calendar June 6, 2022 in anti-racism, Bishop, ELCA, News

Bishop’s Responses to Concerns in Sierra Pacific Synod

Updated: June 6, 2022

June 6, 2022

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
— Ephesians 4:1-6 NRSV

Dear Beloved,

Since I wrote to you last week there have been developments in the ongoing events in the Sierra Pacific Synod. Bishop Megan Rohrer did not submit their resignation, as Presiding Bishop Eaton had requested. At the Synod Assembly last Thursday to Saturday, a resolution was presented that asked Bishop Rohrer to resign. That resolution received 56 percent of votes cast, but did not reach the two-thirds requirement to be adopted.

I want to share with you a brief summary from the Conference of Bishops meeting last (Sunday) night:

The Conference of Bishops met Sunday evening; Bishop Megan Rohrer 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.

I ask you to join me in continued prayer for Bishops Eaton and Rohrer, for the ELCA, the Sierra Pacific Synod, and all those so deeply affected by this situation, as this process continues to unfold.

In Christ,

The Rev. Bishop Patricia A. Davenport

June 1, 2022

Dear Beloved,

Since I wrote to you yesterday, Presiding Bishop Eaton, in consultation with the Listening Team, this morning released the Team’s report in both English and Spanish. I am grateful for the bishop’s decision to increase transparency around this troubling situation and to allow the voices of the Community (formerly known as Misión Latina Luterana) to be heard through the Team’s work and words.

I encourage you to read and reflect upon the report, as a prompt to further conversation about how we become a more diverse and inclusive church.

The report makes a number of helpful recommendations for actions by the Sierra Pacific Synod, the Churchwide organization, and the Office of the Presiding Bishop. I want you to know that I support their final recommendation:

“Based on the facts and testimonials in this report, we recommend that the Presiding  Bishop bring disciplinary charges against Bishop Rohrer under Chapter 20 (20.22.01.b; 20.22.02.c) with the full knowledge that such action could result in removal from the Office of Bishop and the removal from the ministry of Word and Sacrament of this church.”

We continue to work toward the day when our ELCA is a church that will not tolerate racism in any way. At present this goal continues to elude us. I pray that the conversation around this situation will lead us to begin to repair trust with not only Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina but with communities of color across the church and help us to name and address racism where we see it in our institutions.

In Christ,

The Rev. Bishop Patricia A. Davenport

May 31, 2022

Dear Beloved,

­Most of you are aware by now of Bishop Eaton’s report to the church regarding the Sierra Pacific Synod and the conduct of Bishop Megan Rohrer regarding the closure of Misión Latina Luterana, which occurred last December on the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Bishop Eaton appointed a Listening Team to hear the concerns of those involved in this and the subsequent removal of Pastor Nelson Rabell-González from the ELCA roster by not granting him on-leave-from-call status after the congregation he served was closed.

In her report released Friday, May 27, Bishop Eaton said that while she did not see the need for formal disciplinary charges, “there remain enough serious concerns that influence Bishop Rohrer’s ability to remain impactful in their role that I have asked Bishop Rohrer for their resignation, which I believe to be in the best interest of all parties involved.” (Read the full report here.)

Over the weekend, the three members of the Listening Team took the unusual step of issuing their own public statement, lamenting that the presiding bishop’s report “totally disregard the heart and intent of our report. We do not want it to be supposed that our work is aligned with or supports the proposed actions.” (Read the full statement here.)

While “the Team’s finding was that racist words and actions caused trauma and great pain to many people of color in that synod,” the word “racism” does not appear in the presiding bishop’s report. Bishop Eaton refers to “unwise” actions that may appear to be “insensitive” or “misguided.”

“To characterize racist actions as simply ‘insensitive’ or ‘misguided’ is to validate the charge against the ELCA that we are blind to the pain we cause our siblings of color,” wrote the team members: The Rev. Margaret Payne, retired bishop of the New England Synod, The Rev. Constanze Hagmaier, bishop of the South Dakota Synod, and Roberto Lara, president of the Latino Ministries Association of the ELCA. The Listening Team also renewed its call, made at the beginning of its work some months ago, that Bishop Eaton releases its entire report to effect transparency across the ELCA.

Beloved, I share the Listening Team’s concerns about the neutral language in the report that underplays the seriousness of the racism faced every day by the Latiné, Black, Indigenous, and other persons of color among our ELCA pastors and deacons – and members.

And I echo the team’s call for its entire report to be made public across the Church. We are at a moment in history where the ELCA, the whitest denomination in the United States, cannot afford to hide the reality that structural racism, unequal power dynamics, and cultural insensitivity undermine our efforts to become a diverse, multi-ethnic church that reflects the diversity of the United States. We cannot keep secrets.

I invite you to join me in prayer for Bishop Eaton, for the Sierra Pacific Synod, staff, and Bishop Rohrer as they meet in assembly this week, for the Rev. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez and the community formerly known as Misión Latina Luterana, and for the entire ELCA as together we work to expunge racism from our systems and procedures.

As Church we must stop and bear witness to the pain and harm caused to the community of Iglesia Luterana Sta. María Peregrina (formerly known as Misión Latina Luterana). This is not about one congregation (that has now left the ELCA to be independent) or one pastor, though. The ELCA must be transparent about the mistakes made in situations like this, learn from them, and have the courage to face and amend the way that racism and the normalization of white, European culture affect all corners of our church. If we do not, we cannot expect our siblings of color, lay and clergy, and their allies to feel comfortable as part of the ELCA.

In Christ,
The Rev. Bishop Patricia A. Davenport