Two New LGBTQ Bishops Demonstrate Faithful Leadership and Advocacy

While the relationship of LGBTQ people and the Christian church has historically been one of exclusion and discrimination, two newly installed bishops offer a sign of hope for LGBTQ people in the Lutheran Church.

Over the weekend, two LGBTQ advocates were installed as synod bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). On Saturday, Megan Rohrer (they/he) became the first transgender bishop in the Lutheran church, installed as the Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, which covers northern California and northern Nevada.  And on Sunday, Brenda Bos (she/her) became the first woman and the first lesbian bishop of the Southwest California Synod.

Bishop Megan Rohrer and Pastor Noah HeplerBoth bishops have a history of LGBTQ advocacy, both in the church and in wider society. Bishop Rohrer has been public about being a transgender faith leader. They have been an advocate for homeless, a chaplain to first responders, and a parish pastor.

Bishop Rohrer is probably best known for their appearance on on the fifth season of Queer Eye. They offered some tough love and pastoral guidance to Pastor Noah Hepler, the main subject of the show. Pastor Hepler attended the installation service, in support of Bishop Rohrer. 

Bishop Bos entered seminary after a career in television production. She was originally rejected from seminary because of the ELCA's policy banning clergy in same-sex relationships. After the policy was dropped, she graduated and found her first call. Bishop Bos is also an alum of the GLAAD Media Institute, and continues to use the skills she learned about finding your target audience, messaging, and interviewing. 

Ross Murray, the Senior Director of the GLAAD Media Institute, participated in Bishop Rohrer’s installation, serving as assisting minister. “Bishops Rohrer and Bos were elected because their synods recognize that their gifts are what is needed to lead the church to serve God’s people in new and innovative ways. They are history-making, and will carry sensitivity to those who have felt excluded and traumatized by the church.”

It was only in 2009 when the ELCA dropped its ban on clergy in same-gender relationships. Since then, LGBTQ people have increasingly been demonstrating leadership at all levels of the church. The first openly gay and first indigenous bishop, Guy Erwin was elected in 2013 to lead the Southwest California Synod (Bishop Bos is replacing him). In 2019, Kevin Strickland was elected bishop of the Southeastern Synod, covering Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Bishop Rohrer was ordained extraordinarily before 2009 and was ‘received’ into the ELCA following the policy change. This makes them a leader who has an outsider’s perspective on the institution of the Lutheran Church. Bishop Bos explains this in a video leading up to her consecration.

Both installations were festive, colorful, joyful, and at times, somber. Bishop Rohrer’s installation fell on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which was referenced several times throughout the day. At her installation, Bishop Bos received a rainbow stole handcrafted by the artist Constance Berg. 

Both consecrations have received significant attention, but the negative stereotype of opposition between LGBTQ people and the church persists in media. Reporters, filmmakers, and advocates should look to the leadership of LGBTQ people in religious communities, like Bishops Rohrer and Bos to inform their storytelling about the faith of the LGBTQ community.

 

*Photos of Bishop Rohrer's installation from Gareth Gooch and Bill Wilson

*Photos of Bishop Bos' installation from Drew Stever and Bishop Bos