Transformation Northfield and the election campaigns of Rhonda Pownell, Jeff Quinnell, and Dan Cupersmith

In Feb. of 2011, I published a post titled What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda? that detailed my concerns about the local public officials who were involved with the group.

Two of the local political leaders I featured in that piece were At-large Northfield City Councilor Rhonda Pownell and Northfield School board member Jeff Quinnell.  Rhonda is running for mayor of Northfield; if she loses, she’ll retain her At-Large seat. Jeff has decided to not run again for the School Board and instead, is running for Rice County Commissioner, District 2.

New on the local political scene is Dan Cupersmith who’s running for Northfield School Board. Dan is a member of Transformation Northfield and Rejoice! Church.

1. Rhonda Pownell

Rhonda Pownell (2)I spoke with Rhonda after one of the election forums at the Cow and told her that while I was initially concerned about her connection to Transformation Northfield (TN) and Rejoice!, I was no longer worried.  Yes, she abstained on the marriage amendment vote and was the only council member to vote against the domestic partner registry ordinance this summer and I disagree with her on those issues. But those votes in my mind have been outweighed by her overall performance as a councilor and to my knowledge, she’s never spoken or acted in a way that would convey she believes God or Pastor Dan Clites are telling her what’s best for Northfield.

Am I voting for Rhonda or Dana Graham for mayor? I’m still undecided.

2. Jeff Quinnell

Jeff Quinnell (2)I haven’t followed the School Board very closely in the past four years and I have no specifics, pro or con, to say about Jeff’s performance.

It does bother me, however, that on one of his campaign websites he links to his personal Facebook profile where, if you become his ‘friend,’ you’ll see that he regularly posts Bible verses to his Wall, as well as, at times, questionable quotes for a school board member, for example:

"Education is useless without the Bible." — Noah Webster

So Jeff is still a concern to me. I’ll be voting for Galen Malecha.

3. Dan Cupersmith

Dan CupersmithDan and his wife Karianne just returned from the 23rd annual Harvest Evangelism conference in Hawaii with Dan Clites, Brett Reese (co-leaders of Transformation Northfield) and a dozen or more other Northfielders.  You can hear their testimonies in the Oct. 14, 2012 "Aloha to Transformation!" podcast, listed on the Rejoice! Weekly Sermon/Podcast page. A partial quote from Dan Cupersmith:

This is starting with the youth. One of the examples/testimonies that we saw was Valley Christian School in California, a school that was really on the down and out [garbled] and possibly being closed and now has turned around to be one of the top schools in the nation and it was all led through prayer evangelism.

Dan ClitesBrett ReeseThat may not seem like much but it’s worrisome to me, especially when you hear Brett Reese predicting that "Northfield will become a city of God" and Dan Clites proclaiming, "If you really want to change the world, you have to change the marketplace. You gotta change the atmosphere of the government, you gotta change the atmosphere of the education system…"

I will not be voting for Dan Cupersmith for Northfield School Board. I will be voting for Rob Hardy, Ellen Iverson, and Anne Maple.

Lunch with John and Nancy: police presence really not all that necessary

Nancy Amerman, Griff Wigley, John GeorgeIt’s not often I get treated to a meal with my LoGro hat on, but it happened yesterday. My beneficiaries: regular commenter and resident punster John George; and Nancy Amerman, an occasional object of my blog spoofs.  We ate at the HideAway Coffeehouse & Winebar.

John and Nancy are members of Transformation Northfield and Nancy is a member of Rejoice! Church.  Both organizations have been the subject of, um, my critical attention here on LoGro (TN tags here, Rejoice! tags here).

Was I worried?

plainclothes Northfield police officer in really plain clothesInitially, no, but when I noticed a plainclothes Northfield police officer (once again in really plain clothes) pretending to be reading a newspaper at an adjacent table, it gave me pause.  Was he expecting things to get out of hand? And how did he know we’d be there? Was he following me on Foursquare? Tracking my tweets? Does he know where I live?

As it turned out, we didn’t even talk religion so violence wasn’t an issue.  We kept to non-controversial topics, like politics.  We had fun, as you can see. So no worries. Move along now. Nothing to see here.

I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by student Maria Olson

In the discussion attached to my Sept. 1 blog post, Dan Clites organizes a prayer walk at the Northfield High School; it’s a Trojan Horse, two Northfielders pointed out that the prayer walk was organized by Northfield High School student Maria Olson.

