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Q&A Information from the Office of the Bishop

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

What happened with Misión Latina Luterana?

What is the Sierra Pacific Synod doing to decrease bias and racism?

At the February 5, 2022 Synod Council meeting, in accordance with the 2016 Churchwide Assembly Continuing Resolution to the Constitution, the Synod Council approved the 2022 goals and strategies for anti-racism and anti-bias efforts in our Synod. We invite you to read the 2022 Benchmarks here.

These goals and strategies are in light of the following Churchwide Resolutions:

5.01.A16. This church commits itself to ethnic and racial diversity. Each expression of this church shall annually assess its ethnic and racial diversity when compared to the demographic data of its community or territory. The churchwide organization will work with synods as they assist congregations to reach out to persons of color or whose primary language is other than English.

5.01.B16. Each synod shall submit its goals and strategies to the appropriate churchwide unit or office and shall annually submit a report on progress toward its goals to the Church Council. Council

Additionally, all members of the Synod Council and members of Synod Staff completed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment with an external team. These assessments allowed all individuals to develop a greater understanding of the implicit bias they hold and provided everyone a workbook to continue this work throughout the year.

In February of 2022, the Office of the Bishop held a free Bishop’s Convocation to provide continued education and training for Rostered Leaders that addressed topics such as anti-racism, caring for victims of sexual misconduct and harassment, conflict mediation and mandated reporter training.

On March 4, 2022, Bishop Megan shared a blog post stating that the Synod Council and Staff had completed their external review process of the matters that unfolded on December 12th at Misión Latina Luterana. What have you done since receiving that report?

As we previously shared, the Synod sought out an external review team of diverse individuals who are connected to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in a variety of ways. This team spent months identifying recommendations for Synod Council, Synod Staff and Churchwide to implement, named some of the complications that the Synod had with the time of transition between Bishops and Councils, and pointed out ways for us to continue to improve. Many of these recommendations have already been put in place. The report named that the allegations against Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez were serious and did not recommend discipline for any individuals involved with the decisions related to December 12th. A draft of this report was shared with the Office of the Presiding Bishop.

What is a Bishop and how are they elected?

According to the ELCA, “Each synod elects a bishop to oversee the administration of the synod and its staff.” This includes, serving as a Pastor to the synod and overseeing the geographic region, making local decisions when congregations seek advice, and overseeing the credentialing of professional leaders in the area. Bishops are elected to a 6-year term by voting members from congregations at the Synod Assembly. The 65 Bishops of the ELCA work collegially, but honor and respect geographic differences amongst them. As shared by the ELCA, “in addition to synodical responsibilities, the 65 synod bishops join the elected ELCA Presiding Bishop and Secretary to form the Conference of Bishops. This 67-member group gathers at least twice each year for worship and study, mutual sharing and to conduct business.”

What is happening with the Listening Team Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton put together for our Synod?

On March 8th, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton released a public statement sharing that she is “appointing a listening panel of three people to review the interactions of Bishop Megan Rohrer with Misión Latina Luterana, particularly on December 12, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and to make recommendations to me.”

Three individuals traveled to our Synod and spent April 1 and April 2 listening to individuals they selected throughout our Synod. This process is ongoing and as we are not privy to their entire process, we are unsure where they are at as of today. As Bishop Eaton shared, we are expecting to learn more from the Office of the Presiding Bishop in the days to come.

A recent blog post shared information about a lawsuit that Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco, CA and then Pastor Megan Rohrer was involved with. What was this lawsuit about?

The lawsuit was filed by the Childcare Center against the Church, arguing in court that the two were separate entities. The childcare center’s licensing was maintained by the church. The lawsuit was settled with the sale of Grace Evangelical’s church building.

As the church moved online over the past 2 years, church conflict also moved online. It’s quite normal for Pastors to receive letters of complaint from congregants, just as Synods receive public complaints. The Synod remains open to receiving any and all letters and public feedback from individuals.

Why did Pastor Megan Rohrer not disclose this lawsuit publicly, as Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez did, during the Bishop’s election in May of 2021?

When a pastor was pre-nominated for bishop, they submitted a Biographical Information Form, a Disclosure Form for Nominees, and an Authorization and Release for Background Checks and Screening to the Synod Secretary. All background checks for nominees and newly elected officers entail a criminal background check. A financial background check is completed for nominees for treasurer and bishop. The Executive Committee decides whether additional types of background checks are appropriate for each officer position. The background check results are provided to the nominee or elected officer and to the Synod Council’s Executive Committee, which then takes action as deemed appropriate. Further disclosure of the results may be determined by the Executive Committee. Bishop Megan’s disclosure described the suit filed against Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church by the infant care center. The Executive Committee determined that this suit did not require public disclosure since it was not a complaint against (then) Pastor Rohrer, nor was there any charge of pastoral misconduct.

Although informal complaints had previously been brought to the Synod, formal written charges against Nelson Rabbell-Gonzalez were brought to the Office of the Bishop one week prior to the Synod Assembly. As Nelson was a pre-nominated candidate for Bishop, then Bishop Mark Holmerud consulted with the Churchwide Office and was instructed that if Nelson became a top 7 nominee for Bishop in the Sierra Pacific Synod and was given microphone time, he would need to publicly disclose the formal allegations brought forward.

Timing was a major factor in the need for Nelson to disclose these items, as there was not time to fully vet the allegations.

Nelson was notified via a phone call before the Synod Assembly that if he became a top 7 candidate, he would need to disclose four allegations. During his microphone time, Nelson did not follow the procedure he was instructed to follow and he disclosed only 1 of the 4 allegations. Bishop Mark Holmerud disclosed the other 3.

After the Synod Assembly, some of the victims and Pastor Nelson were formally listened to and recommendations were given to Bishop Emeritus Mark Holmerud.

At the December 11, 2021 Synod Council Meeting, a new policy for disclosures during public elections was approved. We invite you to read this new policy here.

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