An Open Letter to Zach (Campus Crusade Student Leader UW – Milwaukee 2002-2004)

This is an open letter to Zach. I found his picture while digging through my closet and it flooded my mind with memories. Zach is one of the many people burned and fried by modern evangelicalism’s culture who is no longer involved today. This is an open letter from one person in pain from fundamentalism to another person who once was a dear close friend. I miss him deeply.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not about something you learn in school, but if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

Mohammed Ali

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.”

William Shakespeare

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another

Romans 12:10 NKJV

Background information: Zach is from a small Wisconsin town outside Milwaukee called West Bend. I knew him well from 2000 until 2009. Zach was a student leader of Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee from 2001 until 2003 I believe. If there is one thing distinct about him, it is his laugh. This is an open letter to a old friend who I miss , love and I hope to hear from again one day.

 

Zach

I was working on this post for this blog when I stumbled across a pile of pictures in the closet in my entry way. I was looking for a picture from my baptism at Fresno Evangelical Free Church years ago and as I was going through them I found your picture. I stopped and it took me back and overwhelmed me with memories. I sat down on the couch and held it for a number of minutes just looking at it. I think I sat there for about 20 minutes and just reflected on you. Your picture showed you in a suit, and it was taken at Kyle’s wedding in 2007. It has your infamous grin, and smile sitting at a table. When I looked at the picture it flooded me with memories and stories. That picture was a time when things were different. It was before I realized how destructive fundamentalism can be, and before I even knew religion could be spiritually abusive. I still have your picture out on my coffee table, as I haven’t had the strength to put it away.

I still remember the first time I met you. It was at a Campus Crusade for Christ retreat in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2001 if my memory serves me right. I remember just speaking with you as we were walking and you were telling me how you were thinking of going to the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Do you remember that retreat? I still do… I remember tipping and capsizing the canoe in a river off the Mississippi. I did that intentionally to get Kendra Jordanby wet. Okay it took me 15 years to confess that deed but yes there was a motive! It was all fine and fun until I realized that my Honda Accord key chain getting soaked prevented me from turning off the car alarm. I can’t remember how that was resolved. In 2001 something changed and you instead went to the University of Wisconsin  – Milwaukee. I was helping to plant to Crusade chapter at Marquette University and I got to know a few of the people from Crusade at UWM. People like Greg Marshall, Joe Blow, Jason Norum, Kyle Nelson and a few other guys. We got to know each other well in the course of time. We hung out quite a bit.  Remember that? The late night breakfasts at Ma Fischers on the East Side of Milwaukee? Or Alterra  Coffee (now Colectivo Coffee) on Lincoln Memorial Drive in Milwaukee? You worked at a lot of places but you had a long run at one of the Olive Gardens in Milwaukee. We both went to Campus Crusade’s Christmas Conference in Minneapolis, called TCX in 2001, and 2002. We had many phone conservations and stayed closed during this time. I recall after graduating from Marquette how you helped me move a large piece of furniture into my apartment in West Allis . Its amazing that neither one of us broke our back in the process! 😛

