SF transgender Lutheran bishop resigns amid pastor removal controversy

Reverend Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who made history last year as the first openly transgender person to be elevated to the rank of bishop in the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, resigned amid a controversy involving allegations of racism in the removal of the pastor of a Latino congregation.

Rohrer, who leads the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said in a letter to the synod on Saturday that they were resigning due to “the constant misinformation, intimidation and harassment” they said they suffered amid criticism and accusations of racism after the synod voted to remove the pastor, who had been accused of verbal abuse, on a symbolically important day for Latino Lutherans.

“Although I am probably strong enough to continue as your bishop, I believe I would be a poor role model for my black trans children if I continued in this position,” Rohrer wrote in his resignation letter.

Reverend Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the May 27 said she asked Rohrer to resign following an internal report into what happened, but said she would not take disciplinary action.

But in a statement Monday, Eaton decided to initiate the process to “immediately” sanction and suspend Rohrer, “based on additional information that has come to light.”

In an email to The Chronicle on Monday, Rohrer said, “The ELCA has decided to move forward with a disciplinary process, even after my resignation, without providing details of what I would have done, and this appears to conflict with their own procedures.”

Rohrer said they decided to step down as bishops after “listening to the important and prayerful conversation” at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly last week, and after speaking with the Synod Council .

“The final details of this agreement are still being negotiated, but I believe that in light of today’s news, this information should be made public,” Rohrer told The Chronicle.

A representative for ELCA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rohrer’s resignation prematurely ends the six-year term of one of the first openly transgender bishops of any major Christian denomination. Rohrer, who uses plural pronouns, was installed as bishop in a joyous ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in September.

They previously served as pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Parkside neighborhood and chaplain to the San Francisco Police Department before being elected bishop in May 2021.

The controversy that led to Rohrer’s resignation began when the Sierra Pacific Synod Council removed the Reverend Nelson Rabell-González from his post as mission director of the Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton on December 12, the day of the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe – an important day for many Mexican American worshipers, according to a report released Thursday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Rabell-González, who is Afro-Caribbean, told The Chronicle on Monday that the resignation of Rohrer, who is white, is “the beginning of the vindication of my community and me.”

He denied the allegations against him and said Rohrer’s decision to fire him was “definitely racism”. He added that the church was forced out of its former location after the December 2021 incident and now operates as Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina, an independent Lutheran church.

In a statement posted online the day after the incident, Rohrer said the decision to remove the pastor was made unanimously by the Synod Council. “It was heartbreaking, but necessary as the synod considered the well-being of this community and those it serves,” the statement read.

In another statement in February this year, the Synod Council said it removed Rabell-Gonzalez after alleged accusations of verbal harassment and victim retaliation between 2019 and 2022.

“In our action and timing to protect known victims and others who continue to come forward, we have caused consequences for the Misión Latina Luterana, the Latinx community, our Synod staff, our pastors and deacons, and the greater church,” the Synod Council said. .

Several groups, including the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos, criticized Rohrer and the Synod of the Sierra Pacific for the decision. In a statement on Facebook, they said the incident “highlights a lack of empathy and understanding for their Latinx brothers and sisters.”

“This unfortunate situation is a clear and painful example of how deeply rooted systemic racism is in our church, and the long road ahead of us to dismantle it,” the group said.

The Asociación de Ministerios Latinos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rohrer issued a public apology December 22 on behalf of the Synod of the Sierra Pacific and asked for forgiveness from the Latin American community.

“I understand that trust can be lost with one action and must be rebuilt with hundreds of trustworthy actions,” Rohrer wrote.

The December incident led ELCA’s Eaton to appoint a three-person “listening” panel to investigate what had happened and make recommendations for next steps. The A 25-page report was made public Wednesday.

“Let me be clear,” Eaton wrote in a statement Wednesday. “ELCA is a Church that will not tolerate racism in any way. We will hold ourselves as fully accountable as any other person or group, and we will condemn racism wherever it exists.

Jessica Flores (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jessmflores

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