Where Were We? Where Are We Now?

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Future of Cru
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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.

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10 thoughts on “Where Were We? Where Are We Now?”

  1. Brian, your post really struck me. Reading Turner’s book, I was amazed at how much politics there was, at least in the 60s and 70s, in CCC.  For example, the recently deceased Senator Mark Hatfield was such a wise believer of great integrity – and there was a very strong push from our founder to kick him out of office, primarily for opposing the Vietnam War (a rift which seems to have been healed years later.)  I’ve heard from older staff about Crusade leaders who up to the 80s at least happily pushed the tropes about a “war between the States” that was not at all about slavery but States’ rights.  Some big money supporters like the Hunt brothers seem to have seen their gifts as an investment in anti-communism.  As some of my overseas colleagues become familiar with various aspects of these happy juxtapositions of missionary work with certain political viewpoints, it really disturbs them and can lead them to question just what this organization is all about.

    I understand that we all get wrapped up in certain cultural moments, but it pains me that I have heard very little discussion of these things in retrospect.  In fact, it is enough that I am intimidated to sign this openly, but I know you’ll know who it is.  I am somewhat amazed by your forthrightness in doing so, but I am out of the loop as far as Cru USA goes.  The fact you feel free to take this on publicly impresses me a lot.N S

    1. Guest that I know who it is 🙂

      First, I would say this is one of the few times I’m using both of my majors in ministry at the same time:  History and Political Science 🙂

      Second, you’re right I think and while origins can be changed it’s helpful for us to have some historical awareness of influences that were significant in the forming of our corporate identity.  Just like in leadership development we should honestly assess those things that have shaped us as people and leaders with a view towards stewardship and growth for the future, we should take a similar approach for the organization.

      One of my sources as I was exploring different thoughts on this topic had a good insight though.  They felt like maybe the non-partisan and political activity policy was possibly shaped mostly for Bill himself given how much he hung around people of significant political persuasions.  But generationally, many of our generation and younger don’t have the context and seem to avoid some of these issues altogether because of a sense “we’re not supposed to get involved” and that really has not been our general posture in history totally, though the singular focus of personal evangelism has been the dominant and most consistent theme in the organization’s history.

      I think these are helpful conversations as we seek to identify what movements everywhere truly means.  I don’t see how we can do that in some communities when we have a track record of absence from their struggles.  There are hard and needed conversations to be had that I believe can lead to healing and authentic hope if we’re courageous enough to have them in community.

      Thanks for getting dialogue started so I wasn’t out there all by myself 🙂

  2. Brian,

    Thanks for posting on this issue. For us in ministry with Hispanics this is definitely at the forefront of our thinking. We come face to face with it all the time with the current immigration debates. 

    As I thought about this issue today I tried to come up with some of the reasons why we continue to act in similar ways today (at least at an organizational level) when it comes to political-ish issues. Here’s my stab at some of the things, though I’d love to hear your thoughts. I feel like if we don’t address the underlying issues we won’t see significant change in this area.

    1) View of How Culture Changes – There’s a great article in the IJFM ( http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/28_1_PDFs/IJFM%2028%201_Bjoraker.pdf ) asking the question of how cultures truly change. Often we think that we change a culture by changing the individual hearts and minds of the people in the culture one by one. This might explain why we would use marches to focus on personal evangelism.

    2) Theological Views – I wonder how much of our organizational theology leads us to focus less on the physical needs and more on the spiritual needs of people. 

    3) Foreign/Domestic “Split” – We seem to be getting on board with the International Justice Mission and partnering with them around the world. Why is it easy for us to do that in other countries but harder here at home?

    4) Media Landscape – The CCC-to-Cru name change surprised me at how many staff/donors watch Fox News and Glenn Beck. We lost support because of their perspective on our organization. If they have that much influence over the response to our name, I wonder how much they shape our views towards what the “big issues” are for our day. (I would also argue that other media outlets have a large influence as well, but I mention fox news because of the name change)

    5) Failure of Nerve – couldn’t resist 🙂

    What do you think? What would you change or add?

    1. Awesome.

      And kudos to you on the failure of nerve reference.  Easy way to get me to respond.  You’re right on.  There are systemic dynamics too this and theological presuppositions and power dynamics.  What my friend above is getting at and that you highlight in #4 is that it takes great nerve to not allow one’s self to be bought – even in ministry.  Did I say that?  It’s true. Really hard to take money and not get sucked into wanting to please them or not offend them.  I think that’s one of our unspoken areas of spiritual battle and character development as an organization. It’s not a neutral dynamic for sure, even though I don’t observe really any blatant appeasement. 

