What is happening in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?

By Yenny Delgado

When the Christian Church in the United States claims to support the migrant community, what does it mean?  How does it show that it is open to ethnic and ancestral diversity and that everyone is treated equally?  What happens when church members are treated in a patriarchal format, not given complete information, and treated as second-class members at the communal table. These are the questions we are left with after the shocking dismissal of Pastor Rev. Nelson Rabell from his call at “Mision Latina Luterana” in California.

On Sunday, December 12, the Lutheran Church showed the face of white supremacy when Bishop Megan Rohrer and the Synod Council of the Sierra Pacific ELCA decided to remove a Pastor from the congregation without consultation or dialog. That Sunday, the Mission Latina Luterana congregation in Stockton, CA, intended to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe. However, unlike previous Sundays, their beloved Pastor was not present and did not preach. Instead, Reverend Hazel Davison preached a message without providing information or context to the congregation why their Pastor was not current.Earlier that morning, Bishop Megan Rohrer dismissed Rev.Rabell and asked him not to participate in the service. Over 100 women, men, and children who are primarily of Native American ancestry and identify as Latino attended were surprised by the lack of sincerity and respect. After Rev. Davidson finished preaching, the congregation began to ask where Rev. Nelson was and why he was not there.

Rev. Rabell worked committedly with community members to build a Latin Lutheran mission in Stockton, CA.  His ministry and witness have focused on the person’s dignity regardless of sex, ethnicity, immigration status, or sexual orientation. Indeed, he worked to mobilize the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the growing cries for more significant racial equity after the shocking number of George Floyd.

The congregation received no response from Bishop Megan Rohrer and Rev. Hazel Davidson, so the congregation members decided to leave the temple and walk to the migrant’s home, two miles away. Their indignation in walking out echoed the prophetic words of Jesus in Matthew 22:27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They made their way singing and carrying the Virgin, the cross, and the flowers they had placed that Sunday morning in the Altar and decided to make the Altar in “el Camino.” The community of Christ knows that the four walls of a building and pews do not make the church; instead, the inclusive and supportive community of faith is at the heart of the Christian message.

The only official communication from ELCA to date only mentions that “Yesterday was a very difficult day in our synod.  Many of you have heard that the Synod had to inform Mision Latina Lutherana that they no longer had a mission developer.” What do they mean?  The actions and activities reflect a colonial and patriarchal system to remove leadership on the Feast of Guadalupe.

It is lamentable for an organization not to provide transparency and honesty with its members and dismiss staff right before the most important holidays.  A video of the service from Sunday, December 12, is available online here; at minute 33, you can hear the members’ requests for answers and decide to go outside in support of Rev.Nelson Rabell.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This exhortation from the epistle of Galatians is the clarion call for the Christian church in terms of overcoming its history of outright discrimination, white supremacy, and hate. Unfortunately, even in 2021, the idea that we are all one family in Christ Jesus is equal does not hold based on the recent news. What is happening at Sierra Pacific Synod Council of ELCA, and why are migrant and many native populations treated as second-class citizens in the Body of Christ?


Yenny Delgado (she/her/ Ella) Psychologist and theologian. She writes about the intersections between ancestral memory, politics, and public faith. Twitter @Publicayenny

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