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Transgender Bishop Defrocked For Being The Systemic Racism In Evangelical Lutheranism
The saga of an intersectional car crash
“The Bishop and [her] family seek to avoid dairy, when possible,” the Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer (they/he) told Evangelical Lutherans planning to host the transgender cleric and her family.
Not to worry if you forget, though: “They are not allergic and will not be offended if it is offered to them.” Non-preferred pronouns are way more sinful than clogged arteries.
The newly elected bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) also preferred a quiet, dimly-lit church. She is “on the autistic spectrum and is sensitive to light and sound,” her instructions read.
“High pitched noises may feel painful to the Bishop. Congregations can decrease this discomfort by using ASL applause instead of audible clapping, whistling or cheering.”
So. Use plural pronouns. No ice cream. No loud noises. No bright lights. Also, the bishop’s family get their own restroom. Indeed, the line between the reverend and her family blurs at the pronouns:
When the Bishop is visiting your place of Worship, please provide a single stall bathroom or family restroom for the Bishop and Dominique. As many places of worship may not have these accommodations permanently built, we recommend putting an “all gender” sign up one of the bathroom signs to create an inclusive space during the Bishop’s visit.
Additionally, we hope that these accommodations begin a conversation for your congregation and leadership team. This may be a wonderful learning moment and a time to wonder how such accommodations could be permanently made to create an inclusive space for the entire body of Christ.
Jesus wants the sexes mixing in church bathrooms, apparently, and this is why He (They?) has sent the good reverend.
Perhaps Rohrer learned that interpretation of holy scripture at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where she got her doctorate in divinity. Or maybe the Dalai Lama told her about it when he awarded her “an honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion from Wisdom in Action.”
That ecumenical background in a febrile progressive atmosphere seemed the perfect CV when Rohrer was elected bishop. Cassocks are unisex garments and Evangelical Lutheranism, a denomination that is 97 percent white, was on the lookout for a woke wizard to serve in the synod.
They/he seemed a perfect match. Then it all went horribly wrong. No longer able to offer communion or preach from the ELCA pulpit, Rohrer has been dismissed to the applause of Latino congregants who called her a racist — and not just a little bit bigoted, or microaggressive, but white settler colonial violence that literally murders marginalized people.
A pastor since 2014, Rohrer was finally defrocked two weeks ago. A source within ELCA provided this image of the announcement. At least it uses Rohrer’s preferred pronouns, and that takes out some of the sting, surely?
Rohrer fired a popular Latino reverend on the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 2021, sparking the congregational controversy. For not only was this an especially holy day for the Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton, CA, but Rohrer chose to come in person and confront the congregation with the bad news during their traditional ceremony. After Rohrer declined to answer questions, the congregants walked out of the church forever and took their statue of the virgin with them.
Six months later, in June 2022, the presiding bishop of ELCA and the Council of Bishops asked Rohrer to resign “based on additional information that has come to light that is beyond the scope of the Listening Team report.” Rohrer agreed.
It was the end of a very public humiliation for ELCA. Commentary on the ‘Listening Team Report’ had been blistering. Writing at Patheos.com, ELCA pastor Leah D. Schade complained that the investigation did not follow the normal rules and amounted to a “whiteness protection program.”
Rev. Nelson Rabell-González, the reverend of the Latiné (sic) congregation who was let go on the Day of the Virgin, never received any due process at all, Schade noted. Instead, he had been held up to double and triple standards — the systemic racism within Evangelical Lutheranism.
When these clergy and congregations “behave,” they can be trotted out as evidence of the denomination’s efforts toward diversity. They are patted on the head and treated as celebrities. Or clergy of color are called as pastors in white congregations as diversity window dressing. Or as a sign of “wokeness” without truly doing the deep, painful work of dismantling structural whiteness.
But things change if these pastors and congregations “misbehave” by speaking too loudly or forcefully about the racism they witness. Or if they underperform. Or overreact. When this happens, the chain is yanked, the funding is cut off, the accusations fly, the office is vacated, and sometimes the ordination is revoked. When the white folks decide they’ve had enough, there is no problem drumming up enough complainers to join in the spiritual and ecclesial lynch mob.