Brent Bielenberg wrote:

I hesitated to write into this blog, but I did feel that there are some wrong facts in your reporting of the prayer meeting that need to be brought to light.

First, it was not Dan Clites, Rejoice!, or TN that organized this prayer walk at the school. It was a 16 year old junior girl who attends Emmaus that organized it. In fact, the same thing was done last year around the same time of year, also organized by her. She called me (I am the youth pastor at Rejoice!) a week before the date to ask if we would promote it via our email and our website. I believe she called other churches including her own and did the same. She told me it was opened to youth, parents and anyone else who would like to pray for the school. Afterwards, they were invited to her house for a bonfire. I was not there because I forgot (great youth pastor) but it also was not one of my youth leading the group and technically not a Rejoice! youth function.

The only connection she has to TN and Rejoice is that I went to school with her dad. Their family attends Emmaus and they have never attended a TN meeting. This is a pretty typical youth group activity in many cities throughout the US and world…

David Henson wrote:

Griff, I appreciate your blog but you are in left field here. The girl who organized the prayer walk this is a friend of my wife’s and very sweet. Her father has a campus mission to St Olaf…

In retrospect, I should have inquired further once I saw the video of the prayer walk posted on Northfield Patch. The accompanying text to the video got it right:

Maria Olson - Northfield Patch videoMaria Olson, a soon-to-be Northfield High School junior, organized a prayer walk Friday night that took place outside of the school.

Several members from various church congregations joined her in praying for the students, teachers and school in the coming year.

My apologies to Maria.

Dan Clites organizes a prayer walk at the Northfield High School; it’s a Trojan Horse

Update Sept. 16: See the blog post I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by student Maria Olson.

Last week, Rejoice! pastor Dan Clites posted this on the church’s website (since removed):

THIS FRIDAY! DO YOU CARE ABOUT OUR SCHOOLS? Of course you do! So, let’s pray walk the grounds of Northfield High School and start seeing the spiritual climate change for our students, faculty and administration! THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 26th…meet at 7:00 pm sharp in front of the NHS Auditorium entrance. We will pray walk for 45-minutes. If you feel uncomfortable praying out loud— then just walk along in agreement! It will make a difference because the Bible says God hears our prayers!

I went as an observer and to take photos. Why?

Aug. 26, 2011 prayer walk at the Northfield High School Video on Northfield Patch - Prayer Walk for Northfield High School

In my Feb. 12 blog post, What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda?, I pointed out the connection between Dan Clites and Ed Silvoso who believes that gay people are possessed by demons. 

For TN [Transformation Northfield] to be connected to Ed Silvoso and his organization is ominous.

Any message, direct or indirect, that homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals are somehow under the influence of demonic forces, is not only hurtful and destructive but dangerous.  It can have a corrosive effect on the morale of LGBT employees who work for the city and school district.

And for any LGBT youth in our schools who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity, it can exacerbate their pain, lead to depression, or worse.

It concerns me that some teachers and coaches who are members of TN might convey this belief to the youth they work with. And it concerns me that some of the youth involved with TN, who are urged to live their calling in the marketplace of school, could fall into demonizing other youth.

For Clites and Rejoice! to take a prayer campaign to the steps of Northfield High School is more disturbing than the prayer group in City Administrator Al Roder’s office at Northfield City Hall back in 2007.

I assume the prayers were generic/innocuous, judging from the video they posted on Northfield Patch. But for Clites to say that "We’re here to simply pray blessing and let God’s Holy Spirit move," is more than a little disingenuous. Judging from his writings and those of his mentors , his unstated belief is likely that demonic forces inhabit the building and some of the faculty, staff and students who are LGBT.

Clites’ philosophy appears to be consistent with dominionism, which was the focus of a Fresh Air show last week titled The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare (audio/summary here; full transcript here) .  Researcher Rachel Tabachnick was Terry Gross’ guest. Here’s an exchange about dominionism and ‘demonic principalities:’

racheltabachnickMs. RACHEL TABACHNICK: I would say the basic beliefs began with the idea of dominionism, and dominionism is simply that Christians of this belief system must take control over all the various institutions of society and government. They have some unusual concepts of what they call spiritual warfare that have not been seen before in other groups.

Spiritual warfare is a common term in evangelicalism and in Christianity, but they have some unique approaches and unique spins on this that distinguish them from other groups.

