The first transgender bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has resigned in a firestorm of controversy fueled by allegations of corruption and racism.
Rev. Megan Rohrer, a biological female, was the first openly transgender preacher elected to the rank of bishop by a mainline Protestant denomination in May 2021, and was formally installed in September. Rohrer’s tenure with the church was wracked by internal disputes, and accusations of financial and managerial misconduct.
“After listening to the important and prayerful conversation at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly, I spent some time with my family and then had a conversation with the Synod Council,” Rohrer tweeted June 6. “I resigned from the office of Bishop, effective around 4pm on June 4th.”
Rohrer was first hired as a minister in 2014 for the Grace Lutheran Evangelical Church, a small congregation in San Francisco that had been steadily declining in size for some time. Rohrer’s $90,000 annual salary was more than twice the amount her predecessor had received, according to court documents from a lawsuit filed in December 2018, and the then minister was responsible for supplying $40,000 of that salary through means outside the dwindling resources of the church.
One such means was Grace Infant Care Center, or GICC, a secular child care service that had been renting space from the church since 1983. According to court documents, Rohrer proposed that the daycare move its payroll to the company ADP.
“Unknown to plaintiffs, the church placed its payroll in the same common account with ADP and used GICC funds to pay defendant Rohrer’s salary,” Court documents allege. “The church did not have enough funds to pay the church payroll and Rohrer used GICC funds to cover her [sic] salary. When the GICC board learned of these events after two months, it terminated ADP as the payroll processor and denied Rohrer access to the bank accounts.”
The same documents outline several alleged schemes where Rohrer attempted to seize GICC’s assets, and violate their contract by replacing them with a new daycare center the church could charge a higher rent.
The suit also charged that Rohrer had stacked the church’s board of directors by adding the minister’s wife to the board, among others, not notifying members of meeting times to deny them influence over church decision making, and attempting to place Rohrer’s 4 and 5-year-old children on the voting roster of the church.
The case was settled in 2021, with both parties agreeing to sell the church’s property and split the proceeds. Grace Lutheran Evangelical Church closed in January of 2022.
The inciting incident that precipitated Rohrer’s ouster was the termination of a popular latino pastor, Reverend Nelson Rabell-González, who headed Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton, California.
Rabell-González was a prominent pastor within the ELCA and was caught up in several investigations of his own, where he felt he had been treated unfairly by Rohrer and other members of ELCA leadership. He was especially vocal about his disapproval of the NDA agreements he was allegedly pressured to sign throughout the process.
“These leaders, clothed in White Privilege, protecting the racism of their own by White Solidarity, and using White Supremacy disguised as Christian virtue, justified silencing a Person of Color in order to hide the institutional racism and bigotry of the congregation,” the pastor said in a statement on Facebook.
Rabell-González was terminated on the day of The Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe, a very culturally significant date to Mexican Christians, which likely exacerbated an already tense situation and led to his congregation walking out of a service in protest when they learned Rabell-González had been removed from their mission.
Shortly after the incident, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries — a self-described group of “queer seminarians and rostered ministers” rescinded Rohrer’s mebership from the group.
“This is a response to 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,” Elm said in a statement issued on December 16 of last year.
The mounting opposition within the church led the ELCA to formally request Rohrer’s resignation on June 4, 2022.