Synod Council Statement Regarding Misión Latina Luterana

We deeply lament that the Misión Latina Luterana celebration of the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe was disrupted by the removal of their pastor.

We apologize to the community for the grief they suffered.

In our action and timing to protect the known victims and others continuing to come forward, we caused consequences for the Misión Latina Luterana, the Latinx community, our Synod staff, our pastors and deacons, and the greater church.

We humbly ask for forgiveness.

While we lament the timing of our action, we remain united in our decision to vacate the synod call of Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez.

Here is the documented timeline of the process that we are able to share at this time:

2019 to the present: The synodical inquiry process regarding concerns about Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez lasted more than two years with Synod staff receiving continual communications of verbal harassment and retaliatory actions from more than a dozen victims from 2019 to the present.

May 2021: At the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly on May 7, 2021, a public disclosure of four formal allegations was required to be made by Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez because he was a nominee for bishop. He disclosed one allegation, and Bishop Mark Holmerud disclosed the other three.

June 2021: An advisory panel appointed by Bishop Mark Holmerud, representing the geographic and embodied diversity of our Synod, was convened in June 2021. The advisory panel listened to 15 individuals, including Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez, and made recommendations for action to Bishop Holmerud. After multiple consultations and recommendations from the Office of the Bishop (also known as Churchwide) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we identified compassionate steps to be fulfilled by Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez.

July 2021: In July 2021, these steps became part of the terms and requirements of Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez’s Synod Council call. He agreed to those terms. For six months, Bishop Rohrer listened to Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez’s concerns and took steps to seek care for those involved.

December 2021: On December 9, 2021, Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez informed the bishop that he refused to fulfill the terms of his call. [1]

On December 11, 2021 at the regularly scheduled Synod Council meeting, the Synod Council prayerfully and unanimously made the decision to vacate Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez’s call.

After robust consultation with other bishops, Bishop Rohrer was advised that immediate action was prudent. The timing of this decision was deemed necessary by Synod Council as Synod Staff continued to receive communications of concern regarding Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez. The Synod Council believed then and now that it would be irresponsible to postpone our decision until a later meeting for the severity of the situation required immediate action to safeguard the Latinx community.

In conversation with Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez, he elected to meet in person to discuss the terms of his employment on Sunday December 12th, 2021. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez was notified around 8:00 AM that his call was vacated. Following this conversation, Misión Latina Luterana was notified of the end of Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez’s employment with the Synod. Care was offered by Synod Staff to those in the community.

On December 19, 2021, per the recommendation of the Executive Committee, Synod Council and Synod Staff began the process of meeting with an outside organization from an intersectional team for an external review of what we have done and what we have left undone. We expect to share learnings and commitments that come from this accountability process in the spring.

Our actions are rooted in the vision and values of our Synod: “This is the time to speak and to listen, to deeply and honestly know the pain in the body of Christ and throughout the world. This is the time for survivors to speak and to be heard. This is the time to break the silence. This is the time to respond with wisdom and compassion through action and words.” [2]

Our response is unfolding and our hope to create space for healing includes:

  • Caring for those who want support, to include all the people hurt throughout this process, the victims and survivors, the people of Misión Latina Luterana, the Bishop, Bishop’s staff, Synod Council, and Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez, recognizing that the pain regarding this experience is valid and will not be ignored.

  • Continuing to work as a synod on anti-racism, gender, and sexual biases with professional organizations.

  • Stewarding the gifts of intersectionality as we understand this to be the fullest expression of the body of Christ in our world.

We continue to: proclaim the witness and welcome of Jesus Christ; care for congregations and leaders; steward Synod finances; and strive to make justice palpable in our world.

Thank you to everyone who lifted up prayers, concerns, and opportunities for our Synod to be ever-reforming.

Respectfully submitted by the Sierra Pacific Synod Council

[1] From the ELCA constitution: 7.43.01. When the Synod Council or the Church Council, as the calling source, determines that the service or employment no longer fulfills the criteria under which a call was issued, the Synod Council or the Church Council shall vacate the call.

[2] ELCA Social Message on Gender-based Violence, 2015, 16.

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