… [O]ver the last few months, I’ve been listening to other clergy colleagues from racially and ethnically minoritized communities who have shared their stories and experiences with me after hearing about what has happened to Rev. Rabell-González. While the details are different, the patterns are the same. This kind of treatment is what they have experienced and witnessed repeatedly. And this is why they are disillusioned, disgusted, and disheartened by the ELCA as a whole.
“Be assured that Rev. Rabell-González’s case is neither the first nor only situation where a mission church has been shut down without any input from the congregation,” Schade wrote.
Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson, Assistant to the Bishop for Authentic Diversity, Inclusive Community and Service under Rohrer, wrote a 26-page essay on the whole affair. Three pages are devoted to critical social justice charges of unrepentant white supremacy from Rohrer, such as their/his habit of citing written policy. Emphases are added:
I was opposed to the decision to do this on such a significant day for the Latinx community. I informed the Bishop and the staff that taking these actions on this particular day resembled actions taken by colonizers when they would storm indigenous villages in the middle of their sacred festivals and kill them. I asked if it could be moved to a different day. Others on staff also voiced their reservations. Yet, our concerns were not taken into consideration.
During a phone call five days after the Day of the Virgin, “Bishop Rohrer raised their voice and spoke to me in an agitated manner.”
They told me that they did not see how we would be able to work together if I was only going to see things through one lens. I responded that they were right because I was viewing it through the lens of the gospel. They responded very short and sharply and said that if I was planning on quitting to let them know so that they “could rearrange their vacation schedule.” I was shocked at this comment. I was confused about how they heard my disagreement as a way of telling them I was quitting as that was not the case. It told me that they were more concerned about their vacation than the harm they inflicted on the Latin community, or the wellness or expertise of their staff. I knew in my gut at that moment that Bishop Rohrer would not repent and ask for forgiveness.
Ah, the sin of Pride. Wrath is never far behind.
White liberal Lutherans are proud of their church and want it to reflect their harmonious ideal. But diversity — real diversity — is hard to achieve.
The paradox of tolerance is that when it becomes total, it banishes dissent from the regime of toleration. People feel silenced, colonized, harmed, and wronged for their differences, which are real and profound and entirely human. They feel discriminated against.
Humans are proud. Push them too far, grip them too tight, and they will get angry.
Tokenism may explain how the Rev. Rohrer got a bishopric in the first place. Background checks were clearly missed. Their/his previous pastorate had ended in a complete disaster and that should have been a warning to ELCA.
Four days after the fiasco in Stockton, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a queer Lutheran ministry organization, suspended Rohrer. The “decision that ELM staff and Board have been discerning for much of 2021” cited “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.”
Greed is yet another deadly sin. Rohrer’s first congregation had collapsed in recrimination and a lawsuit. According to court filings, Rohrer demanded a salary more than twice as large as her predecessor to take the pastorate, then tried milking the church daycare center as a cash cow in order to sustain the salary.
Desperate to raise the desperately-low membership number, Rohrer even tried to make her own children, then 4 and 5, into voting members of the congregation at one point. Eric Burkett reported the details of the case in a long article for the Bay Area Times website, which serves the LGBTQAlphabet+ ‘community,’ last June.
"From the date of defendant Rohrer's hiring through 2017, the church has run over budget at least $308,000, mostly as a result of her salary," court documents state, using incorrect pronouns for Rohrer. "The church has, as of June 13, 2018, approximately $275,000 in available cash, the vast majority of which is in its reserves left from the bequest. According to defendants, the church currently has only 15 members according to their June 2018 roster."
Nor has the story quite ended. Rohrer is suing the ELCA and the Sierra Pacific Synod for “harassment, defamation, and whistleblowing.”
According to the press release on the website of the law firm handling her case, “Rohrer alleges that upon being elected, Church leadership resisted [her], and [she] was repeatedly misgendered, ridiculed, and demeaned by clergy and congregants alike.”
Get that? ELCA leadership sinned against her holy gender! In California courtrooms, where claims of ‘gender identity’ are the modern-day spectral evidence, that might even be a viable charge.
“Rohrer brings a claim for harassment on the basis of [her] sexual orientation and gender identity. [She] also alleges [she] was terminated for blowing the whistle on the Church’s violations of California labor laws.”
