Transgender Lutheran bishop resigns over racism allegations

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LOS ANGELES — 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.

The 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 to serve a six-year term as bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod.

In a letter to the synod Saturday, Rohrer said they were resigning because of “the constant misinformation, bullying and harassment” they experienced after the synod voted to remove the pastor of Mision Latina Luterana on Dec. 12, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a significant holiday for congregants of the Stockton, California, church.

Rohrer fired the Rev. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez after an investigation by the church into verbal harassment and retaliation allegations against the pastor, all of which he has denied. The synod council voted on Dec. 11 to vacate Rabell-Gonzalez’s call as a mission developer and to terminate his employment after they said he refused to fulfill certain mandatory requirements.

Rohrer was not available to speak with The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying they were “trying to rest and be with my family.”

A spokeswoman for the ELCA declined further comment Tuesday.

After Rabell-Gonzalez’s removal upset members of the Mision Latina Luterana, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, the denomination’s presiding bishop, appointed a three-person “listening panel” in March to review Rohrer’s actions.

That report released June 1 made several recommendations to the ELCA, including publicly apologizing to the Latino church community for the hurt caused, planning anti-racism training for churchwide staff and leaders, paying a “healing visit” to the community and creating a task force to review the church’s policies and procedures.

Church leaders initiated the process to discipline Rohrer on Sunday following their resignation on Saturday. Eaton posted on Twitter that the Conference of Bishops met Sunday, a meeting she said Rohrer “chose not to attend.”

“I shared that I am initiating the discipline process immediately including 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 move to continue with the disciplinary process following their resignation “without providing any specifics about what I allegedly did.”

“That appears to be in conflict with their own procedures,” Roher said.

Members of the listening panel reported that the Mision Latina Luterana congregation had no idea their pastor was fired on Dec. 12. The congregation comprising mostly Mexican immigrants had planned an elaborate program that day with mariachi singers, traditional dancers and performances by children, all led by their pastor.

A video, which one of the congregants recorded live, shows distraught congregants voicing their concerns. One woman said in Spanish: “Pastor Nelson has worked a lot for this day to happen. He has done a lot for our community. He has fought for our rights.”

Others said the move to fire him was “unfair” and “racist.” The report mentions other congregants asked if the complaints against Rabell-Gonzalez were sexual in nature and were further upset when they did not get a response from Rohrer or other leaders.

Source: NBC News