An Open Letter to Don Coleman (Lead Pastor of East End Fellowship in Richmond on Giving People a Refuge Who are Allegedly Abused by Remnant)

An open letter to the pastor of East End Fellowship Don Coleman about what I appreciate from his church. Richmond has a problem on its hands in the form of Bryan Laughlin’s Remnant Church. East End is taking refugees from Acts 29. Its my hope that Don Coleman will continue to serve those who show up broken, crushed and theologically battered. 

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”     

Herman Melville

“East End Fellowship is a multi-ethnic, economically diverse Christian church in the east end of Richmond, seeking God’s joy and justice for our neighborhoods. We meet for a worship service each Sunday at 4pm at the Robinson Theatre, as well as have weekly Missional Communities that meet on various weeknights throughout the week.”

Hoe East End Fellowship describes itself. 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9 NIV 

***Background: Don Coleman is the co-pastor of East End Fellowship in Richmond. Don grew up in a foster home in the East End of Richmond. He also does over sight for the Church of the Nations in Richmond. Don lives and works in the inner city. He is committed to helping racial healing and he lives in the area that he works in. Don is running for 7th District School Board Representative.  As The Wondering Eagle continues to tackle the issues at Bryan Laughlin’s Remnant I wanted to take a step back and write an open letter to the Pastor of East End Fellowship. Don is one of the good guys. That needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.***

Don Coleman preaching

Dear Don-

I want to take some time on this Sunday evening and write you an open letter and say kudos for the job you have done. This blog, The Wondering Eagle writes about atheism, doubt, Neo-Calvinism, and the Evangelical Free Church of America. In the past few months I was approached and started to hear about a challenging situation in a nearby Acts 29 church called Remnant which I have been writing about. You can read about it in, “The Disturbing and Cult-Like Behavior of Acts 29 Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia is Adversely Affecting Lives.”  Remnant is led by Bryan Laughlin. I heard about the challenges and issues in that organization and I set out to read, investigate and find out more about the problems at hand. As I was looking into Remnant I had also heard that people that wash out from there end up at your church East End Fellowship. I also heard that a number of females from Matthew’s Table (which also was Acts 29) ended up at East End Fellowship. I was intrigued and wanted to check it out. On October 8, 2017 I  attended Remnant in the morning and that evening I attended East End Fellowship and sat through your service. The differences between the two could not be more striking. Remnant felt dead, legalistic, controlling and dark. God did it feel dark. Much of Neo-Calvinism is, its how the theology functions. In contrast East End felt freeing, lively, liberating and healthy. There were two things I observed about East End that I did see at Remnant. One is the diversity. East End is multi-ethnic. I would estimate that about 50% of those in attendance were black. At Remnant I could count all the black people on one hand. Remnant really had no diversity at all. The other thing I noticed is that there appeared to be more women at East End. Remnant was more male centered and patriarchal. Over all I was impressed by what I witnessed at East End. I saw something that felt lively, warm and inviting. On the day I attended it also was your birthday. That was one of the first times that I saw a pastor bring so many cupcakes for the church. And I have been involved in many different churches in California, Wisconsin and the D.C. area. 

You know Don this blog was born out of pain and psychological trauma. It was born out of an incident from an Acts 29 church in the Washington, D.C. area called Redeemer Arlington. It was formerly a church plant in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries. In writing this blog it has taken me up and down the East Coast – from New Jersey to the Carolinas. And even when I was visiting friends in Kansas or California it still kept me busy. This blog has no shortage of issues to write about. I have written about some dark stuff. That includes voyeurism, and allegations of child pornography manufactured in an Acts 29 church in Memphis, Tennessee which you can read about in, “The Sordid Tale of Rick Trotter, Bryan Loritts, John Bryson and Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis and Downtown Presbyterian Church.” It also includes a senior pastor in Pennsylvania who practiced church discipline on his former daughter-in-law who filed for divorce after her former husband (the senior pastor’s son) allegedly pointed a loaded gun at his wife and allegedly raped her while drunk. That can be read in, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.” In writing this blog I have learned some dark stories, and I still am trying to find a way forward in my own mess. I say all that because I want to say the following. For the dark pastors and those who are corrupt, the other pastors shine and come through beautifully. Its like a burst of sunlight through a dark cloud.  And that is what I see in yourself and its what I have heard. In your case Don, I hear a story of a pastor who has taken in people broken, hurting, and fried by Acts 29. I have heard that you take people in with no conditions and let them come as they are. You and other pastors in the Richmond area are aware of the problems coming out of Remnant and you deal with the people as they come. At some point Remnant I hope will close its doors forever. In some of these churches they experience a long, painful bleed of members that happens over course of time. A church won’t fail in a day, it happens over the course of time. Part of the reason why Remnant is being written about is to study these issues in the context of Acts 29, and also document the problems so that others contemplating a church will find posts about it and stay away from Remnant.

The posts I have written are being read inside Remnant. I have no doubt about that and indications in other churches I have written about are being duplicated here. Part of the reason why I am writing this open letter to you is to say that I am grateful you are a pastor. I appreciate your heart Don. But as people spill out of Remnant or even Redemption Hill in Richmond I want to point them in your direction so that they can find you. What impresses me about you Don is how you respond, engage and show love. What also amazes me is that you have deep compassion and empathy. I know you went through a dark period in your life when you were younger at a questionable church. Maybe that is what is one your mind when people from Bryan Laughlin’s church show up on your door step. So I write all this to encourage people from Remnant and Redemption Hill who are in pain and stuck to come over to East End Fellowship. 

As I continue to write about Remnant sometime in the near future I am going to visit Remnant and try and speak with Bryan Laughlin, Josh Soto and Doug Ponder. The issues hemorrhaging out of their church needs to be addressed. You guys have a problem on your hands in Richmond. The churches in the area need to figure out a way to deal with Remnant and confront Bryan on how he is doing “church.” In the meantime when I head down to Richmond again I will come by East End Fellowship and observe you guys for a second time. For the difficult churches, and the cults or cult-like organizations I write about, writing about East End Fellowship gives me great joy. I wish I could focus exclusively on positive stories like yours. I would much rather be positive and not negative, but I also have to deal with the reality of the situation. The fact that you created a church that is multi-ethnic is impressive. Churches tend to be the most segregated organizations that I have encountered. They are largely all white or all black. Very rarely have I seen a church that is about 50/50. Yet you have done it, and you are breaking down walls and tearing down barriers. That is amazing and you deserve to be recognized for your work in that area. Especially when you consider the racial history of Virginia as well as its past in the Confederacy. Racism haunts this state of Virginia. So sometime in the next few weeks I will head down there and I look forward to shaking your hand and seeing your grin. 

Keep loving, serving and helping the church in Richmond. At the risk of being repetitive my one hope is that if you and other pastors can formulate a plan to deal with Remnant. Remnant avoids you and other churches in the Richmond area. Its my understanding that all they interact with are the other Acts 29 churches that are local. They live in a bubble and avoid many people who do not think or act like them. That is why Neo-Calvinism can be cult like. Don as I bring this letter to a close I want to say well done. Keep it up. Keep carrying on and running the race that Paul wrote about in Timothy. As the situation with Remnant deteriorates with time please come alongside those hemorrhaging from the organization. You are loved brother!

Very Respectfully, 

David Bonner