As I embark on this fourth post in my series of posts related to culture change and the future of Cru in the wake of it’s name change, I’d like to go into seldom discussed territory that can be instructive for us as an organization today. As before, I write because I believe these conversations are desired within my organization and are part of forging a redemptive future. This is a longer post, because it merits context and more thought.
Campus Crusade for Christ just celebrated its’ 60th anniversary as an organization, after starting at my alma mater in 1951. And when one steps back and thinks about how our organization’s history fits within the broader scope of our nation’s history over the past 60 years, there are inevitable questions that become pretty hard not to ask as long as we’re not trapped in the mechanics of just looking down at ourselves putting one foot in front of the other in our current responsibilities.
What comes to mind when you think about the events of the past 60 years? I think of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of AIDs, the media revolution(s), and a myriad of culture changes as it relates to marriage, family, and a host of other things.
Organizationally, as a religious order, we are to not get embedded or embroiled in blatant political activity – particularly partisan politics in which campaigning for a particular political candidate or partisan driven propositions can undermine our status and credibility as a religious order, both in the eyes of the IRS and in the eyes of those whom we are engaging in the course of ministry.
Yet for a while now I’ve wondered and reflected specifically on the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, in which my organization’s 2nd decade of existence paralleled, and I’ve asked the question,
“Where was CCC during one of the most important
movements of our nation’s history?
Did we miss the moment?
Did we see the moment?
Where did our organization stand?
Did we help in the struggle?
Were we part of the problem?”
These questions have become important to me, especially since my transition into Ethnic Minority Ministry several years ago. And it’s occurred to me that I never hear these questions asked and I have been around a while. Despite being on staff for 13 years now, my organizational memory extends to at least double that when adding my student years and my life growing up in the organization as a staff kid. If you didn’t know that about me, I’m 2nd generation CCC staff. I remember sharing my faith for the first time on the 1981 Lake Tahoe Summer Project that my dad directed for a couple years.
The lone exception for me was a little over half a year ago, there was a unique assembly of folks gathered for a series of meetings and we began to talk openly about some of these questions and our perceptions. We had some lively discussion, but it came about because we were a group of staff who have thought about these questions due to the contexts in which we serve or due to the personal stories some had lived as Ethnic Minorities. There weren’t really any staff not serving in an Ethnic Minority context in attendance.
Poet, Novelist and Civil Rights Activist Robert Penn Warren noted that “The past is always a rebuke to the present.” And for current staff, it’s worth thinking and reflecting on the way our organization engaged the Civil Rights Movement and it’s definitely worth considering the present moment with a view towards how history will judge our contribution or lack thereof to the great moral and ethical challenges and invitations of the day.
As I’ve read up on our organization in that decade and talked to folks who have some memories from at or shortly after the 60’s, I’m going to present my assessments. But I do so humbly and I invite anyone who can speak first hand to fill in the blanks. This is only what I can gather from the time I’ve put in.
The general sense I get is that the general issue of equality and justice for ethnic minorities in this country was not a front burner type of issue within our organization. There does not seem to have been a lot of conversation or discussion about the Civil Rights issues and their implications for Campus Ministry or the future of the nation at that time within the organization. Organizationally there was an internal insurrection of sorts during the 60’s at some point which may have distracted from having these types of discussions, but nevertheless there just does not seem to have been much active engagement outside of personal evangelism. The struggle and the dream that fueled the Civil Rights Movement was not really entered into or explicitly supported, though there were no doubt some that did engage on levels atypical of the norm. I do not know with certainty to what degree such activity was being encouraged, discouraged, or forbidden – and perhaps some of it was handled regionally or locally.
In learning about how the organization typically engaged other political movements during that era, the sense is that the issues were engaged pretty intentionally with the goal being to turn the conversation or redirect it to a spiritual conversation centering on the person’s salvation and the gospel. Thus, the politics of the Vietnam war or feminism, or other causes were avoided for the most part, but engaged to the degree that it opened doors for personal evangelism. This is how many were trained to do evangelism in the activist era.
But here’s the question that drove me to write this post. Looking back 45-50 years into our organization’s history and seeing that the Civil Rights Movement was not a significant and compelling movement for our own movement,
“Who feels good about that now?”
