Allegations of racism are at the heart of the sudden resignation of trans Lutheran Bishop the Reverend Dr. Megan Rohrer, but court documents also reveal allegations of corruption tied to a now-closed San Francisco church that they once led.
The catalyst for Rohrer’s resignation as bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was their firing of a Latino pastor at a church in the Central Valley last December. But documents and court records show Rohrer’s brief tenure was marked by controversy, with some incidents, such as the closure of their former church in San Francisco amid alleged financial misdeeds, taking place before their history-making turn as the first trans bishop of ELCA, the country’s largest Lutheran denomination.
Rohrer resigned June 4, at the request of Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of ELCA. The move occurred a little more than a year into Rohrer’s six-year term.
“After listening to the important and prayerful conversation at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly, I spent some time with my family and then had a conversation with the Synod Council,” Rohrer tweeted June 6. “I resigned from the office of Bishop, effective around 4pm on June 4th.”
Eaton’s request came after the council of the Sierra Pacific Synod — which includes nearly 200 congregations in northern and central California, and northern Nevada — voted by 57% to remove Rhorer as bishop. That vote, however, was shy of the necessary two-thirds majority needed.
The presiding bishop announced on May 27 she had requested Rohrer’s resignation.
According to a statement published by the Sierra Pacific Synod on its website, actions to dismiss Rohrer by Eaton were already in play.
“On Sunday, June 5, negotiations of the separation agreement continued and per our agreement, the resignation letter was not released,” the statement began. “At 6:00 p.m. PT, the Conference of Bishops gathered via Zoom as Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton shared ‘that she is initiating the discipline process immediately, including suspension of Bishop Rohrer, based on new information that has come to light that is beyond the scope of the Listening Team report.'”
Rohrer’s run as bishop was controversial. While their election was hailed as a milestone and celebrated at their formal installation in September 2021 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the bishop had already run into problems at their first church appointment a few years earlier. (Rohrer also served in a volunteer capacity as chaplain for the San Francisco Police Department from 2017 until they were named bishop.)
SF church closes
In 2014, Rohrer was hired as minister — their first assignment — for Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, a small congregation in San Francisco’s Sunset district. The congregation had been dwindling in size for a while by that point, and Rohrer was hired at a salary more than twice that of the previous pastor, according to a civil lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court in December 2018.
The church was also home to Grace Infant Care Center, or GICC, a secular child care service that had been renting space from the church since 1983. Brenda Moore, a member of the GICC board as well as Grace church, and other GICC board members filed the lawsuit. Efforts by the Bay Area Reporter to reach Moore for comment were unsuccessful.
As the church’s membership and finances continued to dwindle, Rohrer apparently viewed the daycare as a source of income to help meet their salary which, at the time of hire, had been deemed beyond the resources of the church, the complaint states.
Hired at $90,000 per year with an additional housing allowance, Rohrer was responsible for supplying $40,000 of their salary through means outside the church. At that time, the congregation had a little more than half a million dollars in available funds, most of which “was residue from a bequest of real estate that had been liquidated,” according to court documents.
Rohrer “failed to meet that commitment last year since and has breached her contract,” the court filing states. Consequently, Rohrer’s salary drained the bequest.
“From the date of defendant Rohrer’s hiring through 2017, the church has run over budget at least $308,000, mostly as a result of her salary,” court documents state, using incorrect pronouns for Rohrer. “The church has, as of June 13, 2018, approximately $275,000 in available cash, the vast majority of which is in its reserves left from the bequest. According to defendants, the church currently has only 15 members according to their June 2018 roster.”
In October 2017, according to court documents, Rohrer suggested the infant care center move its payroll to the company ADP.
“Unknown to plaintiffs,” the documents state, “the church placed its payroll in the same common account with ADP and used GICC funds to pay defendant Rohrer’s salary. The church did not have enough funds to pay the church payroll and Rohrer used GICC funds to cover her [sic] salary. When the GICC board learned of these events after two months, it terminated ADP as the payroll processor and denied Rohrer access to the bank accounts.”
At the time the court case was filed, plaintiffs told the court, “In its present condition, the church will be out of funds to pay defendant Rohrer’s salary by the end of 2019. The congregation made a decision to close the church once the account falls to $200,000, which is anticipated to occur by the end of 2019.”
Through various schemes detailed in the lawsuit, Rohrer attempted to seize control of GICC’s assets, doing so successfully in one instance and, in another, by attempting to bring in a new daycare center, which would have had a larger number of children and paid a larger amount of rent to the church. This, according to the lawsuit, was in violation of the contract GICC had with the church.
Other charges against Rohrer detailed in the suit include stacking the church’s board of directors, including the appointment of their wife to the board, not providing notice of meetings to members, thereby depriving some of the opportunity to participate in decision making, and appointing unqualified supporters to the board. Rohrer also attempted to have their two children, ages 4 and 5 at the time, placed on the voting roster of the church which, by then, was down to 22 members.
Eventually, in February 2021, the case was settled, with both parties agreeing to sell the church property and divide up the proceeds.
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church closed in January 2022. Its members were asked to sign non-disclosure statements, according to the Reverend Leah Schade, a seminary professor and ELCA minister in Lexington, Kentucky, who has written about the Rohrer controversies on her Eco Preacher blog at Patheos, a website addressing religion and matters of faith. According to the website for GICC, the infant care center is planning to move to a new location. Its phone, however, has been disconnected.
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