Sierra Pacific Synod Attacks Rev. Nelson – and Indicts Itself

Sierra Pacific Synod Attacks Rev. Nelson – and Indicts Itself February 19, 2022

On Feb. 17, 2022, the Sierra Pacific Synod Council sent out a “Statement Regarding Misión Latina Luterana” in which it doubled down on its accusations against Rev. Nelson Rabell-González.

The timing of that statement was not accidental.

We must wonder why the Council would wait more than two months from the day Rev. Nelson was removed from his position to come out with this statement.  If the information was so important to share, why didn’t they disseminate it sooner?

It’s all about the timing.

Certainly, the statement was designed to disparage Rev. Nelson’s character.  But given the timing, we must wonder if this is intended as a distraction from something else.  Is this simply a giant red herring?  If so, then at first glance, it seems effective.  However, if we apply some basic logic, we can see just how outrageous – and self-incriminating – the statement is.

Many people are wondering about the “documented timeline” the Synod Council laid out in its statement against Rev. Nelson. 

The Sierra Pacific Synod statement contains inflammatory rhetoric, deliberate innuendo, unfounded allegations, and numerous inconsistencies.  Even worse are the numerous violations of the 8th Commandment in the piece.  It may have unleashed a torrent rumors about Rev. Nelson and cast doubts about his innocence.  But upon closer examination, what this statement has inadvertently done is to paint the Sierra Pacific Synod Council and Bishop Megan Rohrer into a corner.

Let’s take each point and break it down with some good old-fashioned reasoning so we can see the fallacies of logic the Council has committed and the way it has indicted itself.

First, the Council claims that the synodical inquiry against Rev. Nelson began in 2019.  Really?  Where is that documented?  Because the first known allegation was communicated to Rev. Nelson by Bishop Holmerud in May 2021, the day before the synod assembly and bishop election.

What did the Sierra Pacific Synod know and when did they know it?

If, in fact, there were allegations against Rev. Nelson beginning in 2019, why didn’t the Synod act on those allegations immediately? And why on earth would they have put him into a call as a mission developer at Misión Luterana in the first place if they knew about accusations?

Don’t miss the self-own here.

If they knew about accusations of “verbal harassment and retaliatory actions” as early as 2019, then either there was some kind of cover-up or . . . these allegations were unsubstantiated and perhaps do not even exist.

Either way, the synod has put itself into a predicament.  They either ignored Rev. Nelson’s actions and allowed him to continue in his supposed harassment for two years creating a trail of “victims” in his wake, or . . . the Synod Council and Rohrer are not telling the truth. Into which corner would they like to paint themselves?

Speaking of the word “victims” . . .

The use of the word “victims” in this letter is a loaded term meant to portray Rev. Nelson as a monster.  But this is going to backfire because it sets up a problematic situation for the synod itself.   IF Rev. Nelson was such a monster, why didn’t they remove him from Misión Latina right away?  If what he did was so bad as to require the “safeguarding” of the Latinx community, why did they wait seven months to do anything?  And as we noted in this post, why didn’t they follow the ELCA Constitutional procedure for disciplining a clergyperson?

If there were 12 victims, why did the Sierra Pacific Synod wait so long to take any action against Rev. Nelson?  One victim is too many.  So, to be accumulating information from 12 of them before taking steps to address the problem?  That is negligence at best, a complicit cover-up at worst.

Look, you can either do right by victims and remove the perpetrator immediately, or you can give him a pass and be complicit with his future victimizing.  You can’t have it both ways.

Again, which corner would they like to paint themselves into?

Ignoring the women of Misión Latina Luterana

The Synod Council statement claims that the advisory panel (not a disciplinary committee, to be clear) listened to 15 individuals.  But as we have repeatedly pointed out, they did not interview the Latina members of Rev. Nelson’s congregation who were themselves victimized by someone at Rev. Nelson’s former church.  He blew the whistle and has had a target on his back ever since – from the NDA, to the allegations, to his removal from his congregation, to his removal from the roster.  And now this hit piece after they have already kicked him out of ministry in the ELCA.  Why this? And why now?

Rev. Nelson Rabell-González

“Compassionate steps”?

The statement claims that Rohrer and the Council “identified compassionate steps to be fulfilled by Rev. Nelson.”  Remember, the “compassionate steps” required him to sign away his HIPAA rights and engage in therapy as a condition for being able to stay in his call.  But Rohrer emailed the therapist accusing Rev. Nelson of “lack of integrity” for posting about the NDA, thus interfering with the process.  That’s bad enough.

But here’s the thing.  Why be “compassionate” with an abuser, if, in fact, that is what Rev. Nelson is?