GROSS: And that literally have to do with casting demons out of people and religions and…

Ms. TABACHNICK: They use this in terms of evangelizing. So whereas we might be accustomed with the idea of saving souls, of missionaries or evangelical work to save individual souls; they believe that they can, through this demon warfare, take control over entire communities, or perhaps nations or people groups, an ethnic group, a religious group and so forth, because they believe that they are doing spiritual warfare at this higher level against these demonic principalities, what they call demonic principalities.

See also last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine for a column by Bill Keller, executive editor, titled Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.

And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

So this season I’m paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.

Clites and some of his followers have their own Trojan horse saddled up and galloping around Northfield, an unstated plan is to get more people (they already have two, Jeff Quinnell on the Northfield School Board and Rhonda Pownell on the Northfield City Council) elected to public office. The Northfield School Board is where they hope to affect public policy related to LGBT issues and probably others (intelligent design?).

Of course, I’ve got no problem with any group trying to affect public policy by getting elected. But tactics and transparency matter and I object to how Clites demonizes people (‘principalities of opposition’) and how he and some members of TN and Rejoice! aren’t transparent about some aspects of their agenda.

But then, what do I know?  According to Clites (twice in my conversation with him last Friday), I can’t be expected to understand these things because I’m an atheist.

Update 8:39 PM: I’ve amended the 3rd to the last paragraph above to read:

…an unstated plan is to get more people (they already have two, Jeff Quinnell on the Northfield School Board and Rhonda Pownell on the Northfield City Council) elected to public office.

The original version left out Rhonda Pownell, an oversight on my part.

Update Sept. 16: See the blog post I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by student Maria Olson.

Construction underway at Rejoice!; citizen group trying to get sanctuary restored

Construction at Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas

I took the above panoramic photo of the construction (parking lot and addition) underway at Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas yesterday. (To see the large version of the photo, right-click on it and open it in a new browser tab. Other photos below.) Groundbreaking was last Sunday, according to this story in the Nfld News.

The Ad Hoc Advisory Task Force on Holy Cross Church, consisting of local citizens Julie Schrader Bicket, Stephanie Henriksen and Jane Moline, is pursuing an appeal to require an EAW. I got this press release from Stephanie yesterday:

Citizen Group offers to drop appeal if Rejoice agrees to restore sanctuary

The Ad Hoc Advisory Task Force on Holy Cross Church, a group of local citizens, has filed an appeal in the Minnesota Court of Appeals against the City of Dundas asking the Court to order the City to complete an environmental assessment worksheet on the project of Rejoice! Church on the historic Holy Cross Church site in Dundas. 

Holy Cross Church is a historic treasure in Minnesota and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Upon taking possession of the property, Rejoice! stripped the historic interior sanctuary of Holy Cross, including pews, altar rails, lecturns, chairs, plaques, and other items of historic significance.  Destruction of outer walls of the Parish Hall and grading activities on the site for construction of a new building began this past week. 

Minnesota law required the EAW because of the partial destruction of Holy Cross Church, a listed National Register property. There is hope the case will lead to restoration of the sanctuary, currently being used as a meeting room. If the Court requires an EAW, a process will take place that will address this, among other things. The Citizens group has offered to drop the case in the Court of Appeals if Rejoice! agrees to restore the historic sanctuary.

Anyone who purchased interior furnishings from Rejoice who is willing to return them (and be reimbursed for prices paid)  may call this number: 

Ad Hoc Advisory Task Force on Holy Cross
507-645-7086

Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas

What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda?

Agenda, Feb 10, 2011 Northfield Marketplace MinistryTransformation Northfield: Praise and Worship breakfastI attended Transformation Northfield‘s monthly Praise and Worship breakfast (called Northfield Marketplace Ministry) Thursday morning in the lower level of the Archer House. (I requested and was given permission to attend as an observer.)

I’m  interested in the group because part of their mission involves local public institutions (cities, public schools). But it’s not clear to me what that mission exactly entails and how they go about trying to achieve it.

See my concerns at the bottom of this post.

Local public officials who have acknowledged (there may be others) their involvement with Transformation Northfield (TN)  include:

Jack Hoschouer Rhonda Pownell Jeff Quinnell

Dan Clites Brett Reese
Leadership of TN is coming from Rejoice! Lutheran Church pastor Dan Clites and Northfield businessman Brett Reese (Archer House, Rebound Enterprises, Northfield Automation Systems, Northfield Real Estate Fund).