      It’s been long affirmed about the emerging generation and millenials about how great it is that they are so socially conscious and more passionate about issues of justice than before.  Not sure how you see it, but I’m starting to see a pretty concerted effort among conservative and evangelical circles to guard against social justice passions becoming the social gospel like in years gone past with various movements.  I think there’s a valid concern there, but it’s interesting to me what I’m starting to see.  I think it’s good to work out integrated and Biblical theologies of how the 1st and 2nd commandments are to come together for the church and individual, but can’t help but feel like I’m watching a reaction against something that is an obvious threat to some of the current structures of Church and paradigms of ministry leadership.  Still thinking about the landscape today on the theological front – still feels like people want to create a dichotomy that doesn’t need to be there.  Sometimes the dichotomy is not there, but people still fear that some people “will go too far….” and so it becomes an issue even when it isn’t really an issue in reality.  I don’t know – important topics.

      Foreign/Domestic is easy to explain – it’s just harder to engage the issues when it means personal change.  Like making space for a new demographic in your church, or starting ministries requiring cross-cultural skills, or even making choices to be in the city and have your kids in the school system whatever.  These are hard decisions at times.  It’s easier to give money to and support IJM or other ministries which are doing awesome work, but we don’t have to face any integrity gaps in our own lives.  Domestically – there’s just big things that need to be reframed for people that require great (and non-anxious) leadership and that’s fairly rare.  That’s why we need to keep power on the table as a critical discussion point as it relates to pretty much everything that we do.

  3. So glad you posted on this topic, Brian.  It is really valuable.  I just read a book this summer called Mañana by Justo Gonzalez that talked about how when we say we are being “apolitical” what we are actually communicating is that we support the current politics that exist and the people that have power in the moment.  It is a stand on the side of the status quo even if we think we are being neutral.  That’s what I think of when I look back at our stance during the Civil Rights Movement.  We weren’t being “apolitical”.  We were very much communicating a position by not getting involved.  I agree with what Eric wrote too, this issues is on our minds often in Destino as it relates to immigration debates. I pray that we as an organization will move forward with eyes to see the struggles that we need to be engaging today. 

    1. I agree – our policy very much can be used as an excuse from the hard work of wrestling with where we should engage.  I see people avoiding the issues because they think they are somehow supposed to not get involved at all.  But as you point out we always have choices as to what we are going to be about and who we want to be.  To passively accept status quo because we’re afraid to engage is to support the status quo.

  4. Hey B, Great questions…really do we learn from history?…
    For those who know me well you know i was very much active in the culture in marching during civil rights era, attending rallys etc, participated in the get out of vietnam crowd and felt the sting of assassinated leadership and failed presidents.  All i can say is if i wasn’t involved back in the day…it would be hard for me to care at all today. “Being with” people (especially compassion or  victims of injustice) while walking with Jesus…gives insight for Spirit directed actions.  For me there is a ton of stuff that moves me…
    especially in the justice arena…but i feel the need to chill and ask the Lord where he wants me and what he wants me to do… 

    1. you’re one of the few I know who was actively involved.  I’d love to talk more specifically.   I love your observation that being with people in such struggle while walking with Jesus gives insight for Spirit directed actions.  That’s great.  I think what I’ve observed as a big pattern as being pursuing Spirit directed actions without being with people.

      I think it’s a great point to that we have to exercise wisdom or else we can get swallowed whole by various causes.  We must be anchored and secure in who we are and what we are about so we can make choices instead of being blown about.

      1. Lets talk BV i would love it.  I do know what has changed since the 60’s is ethnic demographics.  Back in the day white folk had power to give away or “share”….now as they see their power diminishing year by year it appears holding tighter is the norm.  On the flip side i think much of the minority population doesn’t know really what to do with its growing power base….it still feels as if there is a seeking for permission or approval from some minority populations that doesn’t serve it well.  The cool dynamic of the 60s was those of african decent saying “enough is enough…even unto death” to the degree that thinking white folks joined the protest party and looked to help.  I wonder when the other minority populations of the U.S will say ‘enough is enough…we are here we have strength and we are going to use this to make things right.’  They will get the support they need from many who see things clearly.  
        Concerning our ministry…I cant help but think that the change will come most swiftly as our minority numbers swell…as we are pragmatists at our core.

        1. This whole thought really resonated with what I’ve watched and I agree.  There is a holding on vibe I sense all the time from majority culture.  I’ve seen the approval / permission dynamic with ethnic minority leaders in our organization as well even though the power and influence is theirs for the taking (in a good way).  Things won’t totally be able to change until both the majority cultures lets go more and the minority culture leaders continue to step into their new found power and opportunities for influence.  I still since a lot of waiting among ethnic minorities even when there is no real need or advantage to waiting for the establishment of power to sign off on things. 60’s would have been a fascinating time to live in and experience for sure. 

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