Hindsight of course is 20/20 as they see, but honestly – when you see that organizationally we didn’t really engage the Civil Rights Movement all that much from a support standpoint, vocal or otherwise, are you proud of that? Is that a legacy you feel good about?
I’m aware of the evangelical landscape at the time. It should be noted that while there has been an insistence that we do not get involved in politics, there have been plenty of organizational “alliances” of sorts that make the distinction between partisan and non-partisan very blurry. Check the history of what speakers have been invited to speak at our staff conferences? I personally witnessed Pat Robertson in 1997 speak in what was one of the most puzzling moments I’ve had in my CCC experience. That is an example that is not blatantly supporting partisan politics, but it represents an alliance with politically motivated folks. There are other cases going back further. There have been calls to actively protest abortion during some seasons of the organization as well as frequent speaking out against the threats of communism during the heart of the cold war.
Our stance as being non-partisan can be defended I think. However, any self-assessment of ourselves as an organization as being a-political probably are not being totally honest. So political neutrality is not a card we can play to excuse ourselves as there are enough examples of us engaging things that were deemed to be moral or spiritual issues to keep us honest.
So the question of our presence and awareness during the Civil Rights Movement remains for us to think about and consider. Are we bothered by our lack of presence? Our lack of seeing the moment for what it truly was in American history? What feelings does it surface for you? It bothers me. It bothers me probably more that I likely would have done what everyone then like me did had I lived in that era. I can only hope I would have seen the moment, but can’t know with certainty how I would have responded.
We can look 40-50 years into our history and see if our organization indeed saw and met one of the great challenges of the day in love and service to God and our neighbor. It serves as a mirror of sorts of where we were and to what degree we’ve grown or changed since then. In twenty to thirty years, history will provide some evaluation or even judgment on our own engagement into the critical issues of our day. Do we see them?
Shall we use political non-affiliation as an excuse, as no few have over the years, for avoiding to enter in and identify with our neighbors in their struggle and in the great struggle of the day?
Our past does serve as a rebuke to our present, because today we continue to see big issues get set aside for the sake of personal evangelism. How much really has changed as far as how we engage the struggles and stories of communities different from the majority and privileged culture? I don’t know. I’m wrestling with this right now and my prayer is that you would wrestle with this too.
But our future can serve as our motivation. Knowing that others, and maybe we ourselves if we’re still around, will be evaluating the first decade or two from the 21st century as it relates to how our organization entered into the most important struggles of the day, should sober us. It should fuel our urgency to look at the landscape of our present day, see the struggle, and respond in both love and with words. We need not divorce our message from the great struggles of justice and morality.
I know this opens the door to some big questions and big discussions. I hope you ask those questions and enter into those discussions. But one thing is clear that we all should be able to agree on – it’s not ok to just ignore what’s going on in the world and just proceed in an execution of our own agenda as if we are untouched and unfazed by the struggles and at times crisis in the nation and the world. These are not just “strategic” opportunities for personal evangelism, though those opportunities may be there.
I can’t help but also feel like it has been hard to shake our posture towards the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s as we’ve tried over the past couple decades to carve out relevant and culturally connected ministry efforts among Ethnic Minorities. I too often see folks with the same dichotomy as before – ignoring social realities and just wanting to focus on evangelism and our program of discipleship. That’s not going to get it done if we still want to embrace the vision of fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation. Maybe we need to examine our understanding of the “good news.”
I appreciate you taking the time to read as this was a longer than normal post, but as a fellow staff member what does this surface within you – whether you are majority culture or of ethnic minority heritage? What do you find yourself wrestling with? What’s troubling to you and difficult and what gives you hope? What are the great struggles of today that will hold up a mirror to us as the years pass by?
Feel free to post whatever response you might have. I humbly acknowledge I don’t know all of what took place in the 60’s within CCC, not even close. I’ve been intentional to a degree to learn more about it, but not nearly enough to make any dogmatic assumptions. God was moving in many ways and honoring the work of CCC in incredible ways.
But there were issues. As one staff member of over 40 years of staff experience told me…”Oh, we were marching during those days, but we were marching for Jesus” continuing on to describe how there was great enthusiasm for evangelistic driven activism – an enthusiasm that did not translate to involvement with the Civil Rights Movement in the same way.
Personally, I think it would be cool if we got the MLK Jr. holiday as an actual day off of work as a statement of where we want to be. I don’t know what the issues with that would be, but it’s time.