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Protestant Denomination Installs First Transgender Bishop Overseeing 200 Churches in CA, NV

09-14-2021
Photo by Lena Balk/Unsplash
Photo by Lena Balk/Unsplash

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) installed its first openly transgender bishop in a service held in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral on Saturday. It marks the first time a major Christian denomination appointed an openly transgender person as a bishop. 

The Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer, who was born female but now identifies as male, using the pronouns "he" and "they," will lead the church's Sierra Pacific Synod, overseeing nearly 200 congregations in Northern California and northern Nevada during a six-year term. 

As CBN's Faithwire reported in May, Rohrer was elected after the current synod bishop announced his retirement. 

Rohrer was approved by 209 votes, barely surpassing the Rev. Jeff Johnson, pastor of University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, who received 207 votes, according to a press release from the denomination.

"My call is ... to be up to the same messy, loving things I was up to before," Rohrer told worshippers on Sunday. "But mostly, if you'll let me, and I think you will, my hope is to love you and beyond that, to love what you love."

"I step into this role because a diverse community of Lutherans in Northern California and Nevada prayerfully and thoughtfully voted to do a historic thing," Rohrer said in a statement. "My installation will celebrate all that is possible when we trust God to shepherd us forward."

Rohrer previously served as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco, a chaplain coordinator for the city's police department, and a minister to the city's homeless and LGTBQ community. The new bishop studied religion at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before moving to California to pursue master's and doctoral degrees at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.

Rohrer became one of seven LGBTQ pastors accepted by the progressive Evangelical Lutheran church in 2010 after it allowed the ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships. Rohrer is married and has two children.

The church is one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States with about 3.3 million members.

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Analysis of Church History

Back in May, Rohrer celebrated the ELCA's election by praising the Lutheran synod, presumably for "dismantling" the clerical standards put in place at the first council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

It appears Rohrer was likely referring to Canon 1 of the first council, which states, "If anyone in sound health has castrated himself, it behooves that such a one, if (already) enrolled among the clergy, should cease from his ministry and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted."

"The first council of Nicaea's first action was to try to limit the leadership roles of trans pastors and bishops," tweeted Rohrer. "I'm grateful the Lutherans of the (Sierra Pacific Synod) are beginning to dismantle this and some of the other hurdles (black, indigenous, and people of color) and LGBTQ pastor's (sic) encounter." 

According to CBN's Faithwire, in addition to violating Christian theology established at the first council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 by approving a transgender bishop, the ELCA is also forsaking the writings of German theologian and church reformer Martin Luther, in which the denomination claims to find its "roots."

Luther wrote in his 1522 work "The Estate of Marriage" that sex is immutable and "divided" by God "into two classes, namely, male and female."

In the first part we shall consider which persons may enter into marriage with one another. In order to proceed aright let us direct our attention to Genesis 1:27, "So God created man… male and female he created them." From this passage we may be assured that God divided mankind into two classes, namely, male and female, or a he and a she. This was so pleasing to him that he himself called it a good creation (Gen. 1:81). Therefore, each one of us must have the kind of body God has created for us. I cannot make myself a woman, nor can you make yourself a man; we do not have that power. But we are exactly as he created us: I a man and you a woman. Moreover, he wills to have his excellent handiwork honored as his divine creation, and not despised. The man is not to despise or scoff at the woman or her body, nor the woman the man. But each should honor the other's image and body as a divine and good creation that is well-pleasing unto God himself.

This shift within the ELCA toward an increasingly progressive view of sexuality should not come as a surprise. While the denomination claims to have a reverent view of Scripture, the ELCA does not see the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.

James Thorson, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, an ELCA congregation, said in 2018 he was drawn to the denomination in part because many within it reject biblical inerrancy.

"I was reclaiming the view that the Bible isn't an inerrant oracle dropped from heaven but more like a messy, earthen vessel holding the treasure of the saving Gospel message," he told Living Lutheran. "That's what most ELCA professors and pastors teach, and I realized that was where I belonged." One of the most famous ELCA ministers, Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, said in 2018 Christians "should never be more loyal to an idea or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people."

She also at one point reportedly said, "The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that doesn't hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply doesn't have the same authority."

Scripture, however, speaks differently of itself.

In John 1:1, it states, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Then, in 2 Timothy 3:16, it says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

Even Jesus, in John 10:35, said Scripture "cannot be broken," meaning it is entirely true and reliable. Jesus also told His disciples in Matthew 24:35 that, although heaven and earth will pass away, His words are eternally true.

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