Progressive Lutheran Denomination’s First Transgender Bishop Accused of Racism, Resigns 1 Year into Term

Bishop Megan Rohrer speaks to the press before their installation ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Rohrer is the first openly transgender person elected as bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
AP Photo/John Hefti

Lutheran Bishop Megan Rohrer of the Sierra Pacific Synod (ELCA), the first openly transgender bishop in a major Christian denomination, has resigned over racism allegations after firing the Puerto Rican pastor of a church in Stockton, California.

In 2021, Bishop Rohrer, a biological female, became the first openly transgender bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and oversaw nearly 200 congregations in Northern California and northern Nevada. Rohrer’s term as bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod was supposed to last six years.

During college, Rohrer identified as a lesbian before becoming transgender and is married to a woman, Laurel.

In 2012, San Francisco’s board of supervisors declared August 12 as “Pastor Megan Rohrer Day” because of her role as an outspoken defender of LGTBQ people, especially the transgender homeless and Christians.

Rohrer fired the Rev. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez last December after an inquiry by the church into alleged verbal harassment and retaliation by the pastor, all of which he denied.

The removal of Rabell-Gonzalez upset members of the Misión Latina Luterana, who accused Rohrer of acting out of racist motives, and in March the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, the denomination’s presiding bishop, appointed a three-person “listening panel” to investigate Rohrer’s actions.

On June 6, Eaton announced that a formal investigation into Rohrer’s conduct would be carried out based on “additional information that has come to light,” at which point Rohrer resigned as bishop.

In a letter, Rohrer said she was resigning because of “the constant misinformation, bullying and harassment” she had experienced.

On Sunday, Lutheran Church leaders began the process to discipline Rohrer following her resignation. “I shared that I am initiating the discipline process immediately including suspension of Bishop Rohrer, based on additional information that has come to light,” Eaton said.

“Let me state clearly,” Eaton wrote in a statement Wednesday. “The ELCA is a church that will not tolerate racism in any way. We will hold ourselves as fully accountable as any other person or group, and we will condemn racism wherever it exists.”

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