The transgender bishop at the center of a racially tinged spat received the backing of the church district’s council Tuesday in the face of the denomination’s presiding bishop’s resignation demand.
Bishop Megan Rohrer, 41, believed to be the first transgender bishop in an American Protestant denomination, was asked to resign last week by Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
The call for Bishop Rohrer to step down came after a months-long dispute over the status of the Rev. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez, an ELCA minister who led the Mision Latina Luterana congregation in Stockton, Calif.
His appointment as pastor was rescinded last December following complaints of abusive behavior.
Like Bishop Rohrer, Mr. Rabell-Gonzalez was a nominee for bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod in the 2021 election. But Mr. Rabell-Gonzalez was the subject of four “formal allegations” following his nomination, Religion News Service reported Tuesday.
According to the account, Mr. Rabell-Gonzalez did not comply with the “compassionate steps” a Sierra Pacific Synod advisory council recommended, and on Dec. 11, the council voted to remove him from his position.
The next morning, which happened to be the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the pastor and his congregation were informed of the dismissal.
In her statement demanding Bishop Rohrer’s resignation, Bishop Eaton wrote that while pastoral mistakes are not grounds for dismissal, they can lead to a loss of confidence in a leader and that a leader would fix voluntarily.
“There are profound issues regarding the circumstances surrounding the end of Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez’ call to the Mision Latina Luterana community on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of such importance to that congregation and community,” Bishop Eaton wrote in a statement.
“Unwise decisions — while they may be insensitive or in hindsight seen as misguided — are not automatically grounds for discipline,” meaning she would not initiate proceedings against the Sierra Pacific leader.
But “I believe that Bishop Rohrer has lost the trust and confidence of many constituents, both within and without the Sierra Pacific Synod,” Bishop Eaton said. “I hope Bishop Rohrer will conclude, as I have, that they can no longer effectively serve in their role as bishop.”
“There has been so much more kindness and compassion expressed to me than anger, frustration and hurt,” Bishop Rohrer wrote. “This fully human human appreciates all the prayers.”
The Tuesday statement from the Sierra Pacific Synod’s council said the panel has “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.”
The district consists of 188 congregations in California and northern Nevada. The ELCA overall reported a membership of 3.3 million in December 2020.
“Presiding Bishop Eaton has asked Bishop Rohrer to attend their assembly, speak with and listen to their constituents and give this the prayerful consideration that it deserves. Bishop Eaton will expect their response at the conclusion of the assembly,” Ms. Buchbinder said.
The Sierra Pacific Synod assembly is scheduled for June 2-4 in Sparks, Nevada.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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