You grew up in a Baptist church in West Bend if I remember correctly. During this time of 2003 to 2005 when we had conservations I started to get deeply into John Piper. In the course of time if would be a major mistake as you can read in this post right here. In contrast you were telling me how you wanted to move from Milwaukee to Seattle to get involved in Mars Hill. You liked Mark Driscoll and as a Baptist you found him refreshing especially as he was not “legalistic” on language, alcohol, or other areas. We both were under the Kool-Aid in our respective ways. One thing that also happened in this time is that we started to do “accountability” which was submission to each other in sexual purity. In the course of time we both got burned by that as well. My confession came back to bite me in the ass with a couple of other people. In the course of time it backfired. Our accountability happened from 2002 until about 2009. In the end it tainted and harmed our friendship. I honestly wish we had never done this Zach. One of the major problems with evangelical Christianity is the obsession with sexual purity, and questionable use of authority. I keep hearing about accountability, accountability, accountability and it turns my stomach and makes me feel sick today. What makes it even more difficult to stomach is when you know of ministries or organizations that emphasize purity and accountability when their leaders are exempt from accountability, or these organizations have covered up child sex abuse or other nefarious activities. You can’t preach about faith and simultaneously cover up the sexual assault of a child. Today in reflecting back I have a deep amount of sympathy for you Zach. I think the purity culture we both were in came back and bit us both. We were in a culture that punished honesty. If you confessed having sex with your girlfriend the system came down on you like a pile of bricks. So you have to lie, you have to present a façade of dishonesty. This is still a major issue in evangelicalism and its part of the reason why I am toward the edge. I don’t understand this obsession with purity. I really don’t in the end it harms people. I will tell you a little bit later Zach, but I knew an Air Force Captain who was obsessed with sexual purity. He asked me to change the password on his computer to stay away from porn and then shortly afterward gave birth to a false accusation that could have destroyed my life. So the pornography was the greater sin, but the false accusation that could destroy someone’s employment and reputation is not sin. Go figure! But there is another aspect that I think hurt you during this time as well Zach. As guys we were often on the receiving end of a harsh sexual purity culture. Guys who made mistakes were often turned away by females. Many females were taught to look for “Mr. Perfect” someone who in reality really didn’t exist. I know you dated a few times and you were frustrated with some of the females either walking away or disengaging. You were not the only one, as many guys were hit incredibly hard.

Before my faith crisis happened I saw you in Washington, D.C., both you and Bryan Kelly. I want to say it was in 2006. You crashed at my place Zach, I still remember seeing you in the apartment complex and hugging you with joy. If I recall I almost squeezed out your liver! 😛 The few days you were here were good. Then in 2007 I traveled to Milwaukee for a wedding and crashed at your place. It was neat to see you. The last thing we did was do the Miller Brewery Tour and downed some beer. That would be the last time I would see you. Starting in 2008 and accelerating in 2009 I had this deep and profound faith crisis. I wrote what it felt like in these two posts for you to read.  I told you I was an agnostic in a Facebook chat and I confronted you on the accountability. I asked you why you were dishonest. I remember that just blew up into one of the most animated Facebook chats I ever had. I was angry, partially at you but I was full of rage at evangelical Christianity. It was during this time that you opened up about things that had happened in your family and we had a brief reconciliation and a long phone call.  We talked about a lot of things the biggest is when your brother came out as gay. Your family was Baptist and your parents were afraid of how the church would come down on them. Plus if I remember correctly your brother who was involved in Cru at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities also attended John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist. That must have been quite an experience to go through. I recall you telling me when you listened to all the discrimination, hatred and pain your brother went through you cried hard in your pillow for an hour. It was a difficult situation in your family. I will have more to say on this down below but I want to keep on track with the story. I still dealt with incredible anger and it was during this time I hammered you, I put this George Carlin act on your Facebook page. It was the same George Carlin act where he talks about how religion is bullshit. In my faith crisis I had become consumed with people like William Lobdell and graduated into the hard core material of people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I think that was the last you heard from me. But if I can let me tell you what happened afterwards.

