Lutheran LGBTQ group accuses trans bishop of racism

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday December 23, 2021
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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Megan Rohrer. Photo: Courtesy ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Megan Rohrer. Photo: Courtesy ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod

A group of LGBTQ Lutheran clergy suspended the membership of Bishop Megan Rohrer, alleging "racist words and actions." Rohrer made history earlier this year when they were elected the first trans-identified bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA. Rohrer was formally installed in September at a ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

The Sierra Pacific Synod oversees nearly 200 congregations in Central and Northern California and Northern Nevada.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries suspended Rohrer last week, according to an article in the Christian Post. ELM is an organization that organizes queer seminarians and rostered ministers to confront "barriers and systemic oppression."

When the Bay Area Reporter reached out to the Reverend Michael Wilker, ELM co-chair, to ask what the board of directors is alleging Rohrer said and did, Wilker declined to give specifics.

"We'd simply like to say that the incidents that led to Bishop Rohrer's suspension from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Proclaim community occurred before they were elected bishop in May, before they became bishop in September, and well before the dispute in Stockton," Wilker stated December 23. "Those matters were internal to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and did not directly involve Lutherans in Stockton."

According to the Post article, Rohrer terminated the employment of the Reverend Nelson Rabell-González of Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton December 12.

A statement from Wilker and ELM co-chair Margarette Ouji December 20 said, "This is a response to an existing pattern of behavior from Bishop Rohrer that misaligns 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," the statement reads.

Rabell-González was an outspoken supporter of Black Lives Matter, according to a December 17 post by Eco Preacher blogger Leah D. Schade. He organized a demonstration last year. Schade, an ordained ELCA minister, discloses that she is a friend of Rabell-González's and alleges he "tried to blow the whistle" on "secrets" related to the relationship between the ELCA and the Hispanic community.

ELM further stated that Rohrer is the first person it invited to be a part of its accountability process but they declined.

"In September, Bishop Rohrer declined the Accountability Team's invitation for continued work to repair these relationships," the statement continued.

Ouji did not respond to a request for comment December 23.

Due to the suspension, Rohrer will not be invited to ELM events. ELM also asked Rohrer to remove references to the group from their writings, biographies, and reports.

Prior to becoming bishop, Rohrer served as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco. From 2018 until earlier this year, they also served as community chaplain coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department.

In 2020, Rohrer signed on to a resolution for consideration at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly entitled "Regarding the Minimization of Bias in the Sierra Pacific Synod"

Rohrer also weighed in on a B.A.R. story in 2017 about racism in the Castro.

Rohrer wrote on Twitter the morning of December 23 that "the number one question LGBTQ ask me about being a bishop is if others support me. Most days the answer, without hesitation, is yes. On other days when pastoral information is kept confidential, I lament at how quickly some people assume the worst."

In a statement to the B.A.R. after the initial publication of this story, Rohrer stated ELM mischaracterized the disagreement between themselves and the organization.

"ELM reached out after my election as bishop was receiving an overwhelming amount of public attention," Rohrer stated in a Christmas morning email. "I let them know that I couldn't have a conversation at that time, because I needed to focus on the safety and wellness of my children. I was sad that ELM didn't follow up about our safety or about a future date for conversation."

Rohrer stated that they "stopped participating actively in ELM in 2014 when they plagiarized a writing I wrote," and that "a little more than a year ago, a group of trans individuals wanted to express concerns about ELM's practice of deadnaming individuals on their website and other issues of concern to trans Lutherans. The grievance was not resolved."

Rohrer stated that ELM created an accountability process "they said they had created to express opposition to my vision as a bishop."

"At the same time, ELM was publicly celebrating me and hosted a fundraiser at my bishop installation," Rohrer stated.

Rohrer went on to explain that ELM is opposed to chaplain care for first responders: a major initiative of Rohrer's.

"Most major faith groups caring for people after disasters require volunteers to agree that they will not recognize LGBTQ families. I believe there is a great need for disaster care that supports LGBTQ individuals," Rohrer stated. "I respect the justice principles that have led ELM to their stance. I will continue to learn and actively work to decrease biases I may have and I pray ELM will continue to work on trans awareness throughout its membership. We disagree on one issue, but we have so many more in common."

Wilker and Ouji did not respond to follow-up questions about these allegations as of press time.

The Sierra Pacific Synod did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Updated, 12/27/21: This article has been updated with comments from Bishop Rohrer.

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