U.S. Lutheran Church Elects its First Openly Transgender Bishop

A pastor in California became the first openly transgender person to be elevated to the role of bishop in a major American Christian denomination when they were elected on Saturday to lead a synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Rev. Megan Rohrer was elected to a six-year term as bishop of the Sierra Pacific synod, an assembly based in Sacramento that includes about 200 congregations across Northern and Central California and northern Nevada.

“I am so proud to be a Lutheran,” Pastor Rohrer, 41, who will be installed as bishop on July 1, said in an email on Monday. “I pray that my election by the faithful people of the Sierra Pacific Synod will become a constant reminder that God’s fabulous love is never limited by the opinions or legislation of others.”

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said in a statement on Monday that the Sierra Pacific Synod recognized Pastor Rohrer’s gifts as a leader.

“When we say all are welcome, we mean all are welcome,” Bishop Eaton said. “We believe that the Spirit has given each of us gifts in order to build up the body of Christ.”

Pastor Rohrer, who uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” currently serves as the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco. They earned a Master of Divinity and completed postgraduate course work in Christian education at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., according to their profile on the church’s website.

“I want to be the kind of bishop that moves whatever stumbling blocks might have been placed before you, who roots for you, and worships with you,” Pastor Rohrer said before the vote on Saturday.

After the vote, Pastor Rohrer said they were humbled and honored.

“My hope is that your grandkids will call you, and your kids will call you, and your friends will call you, and ask you about your faith,” they said. “And when they call, tell them how much you love Jesus and why Jesus’s faith in you meant why you could have faith in me.”

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said on Monday that Pastor Rohrer’s election was groundbreaking and would be a source of inspiration and hope for many.

“Transgender people often struggle with being rejected by their congregations,” Mr. Heng-Lehtinen said. “Rev. Rohrer’s election shows that progress is possible. It confirms that the more everyday Americans get to know their transgender neighbors, the more they learn we share many of the same dreams and values. Everyone, including those who are transgender, deserve to be welcomed by their faith.”

Years before being elected to serve as a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which today has almost 3.3 million members, Pastor Rohrer had been barred from the church because of its “policies against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals,” according to Pastor Rohrer’s biography on the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church website.

Pastor Rohrer was ordained in 2006 through the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, now known as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which originated in the early 1990s in resistance to an Evangelical Lutheran Church policy that required its gay clergy to be celibate.

“Megan has always found themself walking alongside in solidarity with, and to provide safety for, those lifting their voices for justice,” Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries said in a statement on Saturday. “Today, history was made in our church! ELM celebrates a church that now recognizes the gifts of queer leaders like Bishop-elect Rohrer and we anticipate the day when all queer ministry leaders will be called to ministry settings without hindrance or barrier and will be affirmed in their God-given calls.”

In July 2010, Pastor Rohrer was one of seven openly gay pastors who had previously been barred from ministry to be recognized as clergy members by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

At a news conference after the pastors were recognized, Pastor Rohrer recalled facing challenges while growing up in South Dakota and enduring discrimination, such as having holy water thrown at them in the name of exorcising them.

“Darkness can never overcome the light,” Pastor Rohrer said at the time. “Even the tiniest flicker.”

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