I looked around the cramped living room. Normally, this would be one of my favorite things, stuffing a group of students full of cookies and coffee and sitting down to a long discussion – only this time, the anger, pain, and confusion emanating from each was difficult to bear. Every one of them had the same question, “Why?”
The student leadership team had just come from a meeting with pastors from the local church. That’s right, not the Directors, but the pastors from their church broke the news to my leaders, all of whom were entirely unprepared. As soon as that meeting finished, every one of them came to our house, hoping to get a handle on what just happened.
I began trying to explain with as much fairness toward the Board as I could.1 We discussed the pervading spirit of fear infecting much of evangelicalism; how the true hope of most parents and pastors for their students when they go to college is not an expanded mind and faith, but to stay the course – just don’t “fall away.” How my vocation was seen by many not as a catalyst to growth-inducing questions and holy doubt, but as a spiritual babysitter, trying to pass students from high school to adulthood with as little spiritual disruption as possible. If they can make it to 25 and still basically believe the same way they did at 15, that’s a win.
I gave more background on the Restoration Movement’s ethos and basic interpretive lens and how that interacted with my approach, and tried to explain how these men’s actions were still wrong but consistent with their understanding of their mandate to “safeguard the students’ faith” and protect the long term viability of the Campus House (i.e. keep the supporting churches happy).2
Finally, I could say no more and just passed the letter around – here, let the Board explain themselves.3
As they sat reading quietly or asking clarifying questions, I wondered then what I’ve wondered so many times since: whether I shouldn’t have fought it more. Obviously I was caught off guard and well, quick thinking isn’t exactly my strong suit. But surely I could’ve said something. I might have said no; just flat refused to leave. Stood my ground and said this was wrong – that I wouldn’t be shunted out the back door in quiet shame. Called out the secrecy and fear, or rage and storm about their inability to even understand – let alone “grade” – the answers to my questions.
I might have demanded an opportunity to address the students. Even in the midst of righteous rage I’m not a breeder of controversy and surely could have said something even-handed. As it was, we never saw an official gathering again, never got the opportunity to say goodbye to the ministry we loved so dearly – and the Board’s explanation to the students was criminally vague.
They never even mentioned our names.
All those students received by way of explanation were some sketchy things are changings and we care about yous and we’re here if you have questions.
Yet I did none of those things. Not only am I not quick on my feet, but after a more careful reading of the letter, it became clear they were intending to push me toward quiet resignation by assuring severance through December, and the thought of immediately losing both my and Mikala’s income overshadowed all other concerns. Especially since I instinctively knew I could never work in this movement again and any new denomination – like, say, becoming an Episcopal priest – would take time to pursue. We’d need all the financial help we could get.
The day we were
fired asked to resign, we already had a regularly-scheduled meeting with our student leaders. I of course was told by the Directors I was not allowed to attend that meeting, but had no doubt they would all wander our direction as soon as it was over. As soon as their meeting was supposed to began, I put on the coffee. They’d be piling in any moment now.
1. The rage hadn’t fully set in yet. Plus I knew at least some of these students would try and stick around to help the ministry’s transition.↩
2. Never mind we had laid great relational foundations with several of these churches and had seen their interest and involvement with our work grow.↩
3. Mikala didn’t even receive her own letter. Rather, she had a couple sentences in mine which essentially said they weren’t asking for her resignation but that her “position would be untenable,” then went ahead and told the students she was gone as well – before she’d actually resigned. Don’t forget this was after being kicked out of a Board meeting discussion on women in leadership and after not getting to discuss a single one of her answers to the questions. Do what you want to me, don’t be a dick to my wife.↩