Leader of Lutheran denomination calls on transgender bishop to resign

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The presiding bishop of the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States has called on its first transgender bishop to resign amid criticism over their removal of the pastor of a Hispanic congregation on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December .

In a May 27 report, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, announced that she has called for the resignation of Bishop Megan Rohrer from the Sierra Pacific Synod denomination.

The request comes after the Sierra Pacific Synod removed Reverend Nelson Rabell-González from his position as mission director at Misión Latina Luterana in California on December 12. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when many Mexican Americans celebrate their religious and cultural identities, commemorates the day in 1531 when many Christians, especially Catholics, believe the Virgin Mary appeared in Mexico to a man named Juan Diego.

In a previous online statement, the Sierra Pacific Synod council said it had unanimously decided to overturn Rabell-González’s appeal after “continued communications of verbal harassment and retaliatory actions from more than a dozen victims from 2019 to present.” Rabell-González denied those accusations to Religion News Service.

But Rohrer’s actions were criticized by the denomination’s Asociación de Ministerios Latinos as showing a “lack of empathy and understanding for their Latinx brothers and sisters” and led Eaton to appoint a listening team to look into this. that had happened.

The presiding bishop said she does not plan to take disciplinary action against Rohrer, a move also criticized by the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos and other partner organizations. “I do not believe that the circumstances of these unfortunate events and Bishop Rohrer’s involvement in them rise to the level of formal discipline against Bishop Rohrer,” Eaton said.

“However, I believe Bishop Rohrer has lost the confidence of many constituents, both within and outside the Sierra Pacific Synod.” According to the Presiding Bishop’s statement, “reckless decisions” are not automatic grounds for denominational discipline. But, Eaton said, she asked Rohrer to respond after attending the Sierra Pacific synod assembly next week, listening to voters and prayerfully considering his request to resign.

In a statement released over the weekend, the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos, the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, called Eaton’s decision not to pursue disciplinary action against Rohrer of “culturally insensitive dereliction of duty”.

The three-person listening team also released a statement over the weekend saying its decisions “completely ignore the heart and intent of our report.” He said: “We don’t want it to be assumed that our work is aligned with or supportive of the proposed actions.”

The listening team criticized Eaton for never mentioning racism in his report. He urged the presiding bishop to make his findings public, saying he had concluded that “racist words and actions caused trauma and great pain to many people of color” at the Sierra Pacific synod.

“To label racist actions as merely ‘insensitive’ or ‘misguided’ is to validate the charge against ‘the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’ that we are blind to the pain we cause our brothers and sisters of color. . When we do not name and confess the sin of racism in our institutions, we are doomed to continue in its power,” according to the statement from the listening team. A spokesperson for the Synod of the Sierra Pacific did not respond to a request for comment.

At the 2021 synod assembly, where he was named bishop, Rabell-González acknowledged the allegations against him, saying he was accused of “verbally abusing a pastoral intern and staff members of the ‘church’ in a previous post at another church. The pastor, who is Afro-Caribbean, said he was asked to resign from this church and sign a non-disclosure agreement, which he refused, after members complained about his support for Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights.

He welcomed an investigation into the allegations, he told the synod assembly. “I’m not perfect. I’m just a sinner in need of God’s grace. But these allegations are a personality assault raised exactly one day before this assembly,” he said.

Ultimately, Rohrer was elected Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod. The synod council created an advisory council to review the allegations against Rabell-González and identified “compassionate steps” to take, which became part of the terms and requirements of his appeal, according to the council’s statement on the blog. of the Sierra Pacific synod. .

Rabell-González informed Rohrer on December 9 that he would not meet those conditions and requirements, according to the board, which took action on December 11 at its regular meeting. He was told the next morning, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that his appeal had been cancelled, he said. His congregation at Misión Latina Luterana was later informed and offered care by synod staff.

The synod board statement said the timing of its decision was necessary as staff continued to receive “concerning communications” regarding the pastor. “The synod board believed then and now that it would be irresponsible to defer our decision to a later meeting because the gravity of the situation required immediate action to protect the Latinx community,” he said. The council apologized for disrupting the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Misión Latina Luterana.

Rohrer too. “I understand that trust can be lost with one action and must be rebuilt with hundreds of trustworthy actions,” they wrote publicly in late December. “I am grateful to all who educated me about the needs of the Latino/x/é community and remain committed to doing the work necessary to repair relationships. The Synod of the Sierra Pacific and I seek to reform ourselves continuously in our work against racism and prejudice.”

In addition to criticism from the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos and the Lutheran Association of African Descent, the Lutheran Extraordinary Ministries suspended Rohrer’s membership in late December after he fired Rabell-González.

In a statement written at the time, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which organizes gay ministry leaders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, accused Rohrer of an “existing pattern of behavior” that does not fit his vision, its mission and values, “specifically as it is about being an anti-racist organization.

Rohrer’s election in May 2021 made him the first openly transgender bishop in the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States and any major denomination in the country. Rohrer also celebrated being a neurodivergent bishop, a part of their identity they say gets less attention.

Rohrer responded to several posts on Twitter expressing his support for the bishop. “As requested, I listen carefully and with discernment in prayer,” they said in a tweet. In other, they wrote“There was so much more kindness and compassion expressed to me than anger, frustration and pain. This fully human appreciates all prayers.

— Religious News Service

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