The Lutherans, or at least those in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)—the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States—have come a long way from Luther’s declaration that “We need to hear the Gospel every day because we forget it every day.” Frankly, with leaders like Rev. Megan Rohrer, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson, and Rev. Dawn Roginski, one wonders if Lutherans in the pews ever hear the Gospel.
Their bizarre story, a confluence of the very best (or worst) of woke tropes, elicited national news coverage when senior ELCA leadership issued an apology at the denomination’s Churchwide Assembly, a triennial meeting held in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month.
The whole sordid affair began in May 2021, when Rohrer was elected bishop of the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod, becoming the first transgender bishop of a Protestant mainline denomination. Eaton, then ELCA Presiding Bishop, was particularly ecstatic over the installation of Rohrer, who uses they/them pronouns, as an opportunity to foreground “marginalized” persons. “What this means for the whole denomination, I believe, is that when we say, ‘All are welcome, and there’s a place for you here,’ we mean this,” announced Eaton.
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Yet, celebrations were short-lived. Three months into office, Rohrer appeared at a service in Stockton, California, for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “a sacred and culturally significant day for many Latino Christians,” according to the Washington Post. The pastor of the Latino congregation, Rev. Nelson Rabell-González, was not in attendance, and the service was led instead by the Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson, the Sierra Pacific Synod’s Assistant to the Bishop for Authentic Diversity, Inclusive Community, and Service. When the congregation became visibly upset by Rabell-González’s absence, Rohrer stood up and informed participants that Rohrer had removed Rabell-González from his position that morning due to harassment allegations.
Salazar-Davidson said she warned Rohrer of the “cultural implications” of removing Rabell-González on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but Rohrer refused to budge. “This was devastating,” Salazar-Davidson told Religion News Service. “I was not heard. Our culture was not heard. Our ancestors were not heard. The people and the culture did not matter.” She also claimed that she was diagnosed with PTSD after the incident. A Latino organization within the ELCA issued a statement bemoaning “systemic racism” in the denomination and stating that the firing evinced “a lack of empathy and understanding toward their Latinx siblings.”
That was then followed by a decision by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which “organizes queer ministry leaders in the ELCA” to suspend Rohrer’s membership. Eaton organized a “three-member listening team” to formally investigate the affair, which then resulted in her decision to request Rohrer’s resignation in May of this year. “As much as Bishop Megan has done for LGBTQ inclusion, that effort has not translated to the Latiné community,” said ELCA pastor Dawn Roginski. “We need to be inclusive of all people as a synod.” Rohrer resigned as bishop in June 2022 and is now in Israel, “learning about peacemaking efforts” and “supporting Israeli LGBTQ individuals.”
There are many, many remarkable things about this entire episode. One could cite the incredible one-upmanship of the oppression olympics in the ELCA, in which transgender persons compete with Latinos (Latinx? Latiné? LatinQ?) for who secures the award of “most victimized.” One could cite the fact ELCA bishops apparently employ full-time diversity and inclusion staff, or the existence of a Lutheran “listening team,” which is the kind of nightmare only an HR Department could conjure up. Or one could cite the fact that a Lutheran church is celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was responsible for the conversion of millions of Aztecs to the Catholic Faith.
That last one demonstrates how dramatically far the ELCA has departed from anything resembling its historical identity as a creedal Protestant denomination. Martin Luther, readers may remember, had a few, shall we say, quarrels with the Catholic Church. Those quarrels were serious enough in theological gravity that if he knew a congregation using his name was celebrating a Catholic feast day honoring the very successful Catholic evangelism of Mexico—which happened while he was alive in Germany—the notoriously intemperate German theologian might crawl out of his grave and strangle Bishop Eaton until she turned purple. Then again, it’s obvious the ELCA is not really interested in the Gospel, be it Lutheran or Catholic.
For what’s most alarming about this whole outlandish incident is that diversity and inclusion seem to have completely replaced the Gospel as the raison d’être of the church. The ELCA does not exist to catechize the faithful in the teachings of holy Scripture, evangelize the godless, and save men’s souls as Luther would have wanted. Instead, they exist to promote the ideological objectives of the progressive Left. And those ideological objectives are indistinguishable from those of the very secular academy, legacy media, and the entertainment industry: namely, foreground race, sex, and gender, while laboring to reshape or destroy all institutions and beliefs that stand in the way of the therapeutic, narcissistic, self-celebratory identity and aims of woke religion.
You can see that in comments like this one from Salazar-Davidson: “The church has apologized in the past.… It has made statements responding to Indigenous racism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, and others. But what good are the statements if no quality action follows?” That is what the ELCA is now about: apologizing for its past evangelism and catechesis, and identifying and dismantling whatever power structures enable white supremacy and heteronormativity. Even if people like Salazar-Davidson have not secured all their aspirational ideological victories, it’s only a matter of time before the ELCA is synonymous with Oberlin.
Why should this matter for Catholics? Because Lutherans (and other Protestants) are not the only ones who have been tempted by the lies of victimhood and identitarianism, where what matters is not reconciling, via grace, your fallen soul with the one, holy, and eternal God but, rather, how faithfully you align with the 2022 variety of radical chic. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, there are already many Catholic parishes that are also indistinguishable from secular, leftist-dominated elite institutions. And per the recent controversy at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, even Catholic academic institutions with strong reputations have succumbed to the gospel of diversity and inclusion for the sake of wealth or prestige.
Catholic parishes (and other institutions) take note: our foremost mission must remain the Gospel and ensuring everything else conforms to it. Luther, for his many theological errors, at least understood that.
[Image: Rev. Megan Rohrer (left) and Rev. Nelson Rabell-González (right)]