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ELCA becomes first mainline denomination in US to elect transgender bishop

Megan Rorher
The Rev. Megan Rohrer, the first openly transgender bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, speaks during an interview with Cosmopolitan in 2018. |

A regional body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected the first openly transgender bishop in the liberal mainline Protestant denomination’s history.

The Rev. Megan Rohrer, who uses the pronouns of “they” and “them” rather than gender-specific terms, was elected Saturday to head the California-based ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod.

Rohrer won on the fifth ballot during the online synod assembly, receiving 209 votes and narrowly defeating the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson of Berkeley, California, who received 207 votes.

According to a statement released Monday, Rohrer will be installed as synod bishop on Sept. 11 at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Walnut Creek, California.

“The first council of Nicaea’s first action was to try to limit the leadership roles of trans pastors and bishops.  I’m grateful the Lutherans of the @sps_elca are beginning to dismantle this and some of the […] other hurdles BIPOC and LGBTQ pastor’s encounter,” tweeted Rohrer on Sunday.

Rohrer presently serves as pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco and also serves as Community Chaplain Coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department.

“All of us are proud of our colleague, Bishop-elect Megan Rohrer, who made history as the first openly transgender person elevated to the role of Bishop by a major Christian denomination in the U.S.,” tweeted the San Francisco Police Department. “Congratulations, Rev. @mmrohrer! Keep doing great things!”

Others, among them the theologically conservative blog Exposing the ELCA, denounced the election of Rohrer as “a complete slap in the face to God.”

“The ELCA is thumbing its nose at God, His Word and Truth and effectively showing that they are part of the uber left and its rejection of Christianity,” stated the blog. “How can God-fearing, Bible-believing individuals remain in the ELCA? ​How can churches remain?”

Mark Tooley, president of the theologically conservative think tank Institute on Religion & Democracy based in Washington, D.C., critiqued the Council of Nicea reference Rohrer made in response to being elected.

“Claims of suppressing transgender clergy are elusive to history. Rohrer did not cite sources. But presumably Rohrer is referencing Canon 1 from the council declaring eunuchs can be priests unless they castrate themselves,” wrote Tooley.

“Bishop Rohrer says she’s glad her liberal Mainline Protestant denomination is ‘beginning to dismantle’ the injustice at the Council of Nicaea. No doubt much more dismantling must be done before true justice and knowledge can prevail against the external authority of revelation proposed by historic Christianity. Or so the Gnostics, yesterday and today, always proclaim.”

Although the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., the ELCA has had many congregations leave due to its increasingly progressive stances on theology and politics.

In 2009, for example, when the denomination voted to allow openly gay individuals to be ordained, hundreds of congregations left the ELCA in protest.

In 2013, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin became the first openly gay bishop in the mainline denomination when he was elected to lead the ELCA Southwest California Synod.

At the time, the ELCA estimated that it had around 4 million members. According to the announcement of Rorher’s recent election, the ELCA has about 3.3 million members.

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