I stopped and took a breath, sweat already pouring in the late April sun as I set up for Something to Eat, the annual hunger-fighting campaign spearheaded by the Campus House. The clear sky opened between the trees as the sorority girls across the courtyard set up their fundraiser, blasting The 1975’s “The Sound” on a loop. I was tired, having unloaded several large bags of rice and powder alone, but enjoying the tunes and clatter of the nearby fountain. I began setting up the packaging lines when my phone rang. It was the chairman for the Campus House Board of Directors.1
In his typically ponderous, uncertain cadence, he informed me the Board was going to be emailing a set of questions to all pastoral staff: myself, Mikala, and our freshly-hired associate pastor who as yet was not even in-state. The questions would cover “basic theological positions” in order to “help the dialogue.” His meandering voice cited causes for the questionnaire: vague references to an unhappy supporting church (read: senior pastor), desires for the Board to “be more involved,” and the meeting from a couple weeks before. The music began to muffle in my ears as he spoke, the clear skies seemed to darken as he went on to assure me this in no way threatened my job, but was merely a baseline for future conversations and, though I couldn’t believe a word of it, I desperately clung to the hope he and the rest of the Directors were acting in good faith.2
Once we hung up, I immediately phoned the one Board member who had heretofore been my closest ally. A professor at the University, he had always shot straight and engaged me outside normal meetings over coffee or lunch, and had at times even seemed piqued (not necessarily convinced mind you, but also not visibly fearful) by the perspectives I brought to certain topics. I must’ve lost my cool since the previous call, because he had to calm me down and promise multiple times that my job was in no way threatened, repeating that the Board merely wanted to “be more involved” and develop “better dialogue” with the staff. He had no clue what the disgruntled church was all about, and, like me, had felt the previous meeting had remained cordial and even graceful in disagreement.
As we spoke, my mind went back to that meeting. I remembered it too had been preceded by a phone call from the chairman, who said they wanted a discussion with the “executive team”.3 That night, an unknown man walked in with the other Directors and sat at the table. As introduction, I was informed he was a new elder at the local church and, according to the bylaws, was now automatically on our Board.4 With his addition, five of the six Directors were now from one church two miles away.
The Campus House was supported by more than a dozen churches.
Ironically, that meeting was part three of a series intending to re-shape the bylaws, which were so old they literally included telegrams as a means of emergency communication. Once we began, I learned “executive team” translated as men only. The chairman turned to Mikala and Emily, our financial coordinator and women’s associate, and asked them to leave for this portion of the meeting. Mikala was . . . not pleased, and if any of you know my wonderful wife, you can guess how that conversation went.5
You may be wondering, “Josh, where exactly were you while your wife was defending her right as a staff member to participate in this meeting?”
Good question, hypothetical reader.
I was peeing.
Yup, you read that right. The part of this I regret most came long before any real conflict developed, when I was too busy emptying out the liter of coffee I’d ingested that day to support my wife and Emily. By the time I came out, they were red faced with rage and leaving the room and I – I was too caught off guard to say or do much of anything.
As the meeting progressed, I received texts filled with Mikala’s escalating fury and I realized exactly what I had missed; unfortunately, things were already moving against me as well. See, we had arrived at the section in the new bylaws concerning women Directors.
The newbie straightened out his highlighted and annotated version of my proposed edits and began to speak – a lot. The atmosphere palpably changed, all progress came to a literal standstill, and he and I began the most calmly surreal verbal sparring match I’ve ever participated in. Voices were not raised, the conversation remained cordial, but we both defended our premises without yield: he believed Scripture clearly showed women were subject to men and not able to participate in leadership positions in the Body of Christ, while I, well, believe the opposite. As the conversation progressed, it became clear he had serious doubts regarding my orthodoxy.
After another 90 minutes, we decided to call it a wrap literally no further along than when we began. I walked home tired and defeated by this takeover of the Board I had spent a full year molding; not to mention the angry tiger waiting for me at home.
As I stood weeks later, barely noticing the third run of “The Sound,” I thought of that meeting and started reeling while my professor friend spoke. After he again assured my job’s security, I asked, “Who’s sending the questions?”
1. Names not given because I couldn’t come up with non-insulting nicknames.↩
2. Ron Howard voice: They weren’t.↩
3. Yeah, that wasn’t a thing.↩
4. Also not a thing.↩
5. She claims to have been calm and gracious↩