For decades, American mainline Protestant denominations have strived to remain culturally relevant, often at the expense of biblical Christian doctrine. Many churches in these denominations may remain faithful to the gospel, but the institutions accept a terrifying degree of heterodoxy among the clergy — as even pastors deny the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This past weekend, a biological female* who appears to identify as nonbinary, Megan Rohrer, became the first transgender bishop in a mainline Protestant denomination, leading the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Sierra Pacific Synod, Religion News Service reported. Rohrer has requested that others mutilate the English language by referring to her by the plural pronoun “they.”
Anyone familiar with the predilections of the ELCA would not be surprised to see this extremely liberal denomination on the cutting-edge of heterodoxy. After all, the ELCA became the first denomination to ordain an openly transgender person (Rohrer again) in 2006 and the first denomination to call a transgender pastor to serve in 2014.
Yet assigning Rohrer over a diocese of local churches seems particularly striking. In doing so, the ELCA is putting its cards on the table: the denomination emphatically rejects the clear teaching of scripture that God created humans irrevocably male and female, and it is embracing a secular gospel of identity over the Christian gospel of redemption.
When Rohrer celebrated her new position in a statement to Religion News Service, she framed it in terms of the ELCA celebrating “transgender people,” as if people could not be separated from their so-called gender identities.
“It’s an honor to be called to serve the Sierra Pacific Synod,” Rohrer said. “During this time when some imagine trans people at their worst, Lutherans have once again declared that transgender people are beautiful children of God. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for me and my family as I accept this call.”
The Bible does not teach that “transgender people are beautiful children of God,” but rather that all people can become children of God if they believe in Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13). Rohrer’s statement suggested that gender identity is essential to a person, even when stating the essential identity of a Christian — as a child of God.
When it comes to a Christian’s identity, the key aspect does not revolve around gender or sexuality or nationality or language — it revolves around his or her relationship with God.
The Bible compares accepting Jesus to a new birth. The gospel of John rings with this theme from the very first verses. This new birth gives people power to “become the sons of God,” giving them the Holy Spirit of adoption, by which creatures of flesh and blood call the creator of the universe “Father.” Christians are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17).
Elsewhere, St. Paul explains that this identity enables Christians “to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart” (2 Corinthians 5:13). It is in this context that he explains, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Christianity promises people who suffer from gender dysphoria (the condition of identifying with the gender opposite one’s immutable biological sex) a new identity, a much more hopeful identity than that of a transgender person. This identity is as a child of God, a co-heir to the entire universe, and a person who is not to be judged by appearances.
By contrast, transgender identity acts like an alternate gospel. In this telling, a male who suffers from gender dysphoria but who rejects his “true” female gender identity commits a kind of original sin, and he must repent and accept that he “is” a “transgender woman.” Society must acknowledge its unjust role in perpetuating this sin. Real personal fulfillment and true justice only come through acknowledging the “truth” of transgenderism.
Yet transgender identity will always be biologically false. Each person is male or female down to the level of DNA. While some people suffer from disorders of sex development and are called “intersex,” transgenderism is not about these people — transgenderism is about clear males or females who embrace a gender identity opposite their biological sex.
There is no evidence that transgender surgery improves the mental health outcomes of gender dysphoric people. Men and women who formerly identified as transgender and underwent surgery have grown to reject transgender identity and lament the damage they did to their own bodies.
The differences between men and women begin in the womb and continue throughout all of life. Even those who successfully alter their bodies to look like a member of the opposite sex will still have telltale signs of their true biology: males tend to have larger hands, and even male-to-female transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner still have male hands, even if they alter everything else.
The Bible does not promise that gender dysphoric people will find fulfillment in their gender identities but in a relationship with God. God is the source of all goodness and joy, and compared to Him, any earthly identity is dust in the wind.
Yet the Bible does make one astonishing promise that should resonate with transgender people specifically.
The New Testament promises that those who believe in Jesus will be “born again,” and they will be given new, perfect, spiritual bodies. “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corthinians 15:42-44).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” But he told of a “mystery”: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Christianity does not just promise eternal life — it promises eternal life in glorious, perfect, heavenly bodies. This passage always moves me, because I think of my own physical frailties — bad teeth, weak vision, short stature — and know that God will fix these things at the resurrection. If this hope can bring joy to a healthy 27-year-old, imagine what this promise means to those suffering with cancer, paralysis, or gender dysphoria.
This is the central promise of Christianity — in Jesus, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” This does not just mean eternal life, it means glorious, incorruptible life in bodies without weakness or ailment. Could there be a more powerful hope for people suffering with gender dysphoria?
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Yet it seems the ELCA is rejecting this broader vision for the watered-down secular gospel of transgender identity, a false promise built on a lie. Christians should be able to tell the difference.
*Editor’s Note: The original version of this article described Megan Rohrer as a “male who identifies as female.” It appears this description was inaccurate. Rohrer had previously identified as lesbian before identifying as transgender, so it appears her transgender identity is not a traditional male-to-female or female-to-male version, but a nebulous rejection of the binary of biological sex. The article has been corrected to reflect this interpretation.