Dear Partners in Mission:
The summer season is fully upon us. Graduations, confirmations, and other celebrations of the end of school have largely been held. We are only about a month away from our NT-NL Synod High School Youth Event July 7-10, and many other activities are in full swing.
In the midst of these milestones and anticipation of summer this has also been a time of deep discernment and difficult conversation, particularly within the ELCA Conference of Bishops (CoB). Some of you may be aware of the actions taken by the Sierra Pacific Synod Council and Bishop Megan Rohrer in relation to Pastor Nelson Rabell and Mision Latina Luterana in Stockton, CA, in December 2021. These actions, the removal of a pastor from a mission congregation on the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the way in which it was carried out, were rightly seen as insensitive and indicative of systemic racism in our church institution. In the months that have followed calls for action, including discipline, against Bishop Rohrer have been made by many. These calls have included members of the CoB, including four Latiné bishops.
Presiding Bishop Eaton commissioned a listening team to go to California and investigate the situation. This team did its work and reported back to Bishop Eaton and on May 27th she released her report. This report stated she would not bring disciplinary charges but recommended Bishop Rohrer attend the Sierra Pacific Synod assembly June 2-4, listen to the synod, and recommended they resign. On Wednesday June 1st the listening team report was published which led to stronger calls for action against Bishop Rohrer. This included members of the CoB who stated that if Bishop Eaton would not bring charges, members of that body would. During the Sierra Pacific Assembly a motion asking for Bishop Rohrer’s resignation received 57% of the vote (but not the required 2/3rds majority). Bishop Rohrer gave no indication publicly or to Bishop Eaton that they would resign. In response Saturday evening June 4th Bishop Eaton reversed her earlier position and stated she would bring discipline charges. On Sunday night June 5th the CoB met to discuss the situation and the next steps. From that meeting the following has been released.
“The Conference of Bishops met Sunday evening; Bishop Megan Rohrer (Sierra Pacific Synod) chose not to attend. The Presiding Bishop shared with us that she is initiating the discipline process immediately, including suspension of Bishop Rohrer, based on additional information that has come to light. The COB strongly affirmed her decision to do this. This process will take time, and Bishop Eaton will provide updates as appropriate. We remain committed to praying for this church.”
Throughout this time I have been communicating with our Conferencia Latina leadership as well as other members of our synod with ties to these events and places. I have appreciated the strong counsel I have received from our leaders as it has helped guide my discernment. The polity of the ELCA gives strong local autonomy, both for congregations and synod assemblies. It is a part of our life together that we respect the elections and decisions of other assemblies. Additionally, in our day of instant and constant communication I do not believe it is wise for every bishop of the ELCA to comment when situations in another synod are in process. However this situation has become different and has created and amplified deep and painful feelings in communities of color not simply in that synod but in every part of our church. As such, with counsel from our Conferencia Latina leadership, listening to their lived experiences of experiencing racism in our church, I communicated last Thursday to our Latiné bishops that I would stand with them to bring discipline if Bishop Eaton had not. I also pledged to them my continued commitment to the work of anti-racism and cultural awareness, to listening better and closer to those on the margins, both for myself personally and in our synod and church.
So what is next? Discipline processes take time. Additionally, in the afternoon of Monday June 6th, Bishop Rohrer posted on social media that they in fact had resigned effective June 4th at 4pm. This resignation letter was not made public at that time or to my knowledge shared with the CoB or Bishop Eaton. Once again the timeline has been confused by social media postings and incomplete information. Why I believe it is wise for synod bishops to be very judicious in the information we share. Since there now is a discipline process in place, I will be refraining from saying anything more about this specific situation.
For now, I ask you to join me in prayer. For the people of Sierra Pacific Synod, particularly elected leaders and synod staff, and for Bishop Rohrer. For our Latiné bishops who called us to account, for Bishop Eaton, and for the entire CoB. For all who have been and continue to be deeply harmed by our institutions and selves, and for all of us to listen more, and more closely.
En Mision Juntos,