An Open Letter to Bruce Martin (District Superintendent of the EFCA Pacific Northwest District)

An open letter to the EFCA District Superintendent Bruce Martin who leads the Pacific Northwest District. On January 15, 2017 Bruce Martin gave a talk to Olympic Evangelical Free Church in Poulsbo, Washington. This open letter is my response to Bruce’s talk. In this letter I ask why many parts of evangelical Christianity lack love, and  propose ways in how to bring love back into the Christian faith. Plus this blog has one goal in regards to the EFCA, it wants the denomination to learn how to apologize and right wrongs as they have occurred or will occur. 

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Theodore Roosevelt 

“When peoples care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul.

Langston Hughes 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a]in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 NIV 

EFCA’s Bruce Martin

Bruce-

I want to let you know that I listened to the sermon you gave at Olympic Evangelical Free in Poulsbo, Washington twice now. On January 15, 2017 you gave a talk that was based on Ephesians 3:14-21 that was called The (Unexpected) Power of Love. For those who are interested they can listen to your talk right here. This open letter to you will be a response to listening to your sermon.  I have done open letters to other EFCA District Superintendents. For example here is the open letter I have done to EFCA West Superintendent Steve Highfill. In that letter I look at the issue of the growth of Neo-Calvinism in the EFCA and the threats it poses. Since Steve is called the “air traffic controller of EFCA West”  I drew some comparisons between that and the worst airline disaster in American history. In this open letter to EFCA Texas  and Oklahoma Superintendent Bob Rowley I write about why I write this blog, and the time and effort I pour into this project. Another open letter had been penned to Eastern District Superintendent Eddie Cole. In that letter I thanked Eddie for his hard work in trying to resolve a difficult situation in which an EFCA church practiced church discipline on an alleged rape victim who knows she could be dead. Today I am writing this open letter to you, and the next one in the works will be addressed to Jon Payne who leads Forest Lakes District in Wisconsin. 

Bruce in your talk you said that you wanted people to integrate Jesus into their life so that Jesus can be a way of life. If I can Bruce I agree with you in that instance, however, it also needs to be understood that for many people that is going to be a challenge. Many people have a legalistic view of faith anyhow, and believe its how you do x, y, and z. Bruce you talked about how people outside the faith can have the same problems as those on the inside of the faith. That is true however here is the problem. Many people outside the faith can be far more honest about their problems or difficulties in life, than many evangelical Christians can be. You know Bruce I find it deeply refreshing when I get an email from someone in a faith crisis or an atheist who states their mind. They often say things that many Christians can’t come close to saying. Christians cannot open up about marital problems, doubts, family issues, and more. Then on top of that you have ministries like Focus on the Family which pile on guilt and shame through their programs and that makes the situation much worse. There is a lot that I believe Christians can learn from those outside the church, and one of the biggest lessons is honesty. Just being yourself and expressing yourself is something that is so desperately needed in evangelical Christianity. Too many places approach people like a project and have a cookie cutter approach. Think of it like a modern day version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Conformity and not uniqueness is what is celebrated and that Bruce is a damn travesty. 

I want to say Bruce that one of the major problems that exists today is that it can be hard to find love in many parts of evangelical Christianity. Love is few and far and wide and is missing in many parts of the church today. Love has been replaced by politics, fear, the culture wars, or the Neo-Calvinists have redefined it to mean aggressive church discipline. Love quite frankly is absent and its time we had an open discussion on this issue and ask, what happened to love? Jesus was about love, and he called on people to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Then people were to love their neighbor as themselves. But the lack of love is why many people aren’t attracted to the church today. The world and those outside the door see this problem and they address it head on. The world sees through the phony displays of conditional love which can pop up in many places of evangelicalism. Love , when it is mostly found, can also have strings attached. You have to love the same celebrity pastor, or the same church, and you have to think and act alike. Its a major problem Bruce and its time that we talk about and address the situation. The sad truth about this Bruce is that as a writer when I am given the opportunity to meet and hang out with Christians or atheists and skeptics, I find myself drawn to the skeptics at times. 

So how can we bring love back into evangelical Christianity? I think its going to take humility and its going to take a track record of time to show that one’s words mean what they say. These are some ideas that I have going around in my mind as I type this post to you. 

