ELCA's first trans bishop sues after being removed from office       

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

The first trans-identified bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has filed a lawsuit against the denomination after being compelled to resign over allegations of racism and other issues.

Megan Rohrer, who was born female but has identified with both gender-neutral and masculine pronouns, filed suit against the ECLA on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking monetary damages. 

In addition to the ELCA, the filing names the Sierra Pacific Synod — the regional body where Rohrer served as bishop — and Does 1-25, who might be named as the litigation continues.

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The complaint claims Rohrer was terminated by the ELCA "after suffering harassment and engaging in whistleblowing," arguing that church leadership engaged in "animus" and falsely cast the former bishop as a racist. The filing also claims that the "Church demonstrated its lack of acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people."

"The Church's history of prejudice far predated Megan Rohrer's entry into the Church, and the notion he was motivated by racial animus in any personnel decisions is an outright falsehood propagated by the Church to deflect blame," the lawsuit reads. "It has also had the tragic effect of turning marginalized communities against each other."

Rohrer accuses the denomination of mistreatment, intentional and repeated misgendering and mocking gender identity. The plaintiff seeks "economic and non-economic damages" as well as legal fees, exemplary damages, the imposition of applicable fines and penalties for "wrongful conduct."

Rohrer's contract as the bishop didn't end until June 30, 2027, but was forced to resign on June 4, 2022, over the termination of a Hispanic pastor. In late May 2022, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a statement publicly calling for Rohrer's resignation. 

"The very Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the highest position of the nationwide Church body, and [her] predecessor minimized Rohrer's gender identity and complained about [her] presence in leadership," continued the complaint.

"Rohrer has received near-daily hate mail, death threats, and overtly hateful vitriol from congregants and members of the public. The backlash against Rohrer as a result of the Church's conduct has been nothing short of egregious."

Rohrer is represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, a law firm with offices in California, New York and Washington state.

"Rohrer is an extraordinary individual who has dedicated [her] life to lifting marginalized communities in faith and in service," said Tamarah Prevost, an attorney with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, in a statement on Wednesday.

"The Church's public false statements implying he is racist are egregious, absurd, and are contradicted by [her] entire life's work."

In September 2021, Rohrer became the first trans-identified bishop in the history of the ELCA, having previously served as community chaplain coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department and as pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

Shortly after being installed as bishop, however, allegations surfaced that Rohrer engaged in unethical behaviors, including the firing of the Pastor Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez of Misión Latina Luterana, which critics accused of having racial motivations. There was also litigation surrounding Rohrer's actions as pastor of Grace Lutheran.

In her statement calling for Rohrer's resignation, Eaton claimed that "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."

"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," she stated. 

However, the lawsuit claims that Rohrer was a victim of scapegoating for "following the directive" of superiors to "terminate Rabell-González on the precise date."

"The Church's narrative surrounding Rohrer's termination is replete with falsehoods and
post-hoc justifications that are ungrounded in fact. The Church investigated, and disciplined, Rev. Rabell-González's before Rohrer became Bishop," the lawsuit reads.

The Congregation Council of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, a Fresno-based ELCA congregation that reportedly has about 50% LGBT membership, passed a resolution in March 2022 calling for Rohrer's removal and the Synod Council.

"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 December 2021, the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an organization that supports LGBT Lutheran clergy, suspended Rohrer's membership over what it called "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."

Last June, after facing a potential disciplinary process from ELCA leadership, Rohrer agreed to resign from the office of bishop.

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