The Voice

A Reflection on the Election of Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer as the First Transgender Bishop

by Glen A. Sea on May 19, 2021

Since the Protestant Reformation in 1517, Christians have been challenged to grow in understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of daily life.  What does it mean to be Christ’s Church witnessing to God’s love for all in each succeeding generation?

As Lutheran Christianity spread beyond Europe, our ancestors worked to interpret what the Gospel means as “good news” in various contexts.  For example, how we worship and our language in worship have changed in order to witness in our American context.

From the beginning, the Christian community struggled with gender and human sexuality issues.  To grow in understanding what it means to be Christ’s Church, our spiritual ancestors addressed the topics of pastoral ministry and human sexuality.  Just 50 years ago most predecessor Lutheran bodies approved the ordination of women.  Subsequent experience has shown women not only qualified for ministry but a blessing to us all.  Women have been elected synodical bishops and in 2013 the ELCA elected a woman as presiding bishop.  God’s Spirit is at work in our time, despite the centuries to get to this place.

Similarly, a healthy theological understanding of human sexuality has been a challenge as we learned more about the science.  This month the Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer was elected bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod because they were fully qualified as a pastor and theologian; being transgender did not disqualify them. This is a huge development not only within our denomination but also within our societal context.  Their election helps to define us publicly as people led by God’s Spirit as God continues to do the “new things” celebrated on every Pentecost Sunday.  

Equally important, her election speaks to those whom organized religion excluded due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Organized religion wrongly saw them as “other” and not “us.”  The LGBTQ community has the scars of centuries of abusive treatment and actual exclusion; the distrust of organized religion is well-founded and lasting.

This bishop’s election does not mean that transgender people will join the ELCA, but it does say in a real way that we see them as they understand themselves:  God’s children and intended to be in community as our sisters and brothers in Christ.

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