A personal reflection on Redeemer Arlington. I want to look at some issues in this church based upon my own experience both with Andrew White and the leadership. I also touch on the debate about Sovereign Grace being a cult, or cult like as well as the personality cult which prevails in Neo-Calvinism. Finally this looks at the issue of having “right beliefs” or sound doctrine in the context of not having action to back it up. Remember what James said about faith lacking works.
Image from Wikipedia
“There is a dangerous attitude in Christianity today that says as long as ppl have the “right” beliefs, their actions don’t matter.”
April Kelsey on Twitter
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:14-17 NKJV
**Quick shout out to Tim Wilson. I understand he and his wife are expecting their first child. I imagine when Tim comes back to the Washington, D.C. area he will go back to Redeemer. When Andrew White was evangelizing me he asked me to meet Tim and discuss the issue of pain and suffering. I wrote about that meeting in this post right here. This blog is happy and proud of Tim and wishes him and his wife the best in 2017 and beyond.**
As the year of 2016 starts to wind down I want to do a post about the church that helped give birth to The Wondering Eagle. There is much to say as this post will be about a multitude of situations regarding Redeemer Arlington.
Redeemer Arlington in 2017
In 2016 Redeemer Arlington was written about 38 times. Since this blog launched there have been 87 articles that have been written. While this blog writes about the Evangelical Free Church of America, and Acts 29 there will be many articles that will be coming in 2017 about Redeemer Arlington. These are some of the samples of articles that are on my radar.
- An examination of how 9 Marks is practiced at Redeemer Arlington.
- Biography posts on Redeemer’s leadership Jordan Kauflin, Jon Smith, and Eric Simmons.
- Looking at Union Church in N.E. Washington, D.C. as led by Shaun Cross
- The relationship between Redeemer Arlington to Portico Arlington.
- I am open for any former members wanting to publish their story or experience at Redeemer Arlington.
- Redeemer Arlington this past year joined the New City Network of McLean Bible. I used to be involved in McLean Bible and New City was already on my radar. I have written about McLean Bible here, and New City here. One issue I would like to explore in regards to McLean Bible’s New City Network is if Send DC is primarily planting Neo-Calvinist churches in the D.C. area.
- Listening to a few sermons for critiques and analysis and a few posts. This blog helped break the story of allegations of criminal activity in Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis. I used the sermon technique in doing this post right here.
This blog was born out of tears, trauma, and pain. An Air Force Captain who Jordan Kauflin discipled taught me why rape and sexual assault is a serious issue in the United States military. I still remain stunned that this happened. As I meet with people, interact with pastors, and even atheists a lot of people ask me how did this get started? With each person I have to sit down and explain the story. Nearly each and every person has said, “Dave that makes no sense.” For me its refreshing and healing to hear that because it reminds me that much of this issue lays at the feet of Redeemer Arlington and their culture. What happened to me could happen to anyone and that is the reason why so many posts have been authored. No one from Redeemer Arlington is going to hurt, derail and come close to destroying another person’s life. No one is going to endure spiritual abuse from someone at Redeemer what David Bonner endured.
The reach of this blog is growing quite fast. The stats are going through the roof and the feedback is quite positive. Recently a company in the Midwest asked for permission to use a post I wrote about forgiveness which you can read here. That story of Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge is what I hoped Andrew White and I could do. This is actually one of my most well read posts. I was actually once emailed by Renee Napier who was amazed as to how I wrote about her story. So that is encouraging as to how far this blog has traveled. But as I write I will always point back to Redeemer Arlington and say this was born out of trauma.