Details of the incendiary charge are not forthcoming. Instead, Rohrer has clearly been wounded in her transgender soul by these spurious charges of racism. Why, Megan Rohrer has always worked to uplift the marginalized, how dare they accuse them:
Rohrer further alleges the Church defamed [her] by repeatedly implying [she] was “racist” in terminating a Latino pastor following a two-year investigation into more than a dozen accusations against the pastor of verbal harassment, retaliation, and “abusive activity.” As alleged in the Complaint, Rohrer was required to follow the Church’s directive to terminate the pastor on Dec. 12, the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a significant day for many Latiné congregants. After following the Church’s directive, the Church opened up an “investigation” about Rohrer’s “racist motivations,” forced [her] out of [her] role as Bishop, and made several harmful, defamatory statements portraying Rohrer as “racist” and dangerous.
However, the synod has done a thorough job of documenting everything online, and now it appears that the investigative focus belongs on another person altogether, a different reverend of the synod whose own sin was envy. What a twist!
Rev. Rabell-González, pastor at Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina, recently got an apology from the Sierra Pacific Synod Council “for the harm, trauma, and grief we caused, and the damage to your reputation.”
“We are working to prevent this type of harm from happening to others,” the apology says. “We commit to forging healthy systems and processes in the Sierra Pacific Synod to ensure due process is exercised, and to combatting racism and prejudice.”
According to the Bay Area News report, Rabell-González’s problems started in his previous post right after he shared concerns from Latina women being harassed by a white male.
Rabell-González approached the senior pastor of St. Paul's at that time, Schade said, to tell him what he had been told by the women, which he was required to do, and he trusted that the senior pastor would do the right thing, as well. Instead, Rabell-González was accused of doing the same thing by that congregation's intern, the Reverend Frances Le Bas.
In a speech later in May to the Sierra Pacific Synod, Frances Le Bas told the assembly "As a victim of abuse in my life, I feel revictimized by comments made this morning that I perceived as defending my abuser," Schade quoted the pastor. "I'm a victim of misogyny, disrespect, and threatening comments by a fellow Puerto Rican pastor. The situation was not about discrimination based on race and ethnicity. It is about personal misconduct unbefitting of a person in a pastoral role and in a position of authority. At this point, I was going to withdraw my nomination for this position and for Synod Council. But I will not. I will not be victimized again."
Le Bas gave that speech as she stood for an election to a minor diversity role in the church. She lost the vote. Not content with sullying Rabell-González’s personal reputation out loud, Le Bas also accused him of embezzling from an immigrant relief fund.
But her charge of corruption implicated other people, going too far. “Since we at Our Saviour’s were the fiscal agent for this last go around, this involves us — it means that we were in ‘cahoots’ with Pr Nelson embezzling monies from the fund,” Rev. William Knezovitch wrote in a September 2021 memorandum to Rohrer.
I and my members don’t take kindly to being called “embezzlers”. Pastor Nelson is not a “check signer” on our accounts (and, for that matter, neither am I). We work our butts off to help and serve our community as does Pastor Nelson in his community. I can assure you as we have assured others (and proven in cancelled checks) that every penny of the $300,000 we were given went to people who were undocumented and suffering and not to Pastor Nelson.
It remains unclear exactly what Le Bas said that convinced Rohrer and the Synod Council to remove Rabell-González, effectively promoting Le Bas. However, Rohrer’s phone call with Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson and history of self-dealing are suggestive of old-fashioned power-building.
That is, two females, one identifying as a man, conspired against a male in order to advance themselves. Interest made them impervious to better advice. Rapaciousness, not racism, seems the stronger explanation for their behavior.
Not that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will ever admit that. How could they?
Whereas a transgender first who gets cancelled for corruption is bad for the rainbow narrative, white Lutherans will be relieved to know their denomination is less systemically racist now.
The first openly trans bishop in the ELCA has effectively been defrocked. That is something to mourn. And for the first time, an ELCA bishop faced real consequences for racist behavior and is not being permitted to continue to engage in that behavior in our denomination. That is something to celebrate. We can do both, and we know that God envelops us in loving care as we do so.
Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer has died for their sins, so to speak.
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