An Open Letter to Eddie Cole (Transitioning Eastern District Superintendent of the EFCA and Wishing Him Well)

The leadership of the EFCA’s Eastern District is changing. As Eddie Cole prepares to move to Minneapolis with his wife Jessica this is an open letter to the EFCA leader. I just want to not only wish him well but reflect on Eddie based off personal interactions and what others have shared with me. The Eastern District’s loss is Minneapolis’ gain. And for all the difficult topics I tackle I am grateful that people like Eddie Cole is a pastor. “Bishop Eddie” who is deeply loved and admired will be missed.

“The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, ‘Let us worship God.’ If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor.”

Eugene Peterson

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
2 Rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Proverbs 22:1-2 NIV

Eddie Cole and his wife Jessica and the Salem Church community after Eddie became the Eastern District Superintendent. 

Dear Eddie-

This letter to you is one of the many items to do here at this blog. Before you move on to Minneapolis I wanted to communicate some thoughts, express my thanks and wish you well as you start a new journey. Before I get into the thrust of this letter I want to convey that I never imagined that I would be doing a blog like this in my life. If you told me that I would be doing this in 2013 I would have said you are smoking something that isn’t legal. But a number of circumstances took place that eventually brought this about.  A false accusation from a small group leader of a Sovereign Grace church, reaching the tipping point after countless bad experiences and then getting involved in a church after a faith crisis and finding myself in a place of having to become a whistle blower after a church concealed information from the congregation about a violent sex offender who had access to families -triggered all this. I never imagined in my life that such a thing would happen or that it would occur back to back. I told this to Bill Kynes once and I don’t know if I told this to you. One of the writers for Christianity Today is Michelle Van Loon. You can see some of her columns here. We both came from the same churches in Wisconsin. I write about them often here, and she writes about her experiences in Christianity Today. Sometimes when I read her column I can identify what she is talking about because I know people in those places. Evangelicalism is a very small world. 

This has been a hard blog to write. In the past five years I have learned a lot about domestic violence, financial issues, church polity, Calvinist theology, Baptist theology, child pornography, sexual assault, the legal system, Christian nationalism, and mental illness. Its been hard to process these situations and yes its taken its emotional toll. When I wrote about Elverson I had a hard time sleeping at night because the story of the loaded gun haunted me that I dreamt about it. Its hard to spend as much time as I do on the phone or to meet people and hear about criminal allegations or other problems, and not be troubled. Sometimes I have no idea as to what people are going to email me. 

The EFCA is a very complicated organization. As I have researched, talked to people, listen to podcasts, watch videos and try and read policy papers and more I am amazed as to how diverse the national EFCA has been. My own personal experience with the EFCA in California was actually positive. I learned a lot. That said, I was disheartened when that same church put someone in the pulpit who covered up a criminal situation in Tennessee. But overall the EFCA’s  complicated. One can go from urban Gospel to Mennonite to a 5 Point Calvinist. I am not saying anything you don’t already know. But its also challenged me to try and be as honest as possible. In writing about difficult situations I have also met people that I have come to respect. People like Benjamin Vrbicek, Kyle Brenon, Bill Kynes and more. I had someone who communicated with me personally how much they enjoyed Tom Nelson’s Christ Community Church in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Having a detailed conversation with someone who was a member who intellectually explained why they liked is was good and refreshing. I had a chance to sit through a service at Christ Community Church last year and was impressed by what I saw.You can read about it in,Tyler Chernesky of Christ Community Church in Kansas City on Friendship and Proverbs. Seeing What was Taught in a Sermon Play Out in Kansas and Missouri.”  I think about all this and more and wrestle with it as I analyze and write about culture, the denomination and the pressing issues of the day. The last thing I want to do is paint with a broad brush where innocent people or good people are hit or harmed. That is something that would trouble me deeply, especially after what happened with my brush with Sovereign Grace. 

One of those people who comes from the good pocket of the EFCA is you. Before I interacted with you I had people from Salem that began to reach out to me. They Googled you and well, they found me. Over the course of time I heard personal stories about you at Salem. They were all positive and I was taken back. The most touching dealt with how as a blizzard threatened New York City, you braved the weather and traveled through public transportation to meet with a family and pray for their newborn. And that was on your second day of the job if I remember correctly. 20 years later and it still touches them deeply. Honestly, I was amazed when I heard that story. As the Elverson situation dragged on one of the people from the community encouraged me to contact you. My reaction was, “Are you kidding me?” When I spoke with you I was struck by your sincerity. You were kind, gentle, and came across as caring. You were very pastoral in many ways. When you came and preached at Bill Kynes Cornerstone here in the Washington, D.C. area you wanted me to come up and introduce myself to you. When you speak you describe yourself as a hillbilly from Eastern Tennessee. The accent is there, but if I can state you are also one of the most diplomatic people I have met. You have a way of disarming people by your style and how you engage them. And as I learned you are more intellectual then I think you want people to know. 