Rohrer clearly stated in their communications to Rev. Nelson that the therapy was not a statement about the validity of allegations or misconduct.  Yet they also stated that “the panel found multiple areas of misconduct to be founded.”  If that is the case, then either Rohrer gave him a pass, coddled an abuser, and does not truly care about the “victims,” or, in fact, this whole thing is a sham.  You can’t claim to want to “protect the victims” on one hand while allowing the victimizer to continue in their call and just do therapy.  If this is the case, then Rohrer and the Synod Council have some serious explaining to do. Which paint brush would they like for their corner?

8th Commandment violations abound

There are several violations of the 8th Commandment not to bear false witness in this document.

One is that Rohrer “took steps to seek care for those involved.”

This is simply not true. The women who were subjected to misconduct at St. Paul were never interviewed nor did they receive any care.  Also, Rev. Nelson and his family were never offered pastoral accompaniment in this process, as is standard procedure.  They have been on their own throughout this entire ordeal, save for faithful colleagues, friends, and the congregation of Misión Latina.

A second is that on Dec. 9, 2021, Rev. Nelson “informed the bishop that he refused to fulfill the terms of his call.”

That never happened.  If there is documentation, bring it forward.  Because Rev. Nelson has records of all of his communications with Rohrer.  And Holmerud.  And Price.  Rev. Nelson saves everything.

A third is that Nelson “elected to meet in person to discuss the terms of his employment.”

That is not true. When Rohrer said they wanted to meet with Rev. Nelson for breakfast on the morning of Dec. 12, he had no idea what lay in store for him.  He was not informed as to the content of the meeting.  And he has documented exchanges with Rohrer to prove that there was no indication that this was to be a meeting to discuss the terms of his employment.

A fourth is that Misión Latina received care from the synod. 

In fact, it’s just the opposite.  They have been ignored, have been given no pastoral coverage, and have been written off by the synod.  Rohrer and the Synod took away their pastor and scattered the sheep, full stop.

A fifth violation of the 8th Commandment is based on the second footnote in the statement referencing the Social Message on Gender-based Violence. 

The implication is that Rev. Nelson committed gender-based violence.  Nothing of the sort ever happened.  So to quote that passage is spurious at best, a deliberate misdirection at worst.

Finally, we believe the accusations of “verbal harassment and retaliatory actions” are intentional misrepresentations of whatever Rev. Nelson is accused of having said or done. 

Again, he has texts and emails to establish what really happened in those exchanges and what led up to them. (To see the whole sordid timeline, read this piece: Why the ELCA Needs to Investigate the Case of Rev. Nelson Rabell-González).  As the saying goes, he has “the receipts.”

All of this is to say that, aside from the deliberate insinuations and the tactic of poisoning the well, there are fundamental flaws in the logic of the Sierra Pacific Synod Statement.

Sins of omission

One last thing to note about the statement is what it leaves out.  It does not address the action of the Synod Council on Feb. 7, 2022, to remove Rev. Nelson from the roster of the ELCA.  The omission is telling.  On that day, they substituted the ELCA’s disciplinary procedure with a denial of On Leave From Call (OLFC) status that removes Rev. Nelson not only from serving in the Sierra Pacific Synod, but anywhere in the ELCA.  This is a punitive abuse of OLFC decision-making process by Rohrer and the Synod Council.

Here’s the bottom line.


And we must ask why they did not.  If what Rev. Nelson did was so bad, then they needed to do the right thing and remove him from his call immediately — all the way back in 2019, and certainly in May 2021.  They needed to follow Chapter 20 of the ELCA Constitution which outlines the process for Consultation, Discipline, Appeals, and Adjudication.  The should have filed formal charges, put him under investigation, proved his guilt, and removed him from the roster according to the process for disciplining a rostered leader in the ELCA.

To be clear, Rev. Nelson has continually called for himself to be investigated beginning in May 2021. And he continues to call for a full disciplinary process so that the truth can come to light.  His lawyer petitioned ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton on Nov. 23, 2021, to investigate Rohrer’s violation of the ELCA’s governing documents.  But his request was denied. Bishop Eaton said she did not want to “interfere” in the business of a synod.

Where is the protection for pastors when they are attacked — both by a congregation and by a synod?

The fact is, none of this adds up.

And in their attempt to slander Rev. Nelson, the Sierra Pacific Synod and Rohrer have painted themselves into a corner.  This may be an attempt to assassinate Nelson’s character.  But they have, in fact, implicated themselves.

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/Latiné community at large who have been traumatized by these events.

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:

Rev. Nelson Rabell-González with families and children

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.


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

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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