Sharing Thoughts on Montana, Evangelicalism, and the EFCA in an Open Letter to Lee Kisman (EFCA District Superintendent of the Northern Mountain District

This is an open letter to Lee Kisman who leads the EFCA’s Northern Mountain District. In this post I discuss my history and ties to Montana. Plus I also discuss spiritual abuse and the EFCA for the district superintendent. This blog is looking forward to writing about the churches  in the Northern Mountain District. 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

Anne Frank

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Franz Kafka 

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 NIV

My Great-Uncle’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery 

Lee

When I write about a new EFCA District I always do an open letter to the district superintendent to communicate my thoughts and more about different topics. Your district is different in one way, my family has a long history in Montana and I thought of sharing it so you can understand my roots in Big Sky Country. My family’s history goes back to the 19th century when they immigrated from Ireland. They came to the cities of Butte and Helena and called them home. My extended family lived in Helena and my immediate family lived in Butte. In Butte I had relatives who worked in differing professions to include the mines at one point. My father when he was going to college in Carroll worked in the Anaconda Smelter for one summer. When I grew up in California in the 1980’s one of my relatives whose family history goes is from Deer Lodge personally recalled the last United States government campaign to force the Indians on a reservation. That was in the early part of the 20th century. One of my grandmother’s brothers was known for being in the Montana assembly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. And my great uncle served as Montana’s governor from 1949 until 1953. Today he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and you can see his headstone up top. When I was a college student at Carroll College in the mid to late 1990’s I did my history project on him and disappeared into the Montana State Archives spedning time doing research. My grandmother taught elementary school at McKinley in Butte for decades. Its not uncommon when I am in Butte to be asked if I am related to Isobel Bonner. Montana in many ways is my adopted home. Out here in the Washington, D.C. area I miss it. I would love to move back there but so many people I know have moved away in their pursuit of finding better employment opportunities. So now that I have explained myself  I want to turn my thoughts to the situation of Evangelical Christianity and give you a blunt assessment. 

Never in a million years did I anticipate writing a blog that grew into a project that would have quite an impact. If you would have told me in 2013 that I would be doing this I would have told you to stop doing drugs. But several situations helped bring this project about. Those issues are spiritual abuse, problems in evangelicalism and the feeling that someone had to do something. Recently I had to bury my parents and went through a long and difficult illness with both. Currently I am in a state of grief as I try and find a way forward. But when I consider what brought my parents lives to an end, as sad as it was I can also understand it. A brain tumor will run its course and eventually take a person’s life. Its painful to say this but I can understand that process. Here is what I don’t understand, how is it that someone who boasts of their faith, and love of God can turn around and spiritually abuse someone and send them into the darkest period of their life? How does that happen Lee? Why is evangelical Christianity plagued by so much abuse and corruption? When I started this project I was driven by one painful and unresolved situation that came from Redeemer Arlington – an Acts 29, 9 Marks former Sovereign Grace church here in the Washington, D.C. area. But in the course of time I ended up writing about almost every church that I attended. Recently this blog broke the story of how David Platt’s McLean Bible in the D.C. area covered up the grooming of teenagers for planned sexual abuse. The church badly mishandled it. I can’t tel you how sick I felt to hear the story from people who were affected. This blog has taken me up and down the East Coast and I have sat through a lot of evangelical services. 

Do you know what it is like Lee to sit across from a person in a Starbucks or restaurant and hear a parent talk about their child was sexually abused? Do you know what it is like to speak to someone who called a church home for decades only to have it flipped and be forced out and for them to even re-experience the death of a loved one under such circumstances? Do you know what it is like to speak to a victim of a sex crime or a mother who sits down with her child and asks if he was sexually abused after she reads in the Chicago Tribune that her sons’ favorite pastor was arrested for sexual exploitation of a minor. Lee I don’t think many evangelical leaders and pastors really understand the enormous problem of spiritual abuse and more.  Writing this blog has been exceptionally difficult. I am not a theologian but I have had to learn theology. Over the last five years I have learned about child pornography, financial crimes, the legal system in differing states, sexual assault, domestic abuse, mental health issues, mental health counseling, Neo/New Calvinist theology, Christian nationalism, traditional Baptist theology and more.  A person who once was in the pews should not have to wrestle with those topics. They should not be on my radar. When atheists talk about how corrupt evangelical Christianity can be they are often correct. This has been learned by first hand experience. 

I no longer go to church because I find the system to be too corrupt. Its emotionally draining and painful. To go from scandal after scandal over and over just wears a person down. Today when I pop up at a church its to write about it or to understand it. I have met and interacted with a number of pastors and EFCA personalities over the past few years. I don’t hide behind my computer, instead I travel up and down the East Coast and even the Midwest a couple of times. I am a person willing and eager to talk, even through my past has left me jaded. When I hear the word pastor my stomach goes in knots. Likewise when I think of church my I feel hesitant. I have even popped up at a Catholic church occasionally but I am troubled by  the sex abuse scandal in there as well. If I could I would drive across Washington, Idaho and Montana and pop into EFCA churches and meet with people and discuss the issues that many people can have with them. This weekend I will be in the New York City area and next month I am attending an event in Chicago. 

I am aware that there are mixed feelings about this blog at the EFCA. I have heard that from differing individuals. The EFCA as an entity is complicated. There are pockets of good and there are pockets of problems. Congregationalism has its limits in many ways. I also know that while some parts of the EFCA will engage me I am aware that many will not. Quite simply many in the EFCA can be insecure about their faith, or they have a faith that operates in a bubble. I will hang around anyone from someone in the EFCA, to an atheist and more. That’s just me and how I function. So when different parts of the EFCA shun me or more I am not surprised and there is no hurt feelings. I understand evangelical culture and how it functions.   Honestly I expect that to be the case. Those who do engage I respect. and its also wrong to paint with a broad brush because there are exceptions. Being challenged is good and I am okay with that. 

When it comes to writing about your district the posts I compose will follow your churches and be found when people Google them. So if I write about Three Crosses in Spokane or the Evangelical Free Church of Butte those posts will tag the website. While I write about problems I also look for opportunities to find good stuff to write about. For example in the EFCA Texas and Oklahoma District I wrote quite a bit about Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Galveston and how the EFCA responded to that natural disaster. So not every post will be about a scandal or more. I think its important to have balance. Right now I have communicated what I need to say. I will leave you with some posts below to read which will help you and your district understand me better. I wish you well, if you ever find yourself in the Washington, D.C. area and want to meet I would be happy to. I actually have met a number of people who travel through the area. 

Please take care of yourself, 

Very Respectfully, 

David Bonner 

P.S. By the way Lee when you attend the next EFCA District Superintendent meeting you need to sit down with Bob Rowley of the Texas and Oklahoma District and have a heart to heart about about his Twitter behavior. Tweeting conspiracy theories and more doesn’t reflect well with the image of the EFCA and for many people it confirms their thoughts that evangelicalism is a political party and not a faith based movement. 

  1. What You Should Know About The Wondering Eagle – An Overview of this Blog So Readers Can Understand it Better.”
  2. Unless You Experience Spiritual Abuse Then You Won’t Understand How Painful it is.”
  3. How I Managed a False Accusation Given Birth to by a USAF Captain and Care Group Leader from Redeemer Arlington for 408 Days.
  4. How Should the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) be Viewed? Well it’s Complicated.”
  5. #Youngerself. What Advice Would I Give Myself at 25?
  6. First Free Wichita Wants to Introduce you to the EFCA; Plus The Wondering Eagle’s Long Term Goals and Agenda with the EFCA.