When I first came to Houston Oasis, I didn’t feel like it was a home to me or like I belonged there. This isn’t the fault of Oasis. I wasn’t looking for a community. I didn’t like church when I was religious, and I don’t like it as an atheist. But to my girlfriend, it was an important social hub. We all made good friends there, and we felt genuinely welcomed…
After a while, leadership changed hands. The board of directors got a new president, and we were excited about what new direction they might take the organization. There was great emphasis on growth, and they started collecting money for a place to fit throngs of people I didn’t really see coming to meetings. They started a program where they asked people to commit to recurring monthly donations, and many members spoke of how they were extending themselves quite a bit to contribute. One person even stood before the congregation and used what felt to me like a slimy sales technique to get more people in the crowd to commit to the program.
My girlfriend and I were concerned about this new emphasis on drumming up donations, so she brought it up in the Facebook group. The public discussion was lively and civil, but one member of the board posted something very passive aggressive on her wall. My girlfriend sensed that it was about her, so she pressed her and received the private message that I posted and responded to a couple of blog posts ago.
We were utterly shocked. We considered her to be among the best friends we’d made at Houston Oasis. How could she pretend to be so nice and harbor such nastiness? Why would she do such a thing? Something was, and presumably still is, seriously wrong with her. I lodged a complaint with the board, and we were assured that even though they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do anything to discipline her, they were about to roll out a new code of conduct for board members. We were confident that she would bring herself to justice the next time she pulled a stunt like that on anyone else.
A few weeks later, I had a disagreement with the board member’s sister, who was a moderator in the Facebook group for Houston Oasis. After trying to talk it out, she blocked me, and together with her sister, lodged two complaints against me. The first was in regards to some pictures of her that I had posted on my photography website that I had already taken down. The second was about some messages that she had received from a fraudulent Facebook account that somebody (someone capable of being very nasty in private but friendly in a group setting) had opened up in my name.
The board members we spoke to about these complaints said they felt bad that they even had to investigate the complaints, but it was their policy, so they had no choice. We were able to prove our innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt, and we thought the matter was dropped.
The atmosphere at Houston Oasis meetings was no longer as welcoming as it had once been. People we’d had very friendly chats with were suddenly cold to us. We hadn’t done anything wrong, but somebody had turned them against us. Then an innocent joke I made was taken as if I’d meant to insult someone else, and I think whoever had made the fake Josh Mitchell account had been busy sending nasty messages to other people.
Any attempt to bring this up with the group was met with disapproval, people saying they didn’t want to get involved in the “drama.” They were as responsible as the fake Josh Mitchell for my inability to clear my name. I was never particularly attached to Houston Oasis, but it meant a lot to my girlfriend, and it was taken from her by bullies and cowards on the board of directors and in the general community.
And we’re not the only people who had been bullied out of Houston Oasis. There is a growing number of us who have had lies spread about us by ambitious social climbers. We could almost start our own community. Maybe we should.