In October of 2012, we released a website known as The Elephant’s Debt. During the research and writing phase of this project, an astonishing number of stories began to emerge surrounding what some called “the culture of fear” that exists at Harvest Bible Chapel. Because we were solely focused upon the issue of pastoral character, particularly as it was revealed through a case study of church finances and compensation, we did not avail ourselves of the opportunity to share many of these stories with our readers. Nevertheless, this “culture of fear” does exist, at least in the minds of some, and over this past week, we are witnessing yet another example whereby seemingly innocent actions suddenly call the loyalty of an employee into question.
In the waning weeks of this past school year at Harvest Christian Academy, an academic conversation emerged in the classroom of Roy McCaulley, a long-standing and beloved Bible teacher and the husband of Lower School Principle Amy McCaulley. In the course of this discussion with the students, a question rose to the surface: can church camp environments produce emotional experiences that are not authentic signs of spiritual transformation? To be clear, there is a dispute over whether or not McCaulley specifically mentioned the High Five summer day camp that Harvest runs each July. But what is not in dispute is McCaulley’s efforts in the classroom to affirm the fact that he was not trying to be critical of church camp ministry as a whole or of Harvest’s camp in particular. Nevertheless, the next day, at the beginning of class, McCaulley received an electronic message from church leadership that instructed him to leave the classroom immediately. For the remainder of the school year, McCaulley was not permitted to teach his students, but was instead interviewed by numerous church and school leaders. These interviews were focused on issues of loyalty and commitment to Harvest, two subjects that are not uncommon to those that are employed by HBC. Once the students had left for summer break, this popular teacher was informed that he would not be returning to teach at the school in the coming year.
Now stop and think about it for a moment. In theory, Christian education exists to provide an environment in which students can thoughtfully engage and probe issues pertaining to the faith, while being carefully guided by trusted teachers who are trained to handle these sorts of questions. But in this case, when the discussion touched on a subject a bit too close to home, the students were sent a firm and ummistakable message that this discussion was out of bounds and profoundly unsafe. Ironically, the purpose of the Elephant Room conference – a conference that ignited many of the current controversies – was to provide a model for how Christian brothers and sisters could lovingly disagree on issues of Christian methodology and practice. But apparently, based upon the treatment that Mr. McCaulley has received, James MacDonald and the leadership of Harvest must believe that this model is only fit for high profile pastors, and not for Christian educators who are trying to teach their students to think critically.
Interestingly enough, when some of the students caught wind of what had happened, they took to social media to express their love for McCualley and their disgust with the way he had been treated by the church. So as some students began to post their thoughts on Facebook, another student fired up a new twitter account called “We Love Mr. McCaulley” (alternately known as @WeLoveRoyMcC). On the feed, this student is citing numerous biblical texts pertaining to justice and love, while those that follow her, including Mary Martin (former Upper School Principle and current Middle School English Teacher), have taken to sharing their personal affection for McCaulley, by sharing stories and retweeting “We Love Mr. McCaulley.”
Given the public promise that MacDonald made earlier this year – a promise to be more forthcoming with the congregation regarding the details of staff releases – it will be interesting to see if the congregation has the opportunity to hear more about Mr. McCaulley’s predicament. Will Roy McCaulley simply become the latest member of a distinguished group of Harvest alumni who were released in silence amidst all the hustle and bustle of the church’s feverish activity. Or will James MacDonald stay true to his words and talk about this issue with the church at large? And what about Amy McCaulley and Mary Martin? Are their jobs and loyalties now in question because of their association with Roy McCaulley? Only time will tell.
But this much seems clear. In the wake of this incident (and numerous other previous incidents like it), if you are a staff member with a vested interest in keeping your job, do not ask questions, no matter how innocuous they may seem. Just keep your head down, smile and nod at James, and try not to think about the fact that no one will be left when they finally come for you.