Bishop Megan Rohrer is happy to have crossed a barrier as the country’s first transgender bishop, but looks to the day when gender identity will no longer be an issue.
“My fervent prayer [is we] will have a day when the private parts of all people are private matters. And we don’t need to speak out in public and bring up who is transgender and who is not, ”Bishop Rohrer said in an interview with the Washington Times.
Bishop Rohrer heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the American Synod of the Sierra Pacific. The synod, a district roughly equivalent to a Catholic or Episcopal archdiocese, includes 188 congregations in California and northern Nevada.
Elected for a six-year term in May, Bishop Rohrer, 41, was installed on September 11 in a ceremony in San Francisco.
The bishop hoped this month’s installation would draw attention to a group of evangelical Christians who are not as engaged in culture war rhetoric as the “loudest” voices often espouse.
Bishop Rohrer hoped people would find church members “perhaps calmer, concerned about the poor, and trying to serve each other, who have tried to be as welcoming as possible.”
“When people think about what evangelicals think, they might think of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and how we have progressive faith,” said the bishop.
Saying that Lutherans believe that all are worthy of God’s favor, Bishop Rohrer added :, then you would be welcome to join Lutherans as we are more likely to feed people than discuss their worth or of their dignity.
When asked about passages in the Bible that prohibit or condemn homosexual behavior, Bishop Rohrer said “there are a number of wonderful scriptures” that contradict such statements.
“The very first person baptized after Jesus leaves is the Ethiopian eunuch, a trans person who is faithful and spreads the gospel beyond their space,” said Bishop Rohrer. “But we also have Matthew 19, where Jesus talks about transgender people or eunuchs for heaven’s sake. And so it’s a little harder for people to say that trans people are outside of the Bible world.
The appeal of this global message among the congregations of the Sierra Pacific Synod is a separate question.
Religious journalist Terry Mattingly of the GetReligion.org blog noted that Bishop Rohrer’s new episcopate is facing a sharp drop in “active participants”, from 32,445 in 2012 to 25,043 in 2019.
During the same period, Mr. Mattingly noted, weekly attendance fell from 17,769 to 12,931, with an average of 70 or fewer members per congregation, which he said was not enough to sustain the budget and payroll of the local church.
These numbers reflect the downward trend of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) since its founding in 1988. Initially, the denomination had 5.25 million members and an average attendance of 1.63 million. By 2015, that number had fallen to around 3.7 million members, with 973,809 participants on average.
Part of the decline may have been sparked by the 2009 church assembly vote to admit non-celibate gay men as ministers.
Four years later, the group elected their first openly gay bishop, R. Guy Erwin, to lead their synod in southwestern California. Bishop Erwin is now president of United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has about 1.8 million members, according to statistics. The North American Lutheran Church, a group that emerged largely from ELCA in 2010, has grown from 17 congregations when it was founded to more than 400 six years later.
An observer outside of ELCA said Bishop Rohrer’s installation might not appeal to non-believers, even if the denomination advertises itself as welcoming.
“The Sierra Pacific Synod is probably promoting this bishop because there is a feeling that it will bring other marginalized people, who have these identities and who may not find a spiritual home available to them elsewhere,” he said. said Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
“I think we can look at the track record of these churches, especially over the past two decades, and see that these theological reviews are not attracting a large number of people,” he added.
By downplaying or eliminating the foundations of the Christian faith, Mr. Walton argues, groups such as ELCA have “lost sight of the distinctiveness of Christianity,” a move that “is unlikely to be a convincing argument for people go out of culture and participate in church.