ELCA apologizes to Latino congregation for mistreatment by first trans bishop

Elizabeth Eaton
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, gives remarks at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. |

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has issued an apology to a predominantly Latino congregation that was mistreated by the mainline denomination's first trans-identified bishop.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton apologized to Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina of Stockton, California, after the second plenary session of the denomination's annual Churchwide Assembly at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio. 

At issue was the congregation's reported mistreatment by Bishop Megan Rohrer of the Sierra Pacific Synod, who resigned in June amid allegations of racism and other issues.

Eaton gave a public apology in English on behalf of the denomination to the congregational leadership and others, with a translator conveying her remarks in Spanish.

"We are grateful for your willingness to listen to our church's message to you this day," she said, saying that the ELCA offers "a public recommitment to become an anti-racist church."

Eaton said ELCA officials are working to "make amends" after the controversial firing of the church's pastor.

"During this Churchwide Assembly, it is important to make a public apology to that congregation," said Eaton, believing that the situation "exposed the depth of systemic racism that we wrestle with as a Church and in society."

Rohrer, who uses "they/them" pronouns, became the first trans-identified individual to be consecrated a bishop in the ELCA last September.

Overseeing over 200 churches in California, the bishop announced last December that the Rev. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez, head of Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina, was being removed over verbal harassment and retaliation allegations.

The removal shocked the congregation and resulted in the church losing financial backing from the ELCA just as they were going to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

According to The Associated Press, the loss of financial support forced the congregation to lose their worship space and forced them to hold services in a parking lot.

Rohrer garnered outrage over the decision, as well as other controversies, prompting many within the synod to call for the removal of the bishop from office.

Jovita Torres Pérez, a congregant from Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina, gave an address at the convention and accepted Eaton's apology on behalf of the church, according to AP.

Rohrer wrote in a Facebook post that she agreed to resign after spending time with family and having "a conversation with the Synod Council."

"The final details of that agreement are still being negotiated, but I believe in light of today's news, this information should be made public," stated Rohrer.

The resignation came around the time that Eaton announced the beginning of a disciplinary process against Rohrer. 

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