology at California Lutheran University, was quoted as saying that 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.
Erwin lives in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles, Calif. He earned a doctorate degree, two master degrees and Bachelor of Arts degree at Yale University.
The ELCA says it has more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region.