ABUSE OF POWER IN THE ELCA’S METROPOLITAN CHICAGO SYNOD
The following is an excerpt from the October Letter from the DIrector of Lutheran Core, Dennis Nelson.
In my Summer Letter from the Director I gave a very detailed account of how Bishop Yehiel Curry of the ELCA’s Metropolitan Chicago Synod committed egregious acts of abuse of power, threatening, bullying, and intimidating against a retired pastor rostered in another synod and lay leaders of a congregation in that synod.
As I communicated in my August Letter from the Director, on March 15 I wrote to Ms. Judith Roberts, senior director for ELCA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and co-convenor of a task force for addressing the disciplinary concerns of leaders of color. A press release dated March 10 had told of how her task force had made a presentation to the February 28-March 4 meeting of the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops. I told her about the situation with Bishop Curry and St. Timothy Lutheran Church. I described how leaders who are not people of color had been bullied by a synodical bishop, who is a person of color. A leader of color had been the perpetrator rather than the victim of harassment and discrimination.
The next day she wrote back. She said, “Thank you for sharing your concerns, and we will certainly take them into account. The Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously; if you believe that a synod bishop has engaged in misconduct, please direct that concern to the Presiding Bishop.”
I knew that I could not write to Bishop Eaton right away. I had to wait until after the three sons of the former pastor who had been maintaining the property and providing leadership and stability for the congregation were safely out of the parsonage. When they were safe, I sent an account of the events at St. Timothy to five ELCA leaders – Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton; Imran Siddiqui, vice president of the ELCA; Tracie Bartholomew, chairperson (at the time) of the Conference of Bishops; and the two members of the task force who made the presentation – Judith Roberts and Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod. I never heard from any of them.
After an October 4 news release told about a follow up report from the task force to the September 26-30 meeting of the Conference of Bishops, I again wrote to Ms. Judith Roberts. I told her why I had not written right away and then said, “I never heard from anyone, even though you said that ‘the Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously.’ And now that Bishop Curry has been elected chairperson of the Conference of Bishops, I doubt that there is any chance that I will be heard.”
I then added, “The only conclusion I can come to is this. Even though the ELCA claims to be an organization that pursues justice, it does not wish to hear and will not hear anything other than the preferred narrative. Even though the ELCA says that it wants to reach out to those on the margins, it will not reach out to those whom it has marginalized. Even though the ELCA desires the role of speaking truth to power, it refuses to realize where it is the power that truth needs to be spoken to.”
I concluded, “The October 4 news release said that your task force has ‘considered a process for community healing and grief.’ The ELCA has caused great grief. It does not seem to have any concern or interest in helping to bring about healing. The recent events in the Sierra Pacific Synod give the impression that it is only if enough people are able to create a big enough groundswell for long enough that the ELCA will stop and take notice and deal with where it has caused great grief, pain, offence, and damage.” I then thanked her for hearing my concerns.
I am very glad to be able to share that on October 12 I received a very cordial response from Ms. Roberts. She said again, “Any concerns related to a synod bishop and issues of abuse are to be directed to Bishop Eaton.” Therefore I will write – again – to Bishop Eaton. Stay tuned.