In January, Rejoice! Lutheran Church pastor Dan Clites wrote a column for the Alliance of Renewal Churches titled God’s Heart for City-Nation Transformation. Citing the city of Elk River, MN, Clites wrote:

Marketplace miracles, like those in Elk River, are occurring every day all around the world. Focused on Jesus’ calling to “make disciples of all nations…” the heart of Harvest Evangelism is birthed from Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10. He is instructing his followers how to effectively evangelize a city and a nation with the biblical purposes and principles of God…

From this core group who share a heart for Northfield, we have invited various other marketplace folks from around town to join us in a Bible study created by Greg Pagh, the lead pastor of Christ Church in Otsego, MN. The study is called “Faith Beyond Belief.” I have used it as a small group teaching tool for both my congregation and for local business people, government servants and school officials outside my congregation!

The goal of TN, according to its page on the Rejoice! website, is:

To see the cities of Northfield-Dundas serving the kingdom of God! That’s the goal of Transformation Northfield! Inspired by the movement of the Holy Spirit in Elk River, Minnesota, and other cities around the globe, a group of Northfield Christians are coming together on a weekly basis for a movement of the Great Commission. The biblical goal is to constantly pray over the city in order to bring the transforming faith of Jesus Christ into all corners of the marketplace (our schools, government, businesses, homes and neighborhoods)…

Is it working? Indeed, we are already seeing the fruit of marketplace ministers serving in their various spheres of daily influence. People are getting excited about living their faith like never before. They are establishing and taking responsibility to lead all sorts of new kingdom ministries; everything from prayer walking the neighborhood streets, to building playground equipment on the school grounds, to running for various local government and school leadership offices, to one business owner dedicating his business as a “kingdom company” for the Lord’s work.

TN is part of a larger movement, according to Clites:

I am now networking with Ed Silvoso and Harvest Evangelism, attending both the international and North American conferences. I didn’t go by myself, though, instead I have taken dozens from Northfield with me so we can all catch and grow into the vision!

Ed SilvosoHarvest Evangelism founder and president Ed Silvoso was the featured speaker at the annual Northfield Prayer Breakfast in April, 2007.  Silvoso also heads up the International Transformation Network (ITN).

Transformation - Change the Marketplace and Change the WorldIn his book, Transformation: Change the Marketplace and You Change the World, Silvoso tells the story (p. 165-170) of  how a Filipino taxi driver named Joey, after attending a seminar on transformation, intervenes in the life of the manager of a bar who “… was a homosexual who doubled up as the pimp for 35 prostitutes. He was also a drug user and a drug dealer, the latter a practical necessity to subsidize the former.”  After many days of Joey’s ministering to and praying for the manager, “the manager invited Jesus into his heart.”

Consequently he took his new convert to the beach and immersed him three times, once for each person of the Trinity since he had also ready that it had to be done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As soon as the now ex-gay man came up from the waters, he was struck by the power of God, evicting the demonic forces that had controlled him for so long and rewiring his psyche correctly to enable him to feel like a man again.

This YouTube video shows Silvoso telling this story at a conference. In a letter to the editor of Honolulu Civil Beat, he states that the bar manager “… is married and a pillar in his community.”

My take

Since the 2007 incident when some TN members were allowed to pray in the office of then City Administrator Al Roder, I’m not aware of anything that TN members have publicly said or done that in my judgment, is inappropriate.  I’ve engaged with Jack, Rhonda, Jeff and Brett in a variety of civic and business-oriented activities over the years and they seem to be as community-minded as I am.

But my radar is up on TN for three reasons:

1. Public policy problem-solving and decision-making

Stephanie Klinzing, former mayor of Elk River, MN wrote on the Harvest Evangelism site back in 2004 (the article has since been removed but she’s quoted here and here):

We have also discovered that I have spiritual authority in the city as well as civic authority. I have stood, in the spirit, against things that I believe God does not want in my city, and I have also opened, in the spirit, the city gates to things that I believe God wants in the city. This has had powerful results.

It seems to me that for a public official to assume that he or she knows what God wants and doesn’t want for a city, it makes it less likely that they’ll be open to other points of view, be willing to negotiate, be willing to admit mistakes.

