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ELCA head calls for resignation of denomination's first trans-identified bishop

Megan Rohrer
The Rev. Megan Rohrer, the first trans-identified bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, speaks during livestream in 2022. |

The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has called for the resignation of the liberal mainline denomination's first trans-identified bishop amid allegations of racism and other issues.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton issued a statement last Friday concluding that she will not file official charges against The Rev. Megan Rohrer, who was installed last year as the leader of the California-based ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod. However, Eaton still believes that Rohrer should resign.

"While I am not inaugurating formal disciplinary processes at this time, there remain enough serious concerns that influence Bishop Rohrer's ability to remain impactful in their role that I have asked Bishop Rohrer for their resignation, which I believe to be in the best interest of all parties involved," stated Eaton.

"I believe that Bishop Rohrer has lost the trust and confidence of many constituents, both within and without the Sierra Pacific Synod. I have asked Bishop Rohrer to attend their assembly, speak and listen to their constituents, and give this the prayerful consideration it deserves after which I will expect their response."

Eaton believes that "this decision will not bring closure to individuals on either side" but feels it is "a necessary step so that we can move forward and focus now on additional ways to facilitate healing."

"We strive to address the ways that all forms of injustice limit participation and harm people, communities, and the whole body of Christ. That work will never be done, but together, we must continue to do and be better," Eaton concluded.

In response to Eaton's request, Rohrer retweeted supportive posts on Twitter, saying, "I'm listening deeply and prayerfully discerning."

Last September, Rohrer became the first trans-identified individual to become a bishop in the ELCA. Previously, the bishop served as community chaplain coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department and pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

After being installed, multiple allegations of racism and other unethical behavior surfaced, with the LGBT group Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries suspending Rohrer's membership.

In a statement last December, the ELM board claimed that Rohrer had "an existing pattern of behavior" that put the bishop at odds with "ELM's Mission, Vision, and Values … specifically as it pertains to being an anti-racist organization."

"This suspension is not only a response to recent harm done by the Sierra Pacific Synod Council and Bishop Rohrer to the Latinx community in Stockton, CA. This is a decision that ELM staff and Board have been discerning for much of 2021," stated the board.

In March, the Congregation Council of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, a Fresno-based ELCA congregation with about 50% LGBT membership, passed a resolution calling for the removal of Rohrer and the Synod Council.

The resolution cited Rohrer's alleged mistreatment and firing of Pastor Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez of Misión Latina Luterana, litigation surrounding Rohrer's actions as pastor of Grace Lutheran Evangelical Church of San Francisco and other issues.

"Rohrer's approach to pastoral ministry is incompatible with the expectations of ordained clergy of the ELCA — a pattern of abuse, bullying, manipulation of facts, deceit, and character assassination," stated the resolution.

"[T]he episcopate of Bishop Megan Rohrer, the first transgender bishop of the ELCA, should be cause for great celebration but, instead, by their actions as both Pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco and as Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, their episcopate is an embarrassment to the LGBTQIA+ members of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church and its Misión Esperanza."

In response to the outcry, Eaton created a "listening team" in March that conducted interviews of various people in the Sierra Pacific Synod regarding Rohrer's leadership.

"There are profound issues regarding the circumstances surrounding the end of Nelson Rabell-González' call to the Misión Latina Luterana community on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of such importance to that congregation and community," Eaton said in her Friday statement. "My decision was not made hastily nor without much deep consideration but is necessitated by a careful analysis of both the totality of information available and the disciplinary criteria and processes as described in the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA."

"Unwise decisions — while they may be insensitive or in hindsight seen as misguided — are not automatically grounds for discipline," Eaton added. "A high burden of proof exists to translate allegations into substantive findings that can be presented to a disciplinary body. In this situation that high burden was not able to be met. Moreover, disciplinary proceedings that would be likely to arrive at a similar conclusion as my review are time-consuming and risk delay in the necessary healing processes that must occur."

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