Oklahoma native Guy Erwin is the first openly gay bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He was elected in the Southwest California Synod in Los Angeles in 2013. He’s a member of the Osage Nation, has taught at Yale Divinity School and is the Chair of Lutheran Confessional Theology at California Lutheran University.
What do you hope to tackle during your six-year tenure as bishop?
I think a lot about relevance. It’s a challenging time to be a part of a traditional church of European origins and ancient traditions in a world that’s changing so fast that we can barely keep up with it. How do we do church in a world that doesn’t depend on church happening for everyone? That’s the difficult and exciting thing. Christianity’s undergoing some pretty profound changes, and we don’t know what the outcome’s going to be.
So how does a changing church find more relevance in the modern world?
The first thing to think about is what people need. What are people disconnected from a faith tradition looking for? The church needs to be where those people can hear us. That’s the first step. The second step is for us to understand, as believers, as representatives of a conviction, what we have to say. What people want and what we think they ought to have aren’t necessarily the same thing. We have to try to find the sweet spot in between where we can make a meaningful connection.
When others argue that homosexuality is unchristian, where in the Bible do you send them? Do you have a favorite verse or teaching that you go to for that conversation?
There are so many places. The very few places in the Bible where there’s even a way to draw a connection to a balanced, same-sex orientation or lifestyle are tiny compared to the enormous trajectory of the Scriptures, and especially to the Gospel message that God loves us all. Jesus came for everybody, no matter what society thinks of them.