Issues in Redeemer Arlington
I had a lot on the line and an attorney once explained to me why the situation with Andrew White needed to be resolved. He pointed out how it threatened my name, employment and future employment and he encouraged me to negotiate with Redeemer Arlington to try and get the situation resolved. There are many issues in Redeemer Arlington, some I saw in my interactions with Andrew White. A couple I saw when I attended two services, and then I noticed some when I was interacting with the leadership after the fact. These are some of the concerns I have that came out of my discussions with Redeemer Arlington
When I first met Jordan Kauflin at Four Sisters Grill in Arlington, Virginia I explained to him that Andrew was trying to get me involved. I explained to Jordan all the issues and what I read abut SGM on SGM Survivors. Jordan said that there are a lot of negative things on the internet about Sovereign Grace and went onto the next topic. What struck me then and while I didn’t want to point this out to Jordan is how quickly he went on to another topic. He didn’t talk about SGM Survivors. He wouldn’t discuss the criminal allegations against Sovereign Grace. He would not talk much about the issues. For me this was disturbing because it confirmed some of what I read on SGM Survivors about how pastors just dismiss what is written online. Trust is built by discussing and explaining and working through the issues. In my case Jordan should have not only known about this situation, but as he has also read this blog he should have read about my experience in Mormonism and how that haunted me and my experience separating from that movement. Jordan would have made a stronger impression with me if he spent about 10 or 15 minutes discussing the issues on SGM Survivors, especially as they pertain to Redeemer Arlington.
Here is the deal, I would suggest that I was invited to Redeemer Arlington by Andrew White maybe about 30 to 40 times. I am not going to list each occasion as I don’t know if I can do that at all. But as I type I can just reflect on all the places, and the many, many times he invited me. I called Sovereign Grace a cult which I later regretted as being too strong. When I was working things out with people and approaching as many people as possible I thought going to Redeemer Arlington for a service or two would have made Andrew happy. And so I offered to do that when I finally turned the corner and then Andrew who at first encouraged me told me to stay away. I am baffled and perplexed as I don’t understand this at all. Eric Simmons or Jordan Kauflin, why would one of your Care Group Leaders pursue someone who was into Christopher Hitchens only to have them come around and then treat them like they are dead? Who operates like that? I have heard and am familiar with Mormon culture where people who leave the LDS faith are sometimes written off or cut off from family. But I have never heard of a situation where a person pursues a militant atheist/agnostic and pleads with them to come to faith only to then turn around and wall them off and treat them like they are dead. Jordan Kauflin you discipled Andrew and his wife Jillian can you explain this to me? I get the weirdest looks when I tell people this situation in restaurants in Pennsylvania, D.C. and elsewhere.
Here is another thought that came into my mind. Is Sovereign Grace the evangelical equivalent of Manchurian Global? Is Sovereign Grace and former SGM churches creating a lot of Raymond Shaws? People indoctrinated to follow the line and programmed to act a certain way? To understand this people at Redeemer Arlington may have to watch The Manchurian Candidate one day.
I am profoundly disappointed that when I was talking with Jordan Kauflin that he did not invite me to church once well over a year ago. I am on the hook with a couple of places today that I need to attend out of a request. But I can’t believe that there wasn’t more effort by Redeemer’s leadership to dispel the issues that led to the conflict between Andrew and myself. How many problems could be solved if people built bridges and talked and walked through conflict? Another deep concern I have is that I am profoundly troubled that an attorney who counseled me had a better understanding of how to solve this problem than the leadership of Redeemer Arlington. All that had to be done at the time was a phone call to negate the false accusation and retract it. I am profoundly concerned that what happened to me courtesy of a Care Group Leader at Redeemer Arlington will happen to another person. I do not want another person to go through the hell, tears, psychological trauma that I was subjected to.
