ELM Statement regarding denial of Megan Rohrer’s on-leave from call status

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Dear ELM constituents and supporters,

You have likely heard about Interim Bishop Claire Burkat’s (she/her) announcement last week that she has decided to deny former Bishop Dr. Megan Rohrer’s (he/they) request for On Leave From Call status, effectively removing Dr. Rohrer from the roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. This announcement has evoked a wide variety of responses from LGBTQIA2S+ church members and leaders across the ELCA and beyond, many of whom have contacted ELM to ask questions and express their feelings and thoughts. 

First, we’d like to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. Many are asking if the racist actions that led ELM to suspend Dr. Rohrer’s membership in Proclaim were included in Bishop Burkat’s decision. To our knowledge, they were not. Representatives from ELM were interviewed by the Listening Panel that conducted the first investigation into Dr. Rohrer’s racist actions against Rev. Nelson Rabell-González and Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina (formerly Misión Latina Luterana). However, we were not interviewed for subsequent investigations. In addition, ELM is an independent non-profit organization that serves queer rostered leaders and candidates in the ELCA and ELCIC. As such, Dr. Rohrer’s actions in this organization are not within the purview of the synod or the Churchwide organization. However, it is understandable that the similar timelines of ELM’s announcement of Dr. Rohrer’s suspension of membership in Proclaim – or persistent and unrepentant racism towards fellow Proclaim members, board members, and ELM staff in December 2021 – and the public outcry regarding Dr. Rohrer’s racist actions toward Rev. Dr. Rabell-González and Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina in December 2021, could lead outside observers to assume the events were connected. They were not, except in the sense that racism is an evil that infiltrates every aspect of our lives and that when racists are permitted to mistreat people of color in one organization, they become increasingly likely to do so in others.

Another common question is whether or not Dr. Rohrer is pursuing legal action against ELM. To our knowledge, he is not. Should this change, you will be notified. It is our understanding that Dr. Rohrer is pursuing legal action against the ELCA and the Sierra Pacific Synod for discriminatory practices. 

The third question we have encountered frequently this past week is if we regret our decision to suspend Dr. Rohrer’s membership in Proclaim in light of Bishop Burkat’s recent decision, and in light of the significant decrease in financial support that followed our decision. We do not. But we do regret not taking action sooner. Dr. Rohrer engaged in severe and persistent racism within ELM that was allowed to continue unchecked for years. When leadership finally began to take the reports from BIPOC members seriously, we tried to “fix” the problem by repeatedly engaging in unfruitful conversations with Dr. Rohrer and expecting that the behavior would magically change. When, in 2021, we finally listened to the alarm bells being raised by people of color and invited Dr. Rohrer into an intentional process of reconciliation, it was too little, too late. Dr. Rohrer declined our request and we made the difficult, but necessary decision to suspend them from their role in Proclaim and ELM, preventing them fromcontinuing to put BIPOC queer people at risk. If we had acted earlier, perhaps Dr. Rohrer would not have been able to go on to cause harm to BIPOC people (some of them also LGBTQIA2+) in his bishopric. This is something we continue to repent. We likewise repent not sharing our decision with the trans people in our constituency in a way that truly acknowledged how their own traumas around exclusion and expulsion from church spaces might be activated anew.

Lastly, many folks are asking how we feel about the announcement regarding the denial of Dr. Rohrer’s request for On Leave From Call status. That is a question that is harder to answer. There are people in and connected to our organization who are people of color, some of whom were directly harmed by Dr. Rohrer’s racism. There are transgender people in and connected to our organization, some of whom were removed from calls or churches because of their trans identity. There are QTBIPOC people in our organization who carry all of these painful experiences and more. There are QTBIPOC youth who have been watching a racist bishop being allowed to threaten and deride multiple BIPOC people and communities, while also watching that same bishop being threatened and derided because of their transness. It is for them that we continue endeavoring to do the crucial work of dismantling kyriarchy. This is a challenging goal indeed, but one for which we are uniquely suited. Queer Christians, especially queer Lutherans, and most especially QTBIPOC Lutherans, know how to hold multiple truths in tension. The first openly trans bishop in the ELCA has effectively been defrocked. That is something to mourn. And for the first time, an ELCA bishop faced real consequences for racist behavior and is not being permitted to continue to engage in that behavior in our denomination. That is something to celebrate. We can do both, and we know that God envelops us in loving care as we do so.

As for ELM’s plans for moving forward from this announcement, our goals are simple. We seek to listen closely and carefully to all people affected, especially QTBIPOC people, both simply to hear and honor their experiences and to better take action in the future. And we seek to pray for one another as we all navigate these complicated feelings, many of us doing so as our own traumas are being reactivated. This is incredibly difficult work, but we rejoice that we are not doing it alone. If you are in need of prayer, assistance in processing these events, or simply a listening ear, we are here. Please reach out to our Proclaim chaplains via the Proclaim Facebook group, or the ELM board at board@elm.org

As you go forward in this work, please know that we are praying for each of you in the name of the One who turns our mourning into dancing, who looses our sackcloth and clothes us with gladness, who promises eternal accompaniment.

God loves you and so do we,
ELM Board of Directors

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