A Response from the NWC Superintendent to the Open Letter by Rev. Daniel Collison
The following is in response to an Open Letter published June 2019 by Rev. Dan Collison.
Dear Northwest Conference Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
God’s grace and peace to you in these days of challenge.
For those of us who serve in broader Covenant or Conference ministry, we find ourselves placed in challenging positions, though we are certainly not alone in this. We are engaged in work that is often highly sensitive and difficult. It can be heart-wrenching and requires discernment. It can also lead to difficult decisions through which one knows that he or she will have to pay a personal price, whether warranted or not.
It is especially challenging if those on different sides of a dispute do not abide by the same rules. This is particularly true if one party seeks to maintain confidentiality while the other feels under no such constraint. When this happens, the party which decides to share that which is deemed confidential often has the advantage of setting the public narrative and tone, while the other party still feels the ethical responsibility to maintain discretion. As such, the narrative first expressed is often perceived to be reality, like it or not.
However, there comes a time when one has to respond to inaccuracies and misleading statements. This is what I am doing now, as Rev. Daniel Collison is seeking to impugn my character and motives as NWC Superintendent in a very public manner. I realize that this is further complicated by the highly emotional topic of human sexuality. Yet now, I do feel obligated and have been encouraged by both ECC and NWC leaders to respond to his impassioned appeal relative to several points of misinformation:
- I was deeply involved in facilitating the arrival of Rev. Collison to First Covenant Church of Minneapolis (FCCM) in 2009. It was a vulnerable congregation that happens to be my home church. Rest assured that Rev. Collison would never have been advanced by me nor called by the members of the church at that time had he disclosed his position that stands at opposition to that of the ECC.
- Further, in 2013, Rev. Collison requested a meeting with Rev. Jon Kramka and me to inform us that he had changed his position on human sexuality, contrary to his assertion that he never “obfuscated” his position in any way. Rev. Kramka (the NWC Director of Congregational Vitality) had been the former chair at FCCM for a couple of years prior to the time that Rev. Collison made this announcement to us. Rev. Kramka can attest to the veracity of what I am sharing with you. At that time, Rev. Collison assured us that he would still live within the boundaries of the ECC position and not let his personal beliefs overshadow that of the ECC. Regardless, we were both caught off guard by this revelation. It happened following Rev. Collison’s interview with the NWC Committee on Ministerial Standing (COMS) in 2012 and shortly after the time that Jon concluded his term as chair.
- Moreover, while there had been some questions that arose relative to Rev. Collison’s COMS interview paper, his verbal answers of explanation to the committee in 2012 had provided assurance that he was compatible with the ECC on this matter. After-the-fact, committee members felt that they had been misled by him.
- Rev. Collison states that, to the best of his memory, I made a statement regarding the ECC avoiding conversations on human sexuality because people will “tend to change their minds.” This is categorically untrue. I never made any such statement to him as it is not even an opinion I hold. Therefore, it appears that his memory is not clear on this particular matter.
- Rev. Collison further states that I became increasingly angry and also intimidated FCCM board members. I have never raised my voice to him nor any board member, though I have had voices raised at me and other NWC and ECC leaders. There are other leaders who can attest to this, as well.
- Additionally, I believe that those who know me will verify that they have never observed this as my pattern of behavior, even under duress. And I would suggest that a superintendent seeking to hold a pastor accountable to his or her ordination vow and installation promise is hardly the same as bullying or displaying anger. Rev. Collison and I are simply in strong disagreement on what it means to live faithfully in to our calling as ECC pastors. Thus, Rev. Collison is overstating the intensity of any of my actual interactions with him. Disagreement is not the same as anger.
- Rev. Collison speaks of isolation and a refusal to meet with him. He also states that, “At a loss, I began to interact with Rev. Mark Novak (then Executive Minister of BoOM) and Rev. Dick Lucco (then a representative from ECC President Gary Walter’s office).” As he describes this, it appears to imply that he was the initiator of the original conversations with ECC leaders. This is misleading. Actually, most of the initial interactions were instigated by these leaders in conjunction with NWC leadership as a result of the growing frustrations expressed by then FCCM church members, FCCM staff members, and NWC leaders. Further, I can say with certainty that there is no pastor in the ECC or NWC who has had more interaction with leadership than has been afforded to Rev. Collison over the past 6 years. Unfortunately, most of these interactions have centered on concerns relative to his growing public advocacy for a position that overshadows the discerned position of the ECC on human sexuality.
- Rev. Collison encourages the readers of his letter to “engage in their own due diligence and independent discernment to gain a complete narrative.” The reality is that this is not possible, as not all information can or should be aired publicly. However, I would encourage you to consider that a “complete narrative” implies that there is usually more to the story and truth is not determined solely by who speaks first or most eloquently or writes most prolifically.
Please know that I take no delight in any of what is taking place, either with Rev. Collison or my home church. Moreover, my prevailing emotions are weariness and disappointment, not animosity. I have never written anything in the past to publicly shame or undermine Rev. Collison. I have not been part of any “systematic initiative” that goes beyond simply working within the prescribed role of a superintendent when seeking to address concerns with a pastor relative to questionable teaching or practice. Further, I am grateful that I am not the final determiner of what happens at the upcoming ECC Annual Meeting, as it is important for the broader Church to make decisions about its future based upon what it aspires to be.
In conclusion, I wish that I did not have to write this type of public response, as it is never comfortable having to defend oneself. After all, you just sound defensive. It also plays into so much of the hostile social media chatter that has been neither helpful nor redemptive. Sadly, I realize that this will probably continue. Yet, it would not be right to allow the things conveyed to stand without objecting to the validity of much of what Rev. Collison has written. The reality is that I am either leading with integrity or I am not. I pray that I am.
I would also request that you keep in mind that, regardless of interactions with me or any other NWC staff or board member in the past, both the ECC Executive Board and its Board of Ordered Ministry have found reasons to bring actions against both FCCM and its pastor after subsequent independent investigations, apart from any further input from the NWC. To suggest that this is all a result of some personal vendetta I have toward Rev. Collison is both a trivialization of genuine ethical concern and a deflection. And, most importantly, it is simply not true.
May God grant our Church wisdom and discernment.
Mark R. Stromberg