Trans Lutheran Bishop On What The Bible Doesn’t Say About Queerness
It’s Christmas time, when everyone celebrates family and friends. For Christians, the occasion is used to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The LGBTQIA community, and the Christian church have seemingly been at odds for centuries, but it turns out the Bible says more than we once thought about Queerness.
Recently, I spoke with Reverend Doctor Megan Rohrer, who grew up in South Dakota, “where being Lutheran is both a culture and a faith tradition,” according to Rohrer.
Rohrer— who is trans — never really had a closet. “It just felt like being a transparent person was the way I always would be,” said Rohrer.
For decades, Rohrer studied and took up space in Lutheran circles and beyond, helping homeless youth, and working as a chaplain for the San Francisco Police Department.
In 2021, Rohrer was nominated and elected Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, making history as the first trans person to serve in the post.
Today, Rohrer serves almost 200 congregations in Northern California and Nevada. So, if anyone can talk frankly about the Bible, why not the Bishop? Here are excerpts from our conversation.
CJB: What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality, queerness, or transness?
MR: Nothing. Because those words didn’t exist then. The Bible is written in Hebrew, and ancient Greek. And it’s written on all of these papyruses, which are like little scraps of paper that deteriorated. So, they tried to tape them together, and they came up with a version of the Bible that comes from 3000 different variants of the Bible.
The King James version was written to make fun of King James — who was bisexual — in a way that would get the people who were making fun of him to not be beheaded. They wanted to make fun of him as a person and say that he was wrong. So, when they translated the Bible into English, they translated homophobia into the texts.
They took words in the ancient Greek and in the Hebrew that didn’t have easy equivalents to current day, and they just came up with a definition. And when they made it about a contemporary group of people, maybe it became more fun to read for some, but it led to a whole lot of discrimination for others. And after that people kept translating it that way.
CJB: Does the early Bible speak specifically to sexuality?
MR: There are parts that speak about sexuality and when sexuality is problematic. Most of those references are about having sex with people who don’t get to have consent, who might be slaves, who are acting in ways where their intended purpose is to mock God, or to not have faith, or to serve other gods.
And what I see in the language about sexuality in the Bible is that it is consistently calling people to be faithful people and to try to be consensual people, to not brutalize other people, to not take advantage of them economically. And the measurement for sexual ethics seems to be oriented towards God. And when you’re oriented towards God, your behavior is right.
There is some anti-body stuff in scripture, almost all of it from Paul. But Paul was celibate and didn’t like himself. Paul has a lot of lovely stuff to say, but I don’t know if we should take marriage advice from someone who was never married.
There are specifically tons and tons and tons of gender diverse people in the Bible. Eunuchs — the old timey way of talking about trans folk — appear throughout scripture. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel — who was in the lion’s den — they think was a eunuch. Angels are painted to look like eunuchs, they’re adult men with no beards.
Jesus talks about eunuchs in Matthew Chapter 19. Those who are trans for the sake of heaven, he says, are great. Some people have said that means you should be celibate.
But it used to be that eunuchs were the ones who taught sexuality because they couldn’t get anyone pregnant…you know what I’m saying right? Eunuchs weren’t known to be celibate people, so it’s a weird assumption to put into the text.
CJB: Why isn’t this more widely known and accepted within organized Christianity? What is the disconnect when we all have access to the same information?
MR: You’re mistaking people’s feelings for rational arguments, and you can’t ever have a debate that’s going to change someone’s mind, if what they have is a feeling. We could take the time to have all the academic arguments, and talk about the ancient Greek words, and still people are going to answer with, “but eww gross.”
This article originally appeared in Outword Magazine with edits by Arts Editor Chris Narloch.
For more from Bishop Megan Rohrer, visit https://www.revrohrer.com and listen to “The Bishop & The Bulletproof Vest” on Christopher Beale’s podcast Stereotypes.