As we anticipate Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s decision regarding the actions of Bishop Megan Rohrer and the Sierra Pacific Synod Council on December 12, 2021, we, as the Co-Chairs of the Board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries want to remind our community of what led us to the decision to suspend Bishop Rohrer from the Proclaim and ELM community, our involvement with the Listening Panel that was convened by Bishop Eaton, and what the future holds for ELM.
We acknowledge that Bishop Eaton’s announcement is expected to come as we begin the month of Pride in the LGBTQIA+ community. We grieve the timing of the anticipated release of Bishop Eaton’s announcement. The timing continues to reinforce what we have seen play out over the last several months in the ELCA, where BIPOC communities, specifically the Latiné community, have been pitted against the LGBTQIA+ community. This creates false binaries and can erase people who exist wholly in more than one of these communities.
Pride began as a riot in NYC and was led by black and brown transgender women. There have been attempts in the secular world to erase the origins of Pride month, but the truth remains, that queer liberation is not possible without the liberation of our black and brown, LGBTQIA+ siblings. The anticipation of this announcement further reinforces the trauma that the Latiné, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ have experienced over the last several months.
ELM’s Relationship with Bishop Rohrer
For much of 2021, ELM had struggled internally because of racist actions then-pastor Rohrer had made regarding the ELM board and staff members. These events all took place before Rohrer became bishop in September 2021. Internally, after individual conversations with Pastor Rohrer went nowhere to address these issues, ELM’s Board convened an Accountability Team composed of transgender, white, BIPOC, and neurodivergent members of ELM’s Board and the Proclaim community. Pastor Rohrer was invited to participate and co-create a process to address and repair the harm they had caused BIPOC members of ELM’s Board, staff, and Proclaim.
In September, at Bishop Rohrer’s request, ELM sponsored a reception to celebrate their becoming the first trans bishop. In that same month, they informed ELM they would not continue to participate in the accountability process.
After four months of deliberation, the Board came to the consensus that we would suspend Bishop Rohrer’s affiliation with ELM and its Proclaim community until they were willing to listen and talk about the harm they had done. Since there are over 400 members of the Proclaim community, we knew our decision to suspend Bishop Rohrer would be a public action so we crafted a public statement to Proclaim members and the broad ELM community.
The weekend of December 12, 2021, the week before ELM’s regularly scheduled board meeting on December 16, we were coming to a consensus about the public statement and our process. Then on December 12, Bishop Rohrer and the Sierra Pacific Synod Council fired Pastor Nelson Rabell-González and harmed and traumatized Misión Latina Luterana and staff members of the Sierra Pacific Synod. In ELM’s regularly scheduled meeting, the Board affirmed our consensus to suspend Bishop Rohrer because they refused to participate in ELM’s internal accountability process.
On Friday, December 17, we informed Bishop Rohrer of the board’s decision, including a long, detailed personal letter from the Accountability Team, and gave them a copy of ELM’s public statement. They asked us to make a few changes to the public statement which we did. We released the public statement of the ELM Board decision the following week.
Please read the full statement of ELM’s public response regarding Bishop Rohrer here. On Christmas Day, the Bay Area Reporter reported an interview with Bishop Rohrer in which they said they had “stopped participating actively in ELM in 2014” because they said ELM plagiarized their writing and dead-named people. Their statement was confusing because Bishop Rohrer participated in ELM events, retreats, receptions, and media since 2014–and because Board members that were involved in those issues thought they had been successfully resolved in 2014.
The ELM Board Co-Chairs and members of the Accountability Team held Zoom meetings with the BIPOC and Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming affinity groups in Proclaim and one large group Zoom meeting for all Proclaim members in late December and early January to verbally inform them of the above actions. ELM board and staff members also responded to some calls and emails from donors. We noticed that many BIPOC Proclaim members and donors affirmed the Board action and announcement, while all of the complaints about the Board action were from White Proclaim members and donors–some of whom ended or suspended their financial contributions and affiliation. Other White Proclaim members and donors have responded with clarifying questions, requests for more information (some of which we cannot disclose), and some generous contributions.
ELM and Bishop Eaton’s Listening Panel
At the beginning of March, Bishop Eaton convened a three-person Listening Panel to advise her about what actions she should take regarding Bishop Rohrer and the Sierra Pacific Synod Council. See the ELCA press release. The Listening Panel met April 1 and 2 and asked ELM to send two representatives to a 30-minute session. We had decided to send Pastor Kelsey Brown and Pastor Michael Wilker. As it got closer to the day of the meeting with the listening panel, the time was changed for ELM to meet with the panel. As a result, Pastor Brown was no longer available to represent ELM, and so Pastor Margarette Ouji, co-chair of the board, stepped in with Pastor Wilker. Before meeting with the Listening Panel, we wrote them a letter that can be found here.
What is next for ELM?
The Board commissioned a Communications Advisory group, made up of Board members and our Associate Director of Development and Communication Lewis Eggleston. The Communications Advisory group will help name and shape priority areas of content on behalf of the Board, to reflect and enliven ELM’s vision, mission, and values. They will be the conduit of the Board to more proactively, productively, and supportively address concerns and priorities in ELM communication.
We will continue to listen deeply to our siblings in the Latino Ministries Association and the African Descent Lutheran Association and work together for a more liberated and equitable church.
In August, Pastor Mike Wilker will step down from the board of directors of ELM. In November 2021, he was elected by the board to step in and serve for a short time.
ELM has contracted with an organizational coach for three months to help the Board and staff discern our work together as an organization. We will have more information about this work in the coming weeks.
We invite you to work together and with ELM’s Board and staff to continue to organize queer seminarians and ministers, confront barriers and systemic oppression, and value and celebrate queer leaders and their ministries.
In the crucified and resurrected Christ,
Rev. Margarette Ouji (she/her/hers)
Rev. Michael Wilker (he/him/his)
ELM Board Co-Chairs