Rev. Nelson Removed from ELCA Rostered Ministry. Now What?

Rev. Nelson Removed from ELCA Rostered Ministry. Now What? February 10, 2022

The phone call came on Monday morning, Feb. 7, 2022.  Bishop Megan Rohrer informed Rev. Nelson Rabell-González that they (Rohrer uses they/them pronouns) recommended that the Sierra Pacific Synod Council remove Rev. Nelson from the rostered ministry of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).  The Synod Council voted as per their recommendation. So Rev. Nelson, a pastor who has faithfully served the church for nearly twenty years, is no longer a minister in the ELCA.

Rev. Nelson Rabell-González

Why was Rev. Nelson removed from the ELCA’s rostered ministry?  How did we get here?

Many first heard about Rev. Nelson’s situation after Bishop Rohrer removed him from his position as mission developer of Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton, Calif., on December 12, 2021. (Read the first post about that here.)  This happened because Rev. Rabell-González has been accused of misconduct as part of a smear campaign in retaliation for his anti-racism work and his tireless efforts to advocate for the Latiné community in the Central Valley.  Despite having evidence to clear his name, the ELCA Churchwide Office has refused to investigate his case.  [Read:  6 Reasons Why Rev. Nelson Rabell-González was Denied Due Process]


It all began with his former congregation, St. Paul Lutheran in Lodi, Calif., wanting him to resign and to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) in exchange for two month’s severance. (Read about the NDA in this post.)   They wanted him to keep quiet about the racism he witnessed and personally experienced in that congregation and community.  However, Rev. Nelson refused to sign the NDA and began serving as a mission developer of Misión Latina Luterana.

But what followed were a series of targeted attacks against his character, culminating in accusations that torpedoed his candidacy for bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod. 

He was forced to disclose these uninvestigated accusations before the entire synod assembly.  (You can watch Rev. Rabell-González’s 5-minute speech here at minute mark 1:16:28.)

Rev. Nelson Rabell, speech for Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly, May 2021

To defend himself against these allegations, Rev. Nelson hired a lawyer, and they asked newly-elected Bishop Rohrer for a full investigation. Instead, Rev. Nelson was required to undergo psychological testing and therapy in order to remain in his position at Misión Latina, relinquishing his HIPAA rights in the process. In a move that clearly demonstrated Bishop Rohrer was not acting in good faith, they directly contacted the therapist and accused Rev. Nelson of “lack of integrity” for posting on social media about the NDA.

Realizing that his position was in jeopardy, Rev. Nelson and his lawyer asked for an investigation by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. 

Bishop Eaton refused to help because she did not want to “interfere” in the synod’s affairs.  The day after Rev. Nelson received this news from the ELCA’s attorney, the Sierra Pacific Synod Council voted to vacate Rev. Nelson’s call at Misión Latina Luterana.

Here’s the thing. The one who accused Rev. Nelson, as well as the son of the senior pastor at St. Paul, are members of the Synod Council

Thus, Rev. Nelson has been found guilty of charges without any due process or opportunity to defend himself.  (Read the full timeline of the saga of Rev. Nelson in this post.)

On Dec. 12, the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe – one of the most sacred days in the Hispanic and Latiné culture – Bishop Rohrer fired Rev. Nelson and took over the worship service of the community. In response, the congregation gathered up the flowers, the statue of the Virgin, and the cross, and marched out of the sanctuary. (You can read this post for the full account of that day and why the Bishop’s actions have done such egregious harm to the Hispanic and Latiné community and their relationship with the ELCA.)

Then on Feb. 5, 2022, the Sierra Pacific Synod Council voted to remove Rev. Nelson from the roster of the ELCA. 

This means that he is barred from ministry in his denomination.  All of this has been done without cause, without transparency, and with intentional violation of his rights.

To be clear, Rev. Nelson has never been accused of, nor has he committed, any crime. 

There has been no formal investigation.  There has been no hearing.  He has been a victim of false allegations, institutional secret-keeping, a racist ecclesial structure, and malicious individuals who have violated the commandment against bearing false witness.  They have forsaken the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to secure their own power.

