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A California pastor has been elected as the first transgender bishop to lead a synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also becoming the first-ever transgender bishop in a major American Christian denomination.
On Saturday, Rev. Megan Rohrer, the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco, was elected to a six-year term as bishop of the Sierra Pacific synod, an assembly based in Sacramento that includes more than 180 congregations across Northern and Central California and northern Nevada, comprising about 36,000 individual members and about 13,000 regular Sunday worshippers, according to Religion News Service.
Rohrer was elected on the fifth ballot, edging out the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, the pastor of the Lutheran chapel at University of California, Berkeley, who led the voting until the final ballot.
Rohrer had campaigned on hiring a communications professional to “lead a major evangelism effort,” promoting low-income housing in an area where real estate prices have exacerbated homelessness, and ordering an audit to review the synod’s policies that could lead to bias.
“I am so proud to be a Lutheran,” Rohrer, 41, told The New York Times in an email. “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,” Eaton said. “We believe that the Spirit has given each of us gifts in order to build up the body of Christ.”
Rohrer, who holds a Master of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, where they have also completed some postgraduate work, serves as the community chaplain coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department, and has been recognized for their past work with the homeless, particularly through their past role as executive director of Welcome, an organization of San Francisco congregations undertaking various initiatives to respond to homelessness and housing insecurity.
Rohrer has also gained minor celebrity status, appearing on the Netflix series “Queer Eye” and being profiled in Time magazine and Cosmopolitan, where they shared their story of reconciling their LGBTQ identity with their Christianity.
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. In July 2010, they became one of seven LGBTQ pastors who had previously been barred from being recognized as clergy members by the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“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.”
Ross Murray, the senior director of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, and the author of Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry, praised Rohrer’s election, saying it “demonstrates that Lutherans are recognizing the leadership that LGBTQ people can bring to the church.”
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, hailed Rohrer’s election as “groundbreaking” and said it would serve as a source of inspiration and hope for many.
“Transgender people often struggle with being rejected by their congregations,” Heng-Lehtinen told the Times. “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.”
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