Over the course of time I heard good things about you from some of the pastors under you. You were joking;y called, “Bishop Eddie.” And I also learned something that deeply impressed me and resulted in me respecting you deeper.  You worked and reconciled with someone and brought a family and a marriage in the New York City area great peace. Often when I talk with people I tell them that the reason why evangelicalism is so sick and diseased is because Christians don’t say they are sorry. They don’t pick up people up and work to apologize. I learned that in person from a military officer and also several churches. Yet in your case you did that. and it remains one of the most amazing things I heard about. Honestly you are one of the only people who have taken that course of action. You have done something that many people don’t do. And because of that and more I remain grateful that you are a pastor. For the Mark Driscolls, C.J. Mahaneys, James MacDonalds and more your tender, compassionate and dedication to peace remains impressive and stands out boldly. 

While saying that let me also insert the following. Sometimes people can have disagreements and see things from a different perspective. I think that was one of the things that occurred with Blairstown. I am sorry we disagreed. I still respect the people who reached out to me. Let me share something that I don’t know if I mentioned. Earlier this year when I was driving up to Northern New Jersey one of the members of Blairstown reached out to me and opened up their home and offered to put me up for the night. I was stunned. Here I am pretty much a stranger and this person out of faith offers to take me in for the night. That has never happened before, especially as I travel up and down the East Coast and occasionally to the Midwest. So I am sorry that we looked at the Blairstown situation differently. Also while a number of people from the EFCA will engage me I am at peace knowing that others will not. It wasn’t writing this blog that taught me that, instead it was a faith crisis I had for five years. When I showed up at place to place  and tried to seek out a detailed discussion on the problem of evil I hit a nerve with a number of people. Some withdrew from me, others didn’t know what to say and yet some told me that they will be in touch and yet that never happened. There are a number of evangelicals who can be insecure and frightened by a lot of conversations and topics. So for those parts of the EFCA that don’t engage I understand the culture and I have no hard feelings toward them, even as an outsider. It is what it is. Plus you couple that with someone asking questions about sensitive issues in a “Baptist light” culture that will scare people away. But I am okay with that as well. 

But as you great ready to move to Minneapolis I just want to thank you for being a pastor and for doing your job. In Elverson it was amazing to watch families go from cynicism to encouragement. Your apology to the mother of an alleged domestic abuse victim so encouraged that family and others. To hear about your heart and tender compassion was beautiful. Honestly I never thought I would learn from you but you taught me a lot also. You taught me about grace, compassion, forgiveness, and more. I am  very jaded from a lot of difficult experiences but in many ways you chipped away some of that. I still struggle with trusting churches and while my stomach can go into knots at hearing the word pastor, yet you have made me realize that there are some good ones out there. They are few and far between but when you see them it makes one grateful that they are a pastor.

And as I wind this down I want to say the following. I know this move to Minneapolis will be hard for you. You are moving away from your family on Staten Island.  Thanks for reaching out and teaching me a lot. Thanks for you outlook and even kicking me in the rear end when you felt I needed that also. Thanks for being truthful. When my Mom died I was taken back when you reached out and communicated your sorrow. The Eastern District’s loss will be the national EFCA’s gain in Minneapolis. The friendships you made will continue with the people you love. And along the way you will make more as well. I just want you to know that you or anyone else are free to correct me if I am wrong. This blog has written quite a bit about the EFCA in Minnesota. Actually  a story that I told was turned  into a book by an author called Amanda Farmer. So if I say something about Bryan Lair’s Trinity City Church or Joel Sutton’s First Free of Minneapolis that the EFCA feels is off base, feel free to let me know. I try my best but I recall having a history professor in college share a mistake he made in publishing a book. So as I close this out let me wish you the best in regards to success and your new career. I wish you well with your health and your marriage. I hope you have a smooth transition and thrive. And I hope someday down the road I can hear another sermon from you. Eddie, its a long way from Kingspost, Tennessee to Minneapolis and you will do well. Personally l think Kevin Kompelien was wise to ask you to join him on the national staff. You will do fine. Thanks for being a pastor and thanks for being a bright light and pointing towards God. 

Very Respectfully, 

David Bonner 

BTW- I am going to be at Salem Church this Sunday, I look forward to sitting through that EFCA church and observing.