Grace and peace to you—-
(Please note: Items in BOLD are direct links to other websites, articles and more for your review.)
As I promised yesterday during the Announcements, I am sharing with you more details about the events happening currently in the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA.
Some background for you all: Our church is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, and there are 65 synods total in the ELCA, each with their own elected bishops. Each synod elects (or re-elects) a bishop every 6 years. It is a staggered schedule so that the Conference of Bishops always has a balanced membership.
My friends, I have been aware of the events happening in the Sierra Pacific Synod through colleagues and the media over the past few months. But the past week, the details and situation escalated with the release of some reports on the event, and the Washington Post published the following article.
I won’t summarize the events because I feel the article, that I have linked above, does a solid job in its writing. There are also links in the article that will direct you to original source information for your own review. What IS missing from this article in the WSJ is a copy of the Listening Panel’s review. (Or it was at the time of my initial reading, I know these articles are updated constantly). I found it a painful read. I found myself angry, troubled, ashamed, frustrated and deeply saddened.
Our Presiding Bishop’s, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, original response to the Listening Panel was—in my opinion—tone deaf to the concerns she was privy to through the Listening Panel report. After her vague letter to the ELCA about it, and her request for the resignation of Bishop Megan Rohrer, there was an outcry that caused several things to happen:
- Bishop Eaton changed her mind and disclosed the Listening Panel Review with an apology.
- The ELCA Churchwide Office, again, learned of the powerful tool that is “social media” and how transparency is required on all levels of the church, not just our congregations.
- The Listening Panel Report revealed several details that were sufficient enough to have disciplinary actions taken against the Bishop of Sierra Pacific Synod.
- Bishop Megan Rohrer declined to resign as bishop of the synod. Bishop Rohrer actually led their synod assembly this past week, and a vote of confidence was taken and it showed the bishop had 56% of the assembled persons support to continue.
There are many rumors about what happened at the synod assembly of the Sierra Pacific Synod. I have not confirmed them myself or seen of them in a reputable news source at this time.
But I do know that the Presiding Bishop Eaton met with the Conference of Bishops last night, and it was affirmed by all present that disciplinary action must be taken against Bishop Rohrer and that Bishop Rohrer is suspended until the actions have completed as per our ELCA Constitution.
My friends, let’s start at the very beginning. I am deeply saddened by the actions of the Sierra Pacific Synod regarding their treatment of the Rev. Nelson Rabell-González. First, we have several policies in place for the suspension and discipline of a pastor in office. Based on what I can see, these policies were not handled well at all—by the church councils involved, by the bishop and staff before Bishop Rohrer came into office, and then after Bishop Rohrer came into office. Proper procedure was not handled. It caused great division in an already difficult situation.
I am also deeply troubled how the events played out by Bishop Rohrer with the people of the Misión Latina Luterana. Again, there are multiple layers of procedure and pastoral care that must happen along the way of a removal of a pastor. To abruptly remove a pastor as they did, and on a special holy day of the church—it was truly unbelievable.
I am deeply troubled by Bishop Eaton’s original response to the Listening Panel report, thought I am grateful that she did apology and released their report.
But most of all, I am very sad that a denomination who has proclaimed in many ways and many years of wanting to be an inclusive, more diverse denomination does not treat pastors of color who serve congregations of color the same as other pastors or churches. In the 10+ years that I have been serving as a pastor in the ELCA, I have seen words that say we want to be a diverse denomination, I have seen funds and people hired to create more diversity, I have been trained, and yet—at the end of the day, the ELCA remains with the same amount of diversity.
I fear the very public events in the Sierra Pacific Synod continue to demonstrate that pastors of color and congregations of color are treated differently even when the constitutions we have in place—at congregation, synod and churchwide levels—demand that all persons and congregations are equal. This is sin. Racism is sin. We need to name it and confess.
Disciplinary actions against any rostered minister are to be taken seriously and to be allowed the time for the process. Our Bishop, the Rev. Paul Erickson, stated that this will be about 3 months or so, at least. So, we are in a holding period until the process is completed to know of the outcome. But we have been in a holding period as a denomination for a long time. I am praying that what has happened in the Sierra Pacific Synod will cause much discussion about white privilege in our own churches and policies, and that we all embrace the goal of being a more diverse denomination.
And, yes, my friends, this does include our own congregation. We should consider what we have done (and perhaps not done), and especially what we will do in the future to be more open to persons of color in our neighborhoods and this congregation. I am heartened to see the work of Bay Bridge, here in Whitefish Bay, that has taken on these issues locally. If you have not signed up for their newsletter, I encourage you to do so.
I also encourage you to join me in prayer these next few months—praying for the people and the bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, for the people of the former community known as Misión Latina Luterana and their former staff members, for those who will lead the disciplinary team for Bishop Rohrer, and also for those who have been traumatized by these events—wherever they live.
I also encourage you to join me in prayer and action for our denomination and churches, as we all seek to be a true welcoming place for all of God’s people.
Scripture says, “if we say we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” My friends, let’s stop deceiving ourselves and work on our sin of racism. Let’s begin today.
Pastor Sarah Stobie