Rev. Nelson Rabell-González Legal Defense/Life Expense Fund
Since March of last year, Rev. Nelson Rabell-González has been under incredible professional and spiritual duress. Forced to defend himself against to uninvestigated accusations before his entire synod assembly, continually denied a full and transparent investigation into his case, ejected from his call as pastor to a dynamic Latiné Christian community, and then essentially fired from the ELCA using a questionable procedural move – this year has been a terrifying reminder of what happens to gifted, powerful leaders of color working in white super-majority denominations.
As he prepares his next steps we, his supporters, are asking for all of Pastor Nelson’s supporters to help us raise $13,000. $7k of that is to pay lawyer fees and $6k to pay for two months of rent.
Please give and give generously - $20, $50, $100 and help a dedicated pastor struggling against months of injustice!
OTHER WAYS TO GIVE:
WANT TO MAIL A CHECK?
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
THE FULL STORY
Rev. Nelson Rabell-González was a pastor in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) who was removed from his position as mission developer of Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton, Calif., on December 12, 2021. Rev. Rabell-González has been falsely 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 has refused to investigate his case.
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. Rev. Nelson refused to sign the NDA and began serving as a mission developer of Misión Latina Luterana. However, what followed were a series of targeted attacks against his character, culminating in false accusations that torpedoed his candidacy for bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod.
To defend himself against these allegations, Rev. Nelson hired a lawyer, and they appealed to Bishop Megan Rohrer of the Sierra Pacific Synod asking 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. Bishop Rohrer directly contacted the therapist accusing 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: Rev. Nelson’s accuser, 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 false charges without any due process or opportunity to defend himself. (To read the full timeline of the saga of Rev. Nelson, read 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 has been shattered. 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. They (Bishop Rohrer’s pronouns are they/them) have been accused of financial malfeasance at their former congregation, Grace Lutheran in San Francisco, a congregation that they destroyed and recently closed. (You can read about the lawsuit against Bishop Rohrer [which they never disclosed in their candidacy for bishop] here.)
But even worse, these actions have been enabled by the ELCA power structure that covers up corruption and benefits from institutional racism. No one is held accountable for abuse of power. There is no recourse, no chance for appeal, and no avenue for justice in the ELCA.
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 work life and prepares for his next steps.
If you would like to stand with Rev. Nelson Rabell-González, we invite you to contribute to his Legal Defense Fund. Your contribution will go towards the legal costs that will enable the truth to come out, due process to proceed, and restoration of Rev. Nelson to the roster of the ELCA and to his congregation. We are asking for the following:
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.
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