As it stands, Rev. Nelson’s career, reputation, and ministry have been ruined.  His congregation is shattered.  His family is devastated. All of this is due to the vindictiveness, cowardice, and racism of several individuals who, thus far, have not had to answer for their actions. 

At the same time, targeting Rev. Nelson has served as a convenient distraction from Bishop Rohrer’s own legal troubles.

Bishop Megan Rohrer at Mision Latina Luterana on Dec. 12, 2021.

Rohrer has been embroiled in a lawsuit at their former congregation, Grace Lutheran in San Francisco, a congregation that they recently closed.  (You can read about the lawsuit involving Bishop Rohrer – which they never disclosed in their candidacy for bishop – here.)

But even worse, the ELCA power structure has enabled the cover-up of corruption and is benefiting from institutional racism.  No one is held accountable for abuse of power in the ELCA.  There is no recourse, no chance for appeal, and no avenue for justice in this denomination.

This past year has been a terrifying reminder of what happens to gifted, powerful leaders of color working in white super-majority denominations.

With no job, his savings depleted, and no prospects for a future in ministry in the ELCA, Rev. Nelson needs help.  We are calling on good people to support Rev. Nelson as he works to re-establish his ministry and life while preparing for his next steps.

If you would like to stand with Rev. Nelson Rabell-González, we invite you to contribute to his Legal Defense / Life Expense Fund.

Click here:

Your contribution will go towards the legal costs that will enable the truth to come out and due process to proceed. Our goal is for Rev. Nelson to be exonerated and restored to the roster of Word and Sacrament Ministry of the ELCA and to his congregation.

Rev. Nelson Rabell-González with families and children

The supporters of Rev. Nelson are calling for the following:

  • A full, independent investigation of the charges against Rev. Nelson Rabell-González as well as the actions of the Sierra Pacific Synod, Bishop Megan Rohrer, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and the ELCA Churchwide Office.
  • Reinstate Rev. Nelson Rabell-González as a rostered leader in the ELCA and mission developer of Misión Latina Luterana.
  • Issue a public apology to Rev. Nelson Rabell-González and his family, as well as to the congregation and the Hispanic community at large who have been traumatized by these events.

As Rev. Nelson prepares his next steps, his supporters have set a goal to raise $13,000. $7k will pay for legal fees and $6k will pay for two month’s rent and living expenses.

Click here:

Please give generously — $20, $50, $100 or more — and help this dedicated pastor who has struggled against months of injustice.


Venmo: @Nelson-Rabell

PayPal: @NelsonRabell

CashApp: $NelsonRabell


Make checks out to “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church – Fresno” with “Rabell” in the subject line and mail them to: 2101 N Fruit Ave, Fresno, CA 93705

Thank you for standing in solidarity with Rev. Nelson Rabell-González and his family, the congregation of Misión Latina Luterana, and the Latiné/Hispanic community.

Read the full saga of Rev. Nelson:

Part One: The Removal of Rev. Rabell-González: A Case Study in ELCA Corruption and Racism

Part Two: ELCA Fires Whistleblower, Rev. Nelson Rabell-González

Part Three: The Day an ELCA Synod ‘Disappeared’ Pastor Nelson Rabell-González

Part Four: The NDA, the Church, and the Attempt to Silence Rev. Nelson Rabell-González

Part Five: Why the ELCA Needs to Investigate the Case of Rev. Nelson Rabell-González

Part Six:  Pastor Nelson’s Wife Speaks:  The Year of Pain

Part Eight: 6 Reasons Why Rev. Nelson Rabell-González was Denied Due Process

For a complete compilation of all documents, blogs, commentaries, and posts from all parties about the situation in the Sierra Pacific Synod, visit this website created by Shruti Kulkarni: This website compiles communications relating to the controversy for accountability, clarification, and ease of access.

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is ordained in the ELCA. She does not speak for the ELCA; her opinions are her own.  She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).  Her latest book, co-written with Jerry Sumney is Apocalypse When?: A Guide to Interpreting and Preaching Apocalyptic Texts (Wipf & Stock, 2020).



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