For the next 5 plus years I raged in a faith crisis that had consumed me. Christianity during this time I realized was a lie, and a scourge on the planet. Its why I liked Hitch so much as he pushed back so hard against Christianity. It was during this time that I proclaimed myself agnostic when in reality I was more of a militant atheist. I explored atheism, went and participated in the largest event in United States history. It was called the Reason Rally in 2012. I also had befriended an Air Force Captain who was involved in a fundamentalist movement called Sovereign Grace, specifically Redeemer Arlington. Many people called the movement a cult. We clashed and fought and then the unthinkable happened as I was coming out of a faith crisis. Andrew gave birth to a false accusation that took aim at my name, job, reputation and future employment. He did this at work and used his Air Force Captain position to pull it off. I learned Zach why rape and sexual assault is a problem in the military. Its not about sex as rape is about power and in institutions that are insular like the United States military that stresses order and authority and lack any kind of outside supervision, rape is always going to be a problem in the military culture. That sadly, is just how its going to be. It was the darkest season of my life Zach, I don’t know how I got through it. This blog was born out of that trauma and its that pain that drives it still today. Its why I write about fundamentalism and wage war against corrupt churches and organizations. Its why I have taken on an issue in Pennsylvania with a deeply corrupt Evangelical Free Church. This blog from my understanding has the attention of the Evangelical Free denomination and I plan to write profusely and more. Its why I like to write about atheism and secularism. Many Christians don’t understand atheists and secularists, as they are too caught up in the bubble.

In the course of time I eventually came back to Christianity yet I have to tell you, I still feel like an outsider. The church I got baptized in I eventually left after I ran into deep issues there. Today I struggle with church and the culture. I am nervous and anxious about the modern church. I also have reached out and gotten to know many atheists, secular humanists and I have to tell you this. I love them. I love them because in reality many of them are nicer and more pleasant than many Christians. In an evangelical culture that suppresses honesty it can be refreshing to hear an atheist say “I don’t believe in God” and be themselves. I will have a different take but I love the honesty! Its beautiful! In regards to what your brother endured in being gay let me tell you my thinking has changed dramatically in that area. I am not opposed and even support civil gay marriage. Its really sad that many Christians cannot tell the difference between religious and state marriage. It angers me today as to how your brother was treated. I know someone out here that joined the military in an effort to cure himself of being gay. When I read his coming out note and saw all the garbage he went through especially by Christians I was enraged. Christians really need to seek forgiveness for how they have treated the gay community.

I want to tell you that I had hoped to see you at Joe Blow’s wedding in Milwaukee in December of 2014. That was not meant to be. I learned there that many people are asking about you. I heard you married someone who is an atheist down in Costa Rica (?) and that you are living in Chicago today. Many people wonder about you. Joe Blow was out here in Washington, D.C. recently and he was wondering about you. He told me in a Panera in Reston, Virginia that he encountered something that reminded him of you. Having said all that let me spend the rest of this time telling you how I feel about you today.

I want you to know Zach that I love you. I think we were both harmed and burned by religion. I want you to know that I love you deeply and that my love has no strings attached. My love is not based upon you being a Christian or not. Its not based upon anything other than a deep love for a long friendship I had with someone in Milwaukee. I don’t care if you come back to Christianity its important that you know that I have no strings attached. When I say I love you, its exactly that; I love you for who you are. As I am writing this now I have memories that are flooding my head and I can still hear your distinct laugh. You were jokingly called “Chuckles” and I can still hear that laugh even today. I hope I will hear that again from you one day. Where ever you are in life I want you to know that I will always be there for you. If you need a friend I will always be there for you. If you need help out of a tight spot I will do that also. I care for you deeply and I think of you from time to time. I am a loyal friend and I will always be loyal to you. This post came about due to that picture of you I stumbled upon last weekend. I hope one day in the future I will get a phone call out of no where, a text message out of the blue saying “Dave how are you can we talk sometime?” or an email. If that happens I will weep with joy like you could not possibly know. I would love to hear how your life, marriage and all that is going. I am always open to hearing from you and I hope I do hear from you at one point in life. Again I want you to know that you are loved. You were a great and loving friend when I called Milwaukee home. I hope we can be friends again one day Zach. Its my hope that that this letter finds its why into your hands. In closing this I will leave you with some Katy Perry.

Zach I love you, I don’t know how else to say it.

Very Respectfully,

David Bonner

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Zach (Campus Crusade Student Leader UW – Milwaukee 2002-2004)

  1. David, you are becoming a profound writer. I see less accusations, more focus, more data, and especially more humanity. I am watching with amazement. Keep up the great work and may your paths with Zach meet again…

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