ELCA church calls for trans bishop to resign over allegations of racism, other issues

The Rev. Megan Rohrer, the first openly trans-identified bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, seen in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine in 2018.
The Rev. Megan Rohrer, the first openly trans-identified bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, seen in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine in 2018. | Screengrab: YouTube/Cosmopolitan

A California congregation with a sizable LGBT membership that belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has called for the removal of the denomination’s first trans-identified bishop.

The Rev. Megan Rohrer, who uses “they/them” pronouns, was installed as the first trans-identified bishop in ELCA history last September, becoming the leader of the California-based ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod.

However, since then, Rohrer has weathered controversy over allegations of racist behavior toward a Hispanic Lutheran pastor, as well as other issues that have led some to call for Rohrer’s removal.

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The Congregation Council of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, a Fresno-based ELCA congregation that reports having about 50% LGBT membership, passed a resolution on March 22 calling for the removal of both Rohrer and the Synod Council.

Approved by a unanimous vote, the resolution petitioned the ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the Conference of Bishops, and other leaders to begin the process of removing Rohrer and the Synod Council from power.

The resolution cited multiple reasons, including the alleged mistreatment by Rohrer of Pastor Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez of Misión Latina Luterana — which included firing him — 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.

“… the 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.”

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church demanded that ECLA leadership begin the process of removing Rohrer and the Synd Council from office, a reversal of the actions taken against Rabell-Gonzalez and others, and demanded a public apology to Rabell-Gonzalez.

The church added that it "refuses to participate in any activities, meetings, assemblies, or other gatherings of the Sierra Pacific Synod while Bishop Megan Rohrer and the current Synod Council remain in their respective positions."

“To participate in any activity of the Sierra Pacific Synod at this time, would give tacit approval to the past damage done to Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco (now defunct) by Bishop Megan Rohrer; it would be a betrayal of the core values of our Congregation.”

The Christian Post reached out to the ELCA for a response to these developments, but the mainline Protestant denomination did not respond by press time.

Shortly after the resolution was passed, Bishop Eaton announced that a “listening team” was going to travel to the Synod and conduct interviews, though she did not name Rohrer or any of the controversies in her statement.

“These interviews will be times of holy listening to people who have been affected in various ways by the situation,” said Eaton.  

“They will conclude their work after Easter and will provide a report to me that will serve as an advisory document for my prayerful discernment and decision-making.”

In December 2021, the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), a group that supports LGBT Lutheran clergy, suspended the membership of Rohrer in their organization.

ELM said at the time that Rohrer was suspended due to “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 ELM board of directors last year.

“The Accountability Team has attempted to work with Bishop Rohrer to specifically address how the bishop’s racist words and actions have harmed members of the ELM staff, board, and community. In September, Bishop Rohrer declined the Accountability Team’s invitation for continued work to repair these relationships.”

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