The Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, elected the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, pastor at the University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, as bishop Sept. 17.
Johnson, a Berkeley resident of more than 20 years, is the first openly gay man to be elected bishop at this synod, according to a press release from the Sierra Pacific Synod.
“As a pastor here, I have baptized, confirmed, and married … I have picketed, protested, invoked sanctuary, built resistance to supremacy, and organized in community,” Johnson said in an email. “I’ve worked with students, faculty, and staff at CAL and members of the wider community. I will continue to do some of these things as bishop.”
The Sierra Pacific Synod, one of 65 synods in the ELCA, encompasses 181 churches in Northern California and Northern Nevada, according to Johnson.
The press release noted that Johnson was elected during a synod assembly with 226 votes. The Rev. John Keuhner, a pastor of Unity Lutheran Church of South San Francisco, received 168 votes.
“I chose to go to seminary because I had a campus pastor who told me when I was struggling with how to put my life together that I was loved unconditionally,” Johnson said in the email. “I think this message changes hearts and creates the kind of solidarity that changes the world.”
Johnson is a graduate of California Lutheran University and the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of Berkeley. After his graduation in 1988, he co-founded the Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry, according to the University Lutheran Chapel website. He was then ordained in 1990, according to the press release.
Johnson said in the email that he will be the fifth openly LGBTQ+ bishop elected throughout the ELCA, making his election “hardly a new thing” for the ELCA or the church.
“The ELCA has definitely turned the corner for good,” Johnson said in the email. “Discrimination and bias are on the losing side among us. Affirmation, diversity, resistance, and welcome are all prevailing.”
As bishop, Johnson will ordain and place church leaders, foster unity within the church and with interfaith partners, as well as plan for the future, he said in the email.
Johnson noted in the email that he intends to go forth with “unconditional loving kindness,” strengthening communities and addressing critical issues such as climate change, racism, misogyny and heterosexism.
“We have urgent work ahead of us, given any number of overwhelming, era-defining problems we face as a people,” Johnson said in the email. “Now is the moment for initiatives that build resilience, strengthen connection and collaboration, and create a sustainable community.”