If Jack, Rhonda or Jeff have beliefs similar to Klinzing’s, they need to be confronted if and when those beliefs get in the way of constructive public policy problem-solving and decision-making.  (Klinzing was defeated in her bid for re-election last fall and is now blogging here.)

2.  Rejoice! Pastor Dan Clites

Clites had this to say about those who opposed Rejoice! Church’s plan to move the Cleland family graves as part of their expansion plans:

As mentioned in our December 5th worship service, we have recently come against principalities of opposition (Ephesians 6:12).  Why should we expect anything less?  When a church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit, darkness will not like it.

Most of the opposition has come from a local family that doesn’t want us moving the Cleland grave site 50-feet and into the northend cemetery.  They believe it is disrespectful to the dead. Our Building Team believes the most respectful and historic thing to do is gracefully move the remains and the headstones so they are not in the way of our important expansion.

Clites puts his actions above reproach because his “church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit,” whereas those who disagree are labeled “principalities of opposition” and “darkness,” clear references to the devil. (See my Dec. 14, 2010 blog post and subsequent discussion for more.)

This tactic, if deployed in the public sphere, can be even more polarizing and disruptive to constructive public policy problem-solving and decision-making.

3. LGBT issues

For TN to be connected to Ed Silvoso and his organization is ominous.

Any message, direct or indirect, that homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals are somehow under the influence of demonic forces, is not only hurtful and destructive but dangerous.  It can have a corrosive effect on the morale of LGBT employees who work for the city and school district.

And for any LGBT youth in our schools who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity, it can exacerbate their pain, lead to depression, or worse.

It concerns me that some teachers and coaches who are members of TN might convey this belief to the youth they work with. And it concerns me that some of the youth involved with TN, who are urged to live their calling in the marketplace of school, could fall into demonizing other youth.

Conclusion:

Jack, Rhonda, Jeff and Brett: I applaud your civic engagement.  Please be on the alert for how elements of TN might be inadvertently detrimental to the Northfield community that I know you love.

Rejoice! Spiritual wickedness triumphs in Dundas

Holy Cross Episcopal, Dundas (wikipedia photo)Last Saturday’s Nfld News article, When development meets the past, tells the story of a conflict between the descendants William C. Cleland and Rejoice! Lutheran Church which now owns the former Holy Cross Episcopal church in Dundas.  Pastor Dan Clites and the Building Team wanted to move the Cleland family graves as part of the Rejoice! expansion plans. Cleland family descendants opposed the move.  The conflict has evidently been resolved:

Clites says former Holy Cross members gave him the names of Cleland relatives, who he said OK’d the plan to move the graves. Those relatives later withdrew their support, he says, under pressure from family members. That pressure, along with a desire to be good neighbors has led Rejoice! to rework its initial plan. It’s now working on a redesign that will leave the graves, which are encircled by decorative metal fencing, intact…

But had the church decided to move forward with the relocation, [State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson] isn’t sure he would have allowed it. Since the Cleland graves were never recorded with the county, approval for moving the remains rests with the archaeologist. And since the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the descendants opposed the proposed move, Anfinson said he’d likely have denied such a request.

When I first heard about the issue, I thought it was reasonable for Rejoice! to want to move the graves and I thought it was reasonable for the descendants to object.  But last week, prior to the article’s publishing and the resolution of the conflict, Pastor Clites published his weekly update in which he wrote about the issue:

Dan Clites… we have recently come against principalities of opposition (Ephesians 6:12).  Why should we expect anything less?  When a church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit, darkness will not like it. 

Here’s the verse in Ephesians 6:12 (King James Version):

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

For Clites to associate Helen Albers and Cleland family descendants with ‘principalities’ and ‘darkness’ and ‘spiritual wickedness’ is more than a little ridiculous. Un-Christian even, if I may, as an atheist, say so. And I would assume that MN State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson would have been included among the principalities had he ruled against Rejoice!.

That the conflict was resolved in part because of Rejoice!’s "desire to be good neighbors" (Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook’s words) seems disingenuous, given Clites’ words a few days prior. That he would use the words of Jesus ("Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead") to argue that his opponents’ beliefs about the sacredness of grave sites are misplaced is outrageous.

Clites owes these people an apology.

Here’s the full text and screen capture of the Rejoice! Update Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2010 by Pastor Dan Clites:

Continue reading Rejoice! Spiritual wickedness triumphs in Dundas

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