LOS ANGELES — (AP) — An openly transgender cleric from San Francisco, who made history last year with an appointment as a bishop by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has resigned amid allegations of racism after firing the pastor of a predominantly Latino congregation.
Rev. Megan Rohrer, who uses the pronoun “they,” led one of the church’s 65 synods, overseeing nearly 200 congregations in northern California and northern Nevada. They were elected in May 2021 for a six-year term as Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod.
In a letter to the synod on Saturday, Rohrer said they were resigning due to “the constant misinformation, intimidation and harassment” they faced after the synod voted to remove Mision Latina Luterana pastor on 12 December, the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. , an important holiday for churchgoers in Stockton, California.
Rohrer fired the Reverend Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez after a church-led investigation into allegations of verbal harassment and retaliation against the pastor, all of which he denied. The synod board voted Dec. 11 to rescind Rabell-Gonzalez’s call as mission developer and to terminate his employment after saying he refused to meet certain mandatory terms.
Rohrer was unavailable to speak with The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying they were “trying to rest and be with my family.”
An ELCA spokeswoman declined to comment further on Tuesday.
After Rabell-Gonzalez’s withdrawal upset members of the Mision Latina Luterana, the Reverend Elizabeth A. Eaton, the denomination’s presiding bishop, appointed a three-person “listening committee” in March to examine the Rohrer shares.
This June 1 report made several recommendations to the ELCA, including publicly apologizing to the Latin American church community for the harm caused, planning anti-racism training for churchwide staff and leaders, carrying out a “healing visit” to the community and create a working group. review church policies and procedures.
Church leaders began the process to discipline Rohrer on Sunday after they resigned on Saturday. Eaton posted on Twitter that the Bishops’ Conference met on Sunday, a meeting she said Rohrer “chose not to attend.”
“I have shared that I am immediately initiating the disciplinary process, including the suspension of Bishop Rohrer, based on additional information that has come to light.”
She added that the process will take time and that she will continue “to provide updates as appropriate.”
On Twitter, Rohrer questioned the church’s decision to continue the disciplinary process after their resignations “without providing details of what I would have done.”
“It seems to conflict with their own procedures,” Roher said.
Members of the listening panel reported that the Mision Latina Luterana congregation had no idea that their pastor had been fired on December 12. The mostly Mexican immigrant congregation had planned an elaborate program that day with mariachi singers, traditional dancers and children’s performances, all led by their pastor.
A video, which one of the worshipers recorded live, shows distraught worshipers expressing their concerns. One woman said in Spanish, “Pastor Nelson has worked hard to make this day happen. He has done a lot for our community. He fought for our rights.
Others said the decision to fire him was “unfair” and “racist”. The report mentions that other worshipers asked if the complaints against Rabell-Gonzalez were sexual in nature and were further upset when they received no response from Rohrer or other leaders.
The report also states that Rohrer threatened a child and his father that he would call the police if they did not leave the sacristy – a threat considered racist by the immigrant community. Rohrer wore body armor while on duty, according to the report, because they had “concerns for their safety and well-being.”
Eaton announced in a May 27 report to the church that she had called for Rohrer’s resignation from the synod.
“There are issues of broken trust at every level, from individual members and communities to the wider church, that will take work to fix,” she said in that report.
She said she intended to take action and explore many of the listening team’s recommendations, particularly the need for anti-racism and cultural sensitivity training.
The church’s Latino Ministries Association had strong words for Eaton in a May 28 statement criticizing it for not bringing disciplinary charges against the bishop for “racist actions” against the congregation.
Association leaders called Eaton’s statement “weak and uncompassionate” and called the racist actions “reckless decisions” and “unfortunate events.” They also said his message ignored the suffering of an entire community and gave “a white aggressor the opportunity to decide his own fate – a decision deeply rooted in white supremacy and systemic racism”.
In a previous statement, the synod board said it had decided to terminate Rabell-Gonzalez’s employment after “continued communications of verbal harassment and retaliatory actions from more than a dozen of victims from 2019 to today”. But church officials did not specify what the pastor’s transgressions were.
Rabell-Gonzalez was one of the candidates for episcopal election. After Rohrer’s appointment, church officials identified mandatory actions for Rabell-Gonzalez to take, which officials said he refused to comply with, on Dec. 9. Council action to quash his appeal came two days later.
The decision to overturn the pastor’s appeal also cut off funding for the congregation, the report said, leaving the community without a pastor or church building.
Rabell-Gonzalez, who spoke to the AP on Tuesday from his native Puerto Rico, said he continues to lead the congregation under a new name, Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina, at First Congregational Church in Stockton.
Rabell-Gonzalez said he never refused to follow the synod’s recommendations and just wanted the opportunity to make his point.
“I was removed from the list without due process, without any disciplinary hearing and without being charged with anything,” he said.
Rohrer will now have the opportunity to mount a defense as part of a disciplinary process – an opportunity Rabell-Gonzalez says he was denied. He also said he did not refuse the synod’s mandate to see a therapist. When Rohrer became bishop, Rabell-Gonzalez said he expected to find an ally.
“I got an oppressor instead,” he said.
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