Paul Egertson dies at 75; Lutheran bishop resigned after participating in ordination of lesbian minister

The Rev. Paul Egertson, who was asked to resign as a Lutheran bishop in 2001 after violating church policy by participating in the ordination of a non-celibate lesbian minister, has died. He was 75.

Egertson, a senior lecturer at California Lutheran University and a longtime advocate for the inclusion of gays in the life of the church, died Wednesday of a heart attack at his home in Thousand Oaks, the college announced.

In 1994, Egertson was elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Southern California (West) Synod, which included Kern, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties. He defied church policy in 2001 by joining three retired bishops to ordain the Rev. Anita Hill. Gays and lesbians could be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they vowed to be celibate, and Hill was in a committed relationship.

“I went there because I wanted to protest this policy and ecclesiastical disobedience is a perfectly respectable form of protest speech,” Egertson told The Times after resigning. “I knew punishment would go along with this, but one theory of passive resistance is to break the laws and take the consequences so that the law is reconsidered.”


In an interview Sunday, Hill called Egertson “a wise and compassionate advocate and ally.”

Egertson’s eldest son, Greg, is gay and was denied ordination after graduating from a seminary because of the policy banning non-celibate gays. The ban was ended in 2009.

“My dad believed from the beginning that his beliefs and what he was seeking the church to do was the best thing for the church,” Greg Egertson said Sunday.

Paul Wennes Egertson was born Feb. 17, 1935, in Litchville, N.D., and grew up in Southern California. His father was a Lutheran pastor. Egertson graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles in 1952. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Pepperdine University in 1955, a master’s in divinity in 1960 from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and a doctorate in 1976 from the Claremont School of Theology.


Edgertson was a pastor for 21 years in Southern California and Las Vegas. He said he was surprised in 1994 when he was elected bishop, given his views on gays in the church. “It’s not a popular position,” he told The Times. “It was one of the reasons I thought I would not be electable.”

He was pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood and told The Times in 1995 that he had conducted three blessings for gay couples “with dignity and reverence, not as publicity stunts to change people’s minds.”

Egertson was asked to resign by the presiding bishop after participating in Hill’s ordination. “I promised the bishops six years ago if I had conscience problems in conflict with church policies, I would resign,” he told The Times in 2001. He agreed to resign shortly before the end of his six-year term and became bishop emeritus of what is now called the Southwest California Synod.

He was a longtime member of Cal Lutheran’s religion faculty, joining the university in 1984. He also was director of the Center for Theological Study, a continuing education program for Lutheran pastors at Cal Lutheran, from 1979 to 1992.


In addition to his son Greg of San Francisco, Egertson is survived by his wife, Shirley; sons Glen of Pine Mountain Club, Calif., Jordan, Scot and Steven of Thousand Oaks, and Jon of Newport Beach; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cal Lutheran’s Samuelson Chapel.