The Issue of Right Doctrine vs. Action
The other day on Twitter, My East Coast Mom was tweeting something that April Kelsey had said. April said the following, “There is a dangerous attitude in Christianity today that says as long as ppl have the “right” beliefs, their actions don’t matter.” All I have to do if look at how a Care Group Leader acted, as well as Jordan Kauflin re-inforced that action to make my point. Here’s what is deeply disturbing about Redeemer. Andrew White told me frequently that he had “sound doctrine.” He spoke about how healthy his faith is and how he was in the healthiest church he ever knew. To be an atheist/agnostic and watch all this was something all together different, I will say that. Andrew talked about John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler and how he was getting “sound teaching.” And yet Andrew White was the only person out of 140 people who spurned, and rejected forgiveness. Consider what a man who had “right doctrine” did in the end. Next consider the fact that he didn’t do a damn thing to clean up his mess that he gave birth to. Like I said up above the attorney who advised me told me what to accept. The attorney also told me that a graduate of the Air Force Academy should have known how to clean this up and what he had to do. Its a part of leadership and responsibility. So somewhere there was a break down in the system…either the Air Force Academy failed to teach about leadership and responsibility, or the United States Air Force (USAF) failed to do so or Redeemer Arlington failed to do so. What made a bad situation worse is what Jordan Kauflin did in subsequent discussions. Andrew broke off the conversation and continued to run. The false accusation will still in effect. However, in the conference call between myself, Jordan Kauflin, and Andrew White Andrew said he was “sorry” but he did nothing to mitigate or resolve what he gave birth to. This was further reinforced by Jordan Kauflin who said that Andrew said he is “sorry.” Jordan let Andrew off the hook while a false accusation was still in effect. That just confirms that while Andrew had the “right” beliefs in the twisted Neo-Calvinist world, he did nothing to resolve it. In the situation Jordan Kauflin ultimately enabled Andrew, and he shut down the discussions by taking that action. As James would say faith without works is dead! Faith without the right action to back it up is an issue and a major problem today. But I shouldn’t have to explain this to either a pastor from Redeemer Arlington or a Care Group Leader who claims how healthy his faith is. Why did an attorney have a better understanding of responsibility and forgiveness in the end of Christianity instead a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary?
The Cult Like Culture of Sovereign Grace
There are a couple of different takes that I have on this section. One is the debate that I saw rage on SGM Survivors as to whether SGM is a cult or not. Then in the Neo-Calvinist movement you have the issue of personality cults. When I was being invited to Redeemer Arlington and I looked into the history and greater organization I was stunned by all the debate about this one issue. Is Sovereign Grace a cult? It stunned me to see that strong, passionate debate online. When Andrew was inviting me to Sovereign Grace I couldn’t believe all that I was seeing. Both online and in my interactions with Andrew. I sometimes ask myself…did I have a front row seat to observing an indoctrination take place? After all I watched Andrew’s demeanor, personality and more change into something that I didn’t recognize. Cults are about conformity and conforming to the organization. I often told Andrew that Redeemer is a cult and part of the reason why I did that is because I saw situations that I have not seen since my days in Mormonism in college. I saw red flags, ominous warnings and more than took my breath away. Yet I felt that I was too harsh to tell Andrew that Redeemer is a cult. When the false accusation came that took aim at my name, employment and more I realized the conflict had gone too far. When I later met with Jordan Kauflin I had told him that I called Redeemer a cult and I asked for forgiveness. I told him that was too far. Yet in the two plus years since all this has transpired here is another thing that troubles me. I had hopes that the situation that I would be wrong. I wanted nothing more than to be wrong. Everything from the false accusation, to how it was handled even to how Redeemer would engage. And yet I am left with a feeling of confusion and with myself wondering was I correct all along? I don’t want to have that feeling at all. But I gave Andrew, and Redeemer so many opportunities to resolve the mess, and it didn’t happen. Plus I don’t know if they understand how willing I was to work with them, and if I saw progress I would have decided to compromise and change some of the goals. But I am left with this absolute feeling of confusion that leaves me deeply perplexed.
There is another issue in Sovereign Grace that I feel needs to be addressed and that is the issue of the personality cult. I have deeply studied history both in college and grad school. I remember in college in Montana I took a Communist and Post-Communist Theory class that looked at Communism from different angles, people and countries. For example I looked at how Lenin defined Communism and how Stalin defined it. In the processed I looked at the Joseph Stalin personality cult, and how that was rebuked by Nikita Khrushchev. Then you had Communism in China which was different, but you had the Mao personality cult. Then in grad school at Marquette University in Milwaukee I studied European history and more about authoritarian movements. I never thought I would say this in my life time. But who would have imagined that all that studying, reading, and more from 1996 until 2003 would later be applied to modern theological movements in the United States? When I first looked at Sovereign Grace and the issues with C.J. Mahaney I saw all the indicators of a personality cult. I told Andrew that C.J. Mahaney is a fraud based off all the information I was reading about him online. Andrew blew, he blew so much that he could not get any work done for a day. For more on the personality cult I would direct you to this post I authored.
