When we talk about Christians being involved in the public square, a major and recurring point we emphasize is that such civic activity can have great impact when people think local. As one political activist said to me, “We need City Council people. Everyone wants to be a Congressman.”
Last week, I wrote about Richard Watson, a Texas pharmacist and pastor who ran for and sat on the State Board of Education.
That interview jogged my memory of another story I had planned on coming back around to. You may recall a story we published in January about Karen Campbell, a woman from Mason City, Iowa who spearheaded a successful effort to have the entire Bible read outside her County’s Courthouse (“Iowans read the entire Bible at the courthouses of all 99 counties“).
Like Watson in Texas, Karen’s husband Doug was also a pharmacist. And, like Watson, he is fulfilling a Christian call to make an impact in the public square by means of serving on his local Board of Education.
Campbell has been in the community since 1979 and had a lot of face recognition with the community due to this job. As such, he knew some of the school administrators, including the superintendent. “Whenever I saw her and her stated accomplishments in the school system, I thought, ‘Wow, she must be doing a great job.”
It would take actually being on the school board for Campbell to begin forming a different opinion about the current local education administration. But Campbell wasn’t necessarily the school board type–or so he thought.
“In college, I’d see people who sat on elected boards and operated by Robert’s Rules of Order. They seemed like silly, self-important people. I sort of rejected that whole idea early on in life–not my calling. I wasn’t interested in participating.”
But forty-five years later, in retirement and with extra time on his hands, Campbell began to notice problems within the school system.
“My wife and I had become politically involved both at the national and state level,” he said. “I heard that there were some rumblings and troubles on the school board. Two people on the previous board had just got up and resigned. So I figured, that I would step up and do my duty.”
Campbell’s first inclination was to support the current superintendent and strengthen her position. But he began to realize that some things were amiss.
“I got sworn in and started reading policy. I don’t know whether it’s me personally, or whether its because I’m a pharmacist by trade–attention to detail. But my personality leads me to go to the foundation. So, I went to the Iowa Code to see what our policy and procedural manuals said about the job.”
Campbell noticed right away that the superintendent ran the meetings. At first he thought she was just helping out, as the board had four new members and so there was a learning curve at first.
“Very quickly, however, I realized that she wasn’t helping us out–she was controlling us completely,” Campbell said. “Turns out that in her contract and in policy, she had it written in from previous board and from her attorney that she was Chief Executive Officer of the Board, which means she had no fiduciary or legal responsibility to the board except what Code said–the fact that the board had to exist.”
Campbell and other board members began to poke into the details of the finances and the workings of the school administration and they came to the conclusion that the local community was not being served well by the current leaders.
So, they ended up buying out the contract of that superintendent. The next one served only one year, and now a new one will begin this fall–only he is coming in from outside the County. A fresh face.
“The man’s brilliant. And he is honest,” Campbell said. “He’s going to set our schools in the right direction.”
Campbell estimates that less than one of ten people are keeping up with issues within their local school board.
His own interest in civic engagement has been a gradually increasing thing, as he attended events sponsored by the American Renewal Project. Also, national Christian pastors and authors, like Lance Wallnau, stirred him to think about the seven mountains of cultural influence–education being one of the seven.
In the end, Campbell says it is about being called to servant leadership. “There’s no glory, there’s just hard work–and you have to have a heart,” Campbell said. “And humility! Like Gideon, who said, ‘I’m the least of the tribe, and I’m the least of my tribe. Why are you talking to me?’ That is a key component of a Christian being involved in the public square.”