Location: New England, United States

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Ballot Box

I finally did walk down that aisle with tears streaming down my face just as others had done before me. I was not embarrassed to proclaim that "Jesus is Lord", and I was baptised a few weeks later. My husband also joined the little church by moving his membership from his parents' Baptist church.

Afterwards, we became very active in church activities. We attended Sunday night Bible Study, Wednesday night Prayer Service, I taught Sunday School to the preschoolers and Mission Friends. We socialized with our Pastor and his family, and for two years the congregation grew until there was standing room only at Sunday services.

For those who do not know, a Southern Baptist church is a democratic church. All decisions, including the appointment of deacons and board members, are voted on by the members rather than decided by the Pastor. We replaced our Board of Directors with new members, including a new Finance Director who happened to be a CFO with a prominent corporation. Trouble brewed when the new Finance Director reviewed the church budget.

Our pastor, Brother Bob, was young and still working on his Masters in Divinity degree at a local university. Although he had three children and a stay-at-home wife, the little church had enticed him with the meager salary of $5,500 a year. They also provided a parsonage, utilities and traveling expenses, but even for the early seventies in a 'border state' this salary was hardly adequate. The church supplemented his income with charity. As many of the members were farmers, they would bring the young pastor bushels of food or second hand clothing.

But, the church had changed in two years. The membership had more than doubled and the coffers were full, so the new Director of Finance doubled Brother Bob's salary for the upcoming budget year. This budget was distributed to the membership and a vote would take place in a few weeks to adopt or reject.

There was outrage. With the new budget, Brother Bob's salary would exceed most of the congregations' annual salary. Never mind that he had just completed his Master's degree in Divinity and most of the congregation had little more than a high school education; the disparity was not to be tolerated, and my husband lead the opposition.

As soon as we arrived home that Sunday, my husband was on the phone to rally others to his point of view. There were meetings at our home discussing strategies and phone calls persuading other members to join their forces. By the next Sunday, the preacher had gotten wind of the revolt and asked the Director of Finance to revise the budgeted salary to a more acceptable range. The Director of Finance refused reminding the preacher that he had little say over the budget. The church was at a stand-off.

Even I was confused. Although I agreed that Brother Bob deserved a substantial raise, the proposed amount was a princely sum compared to the median income for our surrounding area. I kept my fence-sitting quiet from my husband while I served coffee and fresh baked goodies to his constituents during their meetings in our home.

Brother Bob was worried that the discord would pull the church apart, so the from the pulpit he called on the congregation to pray for God's guidance in next week's vote. The week before the voting, I acted on Brother Bob's call to prayer. "Please God, show me how to vote."

Suddenly, I remembered Brother Bob's sermons of the last two years. He continuously warned us that our miraculous growth was a thorn in the side of Satan. We should expect a spiritual attack against the church, and he prophesied that one day our church may be torn in half if we were not spiritually vigilant. These sermons were preached long before the new Board of Directors and their new budget. How did he know?

This time I asked God with all my heart, "Show me how to vote."

As in the past, I received a one word answer - "Yes", and my heart fell.

How could I possibly vote - yes - when my husband was leading the opposition? I cajoled God, "But God, you told me to subject myself to my husband! Shouldn't I vote as he would vote?"
Every time I prayed, I received the same one word answer - "Yes". By Saturday night, I knew I would vote as God had instructed. "Anyway," I reasoned, "It is only one vote."

My husband spent that Saturday tallying up the 'No' votes by phone. According to his census the 'No's' would win by a slim margin. We both went to bed that night believing that we were doing God's will.

The voting was to take place in the sanctuary following the Sunday service. Only members of the church are allowed to vote, so when the visitors had left, the sanctuary doors were closed and we were all given pieces of paper with two boxes - simply - Yes or No. I checked Yes confident that I could follow God's lead in secret and without any discord between my husband and myself. I was wrong; the new budget passed by one vote!

I felt light-headed and a wave of nausea coursed through me. I rode home with my husband's ranting banging in my ears while my heart banged furiously in my chest. Unfortunately, I was playing hostess that afternoon as my husband had invited some of the opposing team over for what was to be a celebratory dinner.

After dinner I refused the offer of assistance to clean-up so I could have some time to myself. "Why God? Why did it have to be one vote?" No answer, but the mindless chore of washing and drying dishes helped to calm me so that by the time I was readying for dessert, I had filed the whole incident away with reasoning. "After all, who knew that I had voted yes?"

"Tell them."


"Tell them."

"No way!"

"Tell them so they know that it was my will."

So, I told them. I explained how I prayed as Brother Bob had asked and that every time I prayed, God answered that I should vote yes. I will never forget the silence that followed. It was leaden and gray. I don't know if they stayed for dessert because I hid in the bedroom with tears in my eyes. I feared going back out there, and it was a long time before my husband came to check on me.

In the end, I left the final solution up to my husband - we would not be returning to the church. I had injured his pride.


Blogger Nightcrawler said...

Wow... powerful. I've seen similar things happen in the church I grew up in (fellow Southern Baptist here!).

Hate it when that happens.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Jewels said...

This was starting to sound like some ugly church politics, but I loved it how God came through in this story! I was curious what "Parresia" is and said "Do you mean 'Parrhesia'?" which means bolness of freedom of speech so that is probably it then. Are there Southern Baptist churches in Connecticut? I'm ignorant about that.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Jewels said...

I meant boldness or freedom of speech. I was too excited, I guess.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Powerful story indeed, thanks for sharing it!

So glad you listened to the Lord. The church was right to give the pastor the salary recommended by the Finance director.

The name of your blog is great.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

I am glad you listened to God on this one. You don't know what may come out of it. Maybe you never will, but that's not important.

12:01 PM  

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