When I was in grad school I did a paper on the Dawes Plan which helped stabilize Weimar, Germany in the interwar years. I even did primary source research in the library of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. One thing that struck me is how much Andrew was into Mark Driscoll. He always rationalized the situation with Mark Driscoll. I recall when I read the story of the launch of Paul and Joanna Petry’s Joyful Exiles. When I heard about what Mark Driscoll did with the Mars Hill by-laws in Seattle I had a thought that said, “That sounds similar to how the National Socialists passed the Enabling Act in Germany?” For those of you unaware with German history what had occurred is that the National Socialists used democracy to destroy it. They used the German Parliament to allow Hitler to make all laws without the legislature. I told this to Andrew and he got upset with me comparing Mark Driscoll to Adolf Hitler. That was not what I was aiming at…I was talking about the abuse of power to get people lock step behind them. This happened in 2012 or so and you can imagine my shock when I read what the former director of the Resurgence Mike Anderson wrote “Hello, my name is Mike, and I am a recovering true believer.” In that post Mike Anderson talked about a book called “The True Believer.” In that book which was published in 1951 Eric Hoffer talks about mass movements and how they attract people, cause them to behave the same way, and how movements are interchangeable. To illustrate his case Eric Hoffer draws from the case of Christianity, Communism, Fascism, National Socialism and more. This book by the way was Eisenhower’s personal favorite, so much so that he gave it away as Christmas gifts. But let me ask this question when it comes to my situation…did Andrew White duplicate what Mark Driscoll did in Seattle? Was Andrew illustrating what Mark Hoffer argued? For Mark Driscoll Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were a threat and he had to get rid of them. To get to the desired end any means were justified. Is that what happened with me? Any means by Andrew justified the end? Even if it could have destroyed my name and reputation?
My Hope for Redeemer Arlington
As I close this post out I want to go on the record for what my hopes are for Redeemer Arlington. I have deep concerns based on personal experience with the leadership and a Care Group Leader. While I do not wish them malice I do want them to address these issues so that not another soul goes through what I did. The fruit of the spirit should be joy, love, patiance, gentleness, kindness and self control. That was not the fruit I experienced. In my case the fruit of another person’s actions are tears, psychological pain, PTSD, trauma, darkness and shock. In addition a leader of Redeemer Arlington who was also an Air Force Captain taught me why rape and sexual assault are a problem in the military. It has to do with abuse of authority. I am still stunned that I learned why rape and sexual assault are a problem in the military. I would really like to see this mess redeemed. How I do not know…originally I wanted to work things out with Andrew but what do you do when a person refuses to address the pain they caused? I don’t want another person from Redeemer Arlington or any of its sister churches to cause this kind of pain. That includes Justin Pearson’s Sojourn Fairfax or Jason Conner Portico Arlington. The tears I shed in my bed at 38 I want to redeem. I also want to redeem the psychological trauma so that I can find peace in some way. What makes this so exceptionally cruel is that the author of the pain who id denying me peace refuses to deal with it. That is profoundly disturbing.
I don’t want this post to seem harsh but I don’t want what I endured to happen to another person. I want Redeemer to be healthy , and NOT in sound doctrine but in being responsible, in practicing love and grace. I wouldn’t wish this pain on Eric Simmons, Jordan Kauflin or Andrew White. If Redeemer worked through these issues and addressed them then I would not be opposed to them. In contrast I do not wish them malice or harm. I do not want them to disappear, I want them to fix these issues so that no one else goes through this at all. This blog is going to be very aggressive in writing. Its like that because of the pain I went through. After all aren’t we as Christians supposed to redeem our mistakes and go forward? Why do they have to be wasted? Well that is all I have for the day, please take care. Redeemer Arlington, I love you guys!