In a history-making election, one of the largest Christian dominations in the country has appointed its first openly transgender bishop.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which boasts more than three million members in the US and parts of the Caribbean, announced on May 10 that Reverend Megan Rohrer will serve a six-year term as bishop of Sierra Pacific Synod, one of the church’s ministries and councils in Sacramento, California. Rohrer will be installed as bishop on September 11.
For the last seven years, Rohrer has served as a pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco, California. According to a statement on the church’s website, they received a Master of Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, and a Doctor of Ministry degree.
Rohrer told Gay City News they hope taking on this job can inspire others in and outside of the community.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Rohrer, who uses “they” and “he” pronouns, told Gay City News. “Trans people are people of faith and are people who are connected to God in ways that others might not expect.”
In the years leading up to their election, Rohrer fought against homophobic and transphobic forces in the church. In July 2010, Rohrer was one of seven LGBTQ pastors in San Francisco who were reinstated to the roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church after previously being barred from serving, making them the first openly transgender Lutheran pastor ordained in the US.
“There is a long history, particularly queer history, of people who keep believing in themselves, who keep striving to work at jobs, even before others in that profession are ready for them,” Rohrer said. “Just like those who continue to serve in the military, even when the military wasn’t ready yet, became police officers before the laws allowed, and have been teachers, despite what any of the barriers for their profession have been. I see myself as maybe one of the thousands of ways in history that we’ve been able to keep on past fear, and just be people who try to be good at our jobs.”
In a statement, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which ordained Rohrer in 2006, applauded their appointment.
“Megan has always found themself walking alongside in solidarity with, and to provide safety for, those lifting their voices for justice,” the church said in a statement on Facebook. “Today, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries celebrates the called and faithful servant, Bishop-elect Rohrer (they/he), the first trans bishop in the ELCA. Today, history was made in our church!”
The group added, “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.”
Rohrer’s appointment comes amid a wave of anti-trans legislation and record levels of violence facing Black and Brown transgender people in the US. Rohrer told Gay City News those developments hit incredibly close to home because one of their children is Black and transgender.
“They inspire me every day to do the best I can for folk who are most in the middle of the violence right now,” Rohrer said, referring to their child. In this high-ranking position, Rohrer recognizes the power they have to change the minds of other people of faith, adding, “I think so much of the rhetoric and legislation that is trying to put hurdles in the pathways of trans people is, unfortunately, coming from some people’s faith perspective.”
As transphobia takes a toll on the mental health of transgender people, Rohrer is fielding calls from families who have a trans relative in crisis. In their new role, they hope they can show that there is a future ahead.
“Since my appointment, I have received messages from people who are asking for prayers in the hallway of the ER because one of their trans loved ones has tried to take their own life,” they said. “I want to say to people if you can live, we can figure out all the rest.”
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