Latino group denounces ELCA head’s decision not to punish trans bishop

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

A Latino Lutheran group has denounced a decision by the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America not to remove a trans-identified bishop for allegedly racist actions.

Last week, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton called for Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop Megan Rohrer to resign, but Eaton refused to pursue official disciplinary charges.

In a statement released in response, the Latino Ministries Association of the ELCA said they were “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the decision not to pursue disciplinary action against Rohrer.

“In this weak and compassionless statement, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton framed racist actions as ‘unwise decisions’ and ‘unfortunate events,’ completely ignoring the suffering of an entire community of color of the church-body she is called to serve,” the Latino Ministries Association said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. 

“Communities of color in this church should be concerned about the inability of the presiding bishop to support and protect them against systemic racism.”

The association called on Eaton to “publish the report of the ELCA listening panel that was tasked with this investigation” and urged the Sierra Pacific Synod “to bring a motion calling for the removal of Bishop Megan Rohrer,” and asked “the Conference of Bishops to bring disciplinary charges against Bishop Megan Rohrer.”

While the association considered Rohrer's election to be “a significant step forward in the diversity of this church body,” they also believed that “this advancement has been marred by [Rohrer’s] actions and subsequent reactions steeped in defensive white supremacy.”

Other groups that joined the association in its statement include: the LGBT group Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, the African Descent Lutheran Association, the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice, and other ELCA leaders.

Rohrer, who uses “they/them” pronouns, was installed last year as the leader of the California-based ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, becoming the first openly trans-identified bishop in the progressive Mainline denomination’s history.

After being installed, multiple allegations of racism and other unethical behavior surfaced, including the reported mistreatment and firing of Pastor Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez of Misión Latina Luterana.

Concerns over Rohrer led Eaton to approve the creation of a listening team that conducted interviews of people in the synod to determine if Rohrer should be removed from power.

Last Friday, Eaton issued a statement calling for Rohrer's resignation, yet also refused to file official charges against Rohrer, arguing that Rohrer’s decisions “are not automatically grounds for discipline.”

“A high burden of proof exists to translate allegations into substantive findings that can be presented to a disciplinary body. In this situation that high burden was not able to be met,” Eaton said.

“Moreover, disciplinary proceedings that would be likely to arrive at a similar conclusion as my review are time-consuming and risk delay in the necessary healing processes that must occur.”

For their part, the leadership of the Sierra Pacific Synod posted a statement on Tuesday expressing support for Rohrer, saying they believe Rohrer “can continue to be effective in [her] role as bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod.”

“As a Synod Council, we have not had any direct information that leads us to conclude that Bishop Rohrer has lost the trust of the congregations and pastors within our region or that it is in the best interest of the Synod at large for them to resign,” stated the synod.

“Rohrer led us through difficult times in a difficult situation and acted in consultation with the Synod Council and Churchwide. We are committed to moving towards reconciliation and restoration of all parties, believing in faith that this is possible under God’s grace.”

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