  1. Show incredible compassion and support for domestic abuse victims. Help house and believe them. Walk with them long term and check in on them. 
  2. Go to the gay community and say that the church has screwed up in how they have approached them. Hang out with them, love them and show compassion. Do all this with a no strings attached approach. 
  3. Listen to people of different points of view. Discuss what they say and contemplate it. You may not agree with them, but its not a sin to discuss different points of view. 
  4. As a District Superintendent say I am sorry to people that the EFCA has hurt, or that churches have hurt. Admit error and say that the denomination is in the wrong when it is necessary and appropriate to do so.  There is more that I want to say on this topic below. 
  5. Befriend people of other faiths and cultures. Learn about their culture and what they believe. I am not saying you have to agree but one can learn quite a bit. 
  6. Love people even if they make mistakes. If a person is having a problem with alcohol or opioids maybe show tough love when necessary but don’t abandon and walk away form them. If people make decisions that you disagree with, then love them regardless. 

Bruce I want you and the EFCA to know this one key thing about this blog. This blog was born out of pain and psychological trauma. If you want to read my background I am going to direct you to the following post that I wrote to an EFCA Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin.First Free Church in Onalaska, Wisconsin Wants You to Share Your Story: Here is Mine, From Mormonism to a Brush with Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington and Sovereign Grace.In my darkest night I never got a sincere apology or my situation resolved. It dragged on for years and the spiritual abuse I encountered popped up in my Mom’s hospital room as she was dealing with the illness that eventually took her life. Because of all that I am going to intervene in other situations to bring people the peace and closure that they need. It was the same peace that I was denied. When the EFCA is wrong, or if the EFCA hurts someone or something falls through the cracks then the denomination needs to learn how to apologize and work at saying they are wrong. What does it say for a denomination if they allow situations to drag on long term? Or what does it means if people remain trapped in their own hell that may have been created by a questionable or abusive church or ministry?  The EFCA needs to listen more to scripture in those circumstances and less to their attorneys.  But if the EFCA handles the situation appropriately that will be healthy and good for all parties. It will be good for the wounded party, and the church. In addition the EFCA will also learn that most people just want the denomination to listen to them and hear them out. Most people will forgive if the organization reaches out and says, “we’re sorry, we’re wrong…can we talk this all out and help you move forward.” Does the EFCA realize how many tears of joy which could be shed and how much closure and healing could come about? Then when the EFCA moves forward with its business it can do so with healthy authority and a lot more respect. I am not here to tear down the EFCA, only to make it far more healthier. 

So having said that there is another point I want to make Bruce. In your sermon to Olympic Evangelical Free you had stated that fear is used too often on people. I wholeheartedly agree, after all in many churches you have what I would consider to be walking wounded. People harmed by fundamentalism. People whose lives are imprisoned by fear who can’t figure out a way forward. Fear has created many problems and hurt so many people. Fear does no one anything, other than harm. The evangelical church needs to address that kind of fear and put it to bed. Forever and permanently. God I would think detests fear and if people are being driven to faith in part because of fear, it is but temporary. Temporary in that in the course of time they push back. This is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe that Jonathan Edwards is that great. Teaching out of fear that God is dangling people over the pit of hell is not health or helpful. Yes for some people to say that, is akin to blasphemy. But then again sometimes it needs to be said. 

Bruce you closed out your talk by encouraging people to jump. To take a leap of faith and jump. And that is what this blog has been about in the very end. I took a leap of faith and started to write about issues and topics that I felt so desperately need to be addressed and talked about. From secular humanism to the EFCA and Neo-Calvinism there is much that needs to be done and said. I am drowning in material to write about. But I took a leap of faith and dived into the water. The reality Bruce is that I am someone who has one foot in the church and one foot on the outside. I have seen the dark side of religion and I get religious pain and trauma. That is why I write because quite simply unless you go through something traumatic I don’t think you will get it. But on a regular basis I write about my story and other stories and share what happened with the greater world. I get to interact with many people who are burned out and fried, and they are rightful to have their concerns and reservations. There is so much to write about in the Pacific Northwest EFCA District alone, one could almost have a blog dedicated to the goings on and what is theologically happening. But as I close this open letter to you out there is one thing that needs to change. Evangelical Christians need to learn how to love. Quite often it is absent and missing in many parts of the church today. 

So having written all that I hope you have a good July 4th holiday out in Oregon. I am debating whether or not I should brave the crowds and go onto the National Mall this year in Washington, D.C. I hope this letter gives you something to reflect upon and think about, because this is the intention of this post. 

Until next time Bruce, 

Very Respectfully, 

David Bonner 

One thought on “An Open Letter to Bruce Martin (District Superintendent of the EFCA Pacific Northwest District)

  1. Pingback: An Open Letter to Jon Payne (District Superintendent of the Forest Lakes District on Reflecting on my Life in Wisconsin) | Wondering Eagle

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