“Calm down”: Campus Crusade aka Cru leaders debate racism and critical race theory

In November, 2020, a group of staff in various positions of leadership at Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as Cru, published an astonishing document aiming to confront their belief that “Cru has embraced a secular system of ideas that divides humanity into victims and oppressors.”

Over 174 pages, the document puts forward the views of at least 350 staff members, brought together around two main issues: theological concerns and “the reality of mission drift as Cru seeks to actively engage staff and students to help fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment through advocating for racial justice.”

What began as a group of five people nearly one year ago has grown to more than 350 staff members who have been meeting weekly and represents, we believe, at least 1,000 staff who share our concerns.

Scott Pendleton, in an opening letter to Cru President Steve Sellers

The mission of this group becomes clear very quickly in the executive summary in the first pages of the document. On page 1, the authors (which include Rick and Kate James, publisher of CruPress, the publishing arm of Cru), point to the heart of their chief concern: a “worldly system of thought” derived from Critical Race Theory (CRT).

In a document of this length, there is so much to say. However, as I mentioned on Twitter when I first learned of the document, as a linguist who works on religious language, my eye goes to one particular section towards the end of the document.

Image
p. 169

The word “racism” is emotionally charged, they write. Emotionally charged words are hurtful. And “Hurtful words are a sin.” “A Spirit-filled person will seek to avoid hurt by choosing words that heal instead of those that hurt.” Implicit in this short section are:

  • definitions of “hate” that centre white fragility and spiritually police the language of those who are oppressed and
  • more subtly, the widespread stereotype of the angry black person.
Science Educator and Molecular Biologist Raven Baxter comments on the ways people of colour are praised when they don’t mention race or racism.

What painful irony that the authors should, in critiquing the concept and relevance of systemic racism for Cru, recite racist tropes! And wield religious authority to do so! How on earth do they get here? To dig a little deeper, I decided to look a little bit more at how these Cru staff authors frame the concept of hurt.

The first use of this word is on p. 24, after this approving quotation of Steve Sellers’s response to US police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd (here called “death”).

Below this, the Cru document quotes a staff member expressing concern that Steve Sellers’s remarks “equivocating a racially fueled murder with what is called here the “assault on the biblical view of human sexuality” can hurt our witness.”

Not so! say the authors of the Cru document. Instead, they argue, this staff member’s discomfort with Sellers’s comments is “evidence of how much the mission and the ethic of Cru has changed, and how rapidly it has happened.”

Here and elsewhere, the authors reframe the concept of “hurt” in a way that makes discussion of racism the problem. As we read on, we see this unfold further. A campus staff member called John is quoted as saying that what has “hurt” Cru’s understanding of truth and undermined Scripture is “Critical Theory” and “Cultural Marxism.”

I’m not denying systemic racism, but in elements of justice there must be an actual example, with the evidence from two or three credible witnesses, like the Bible calls for.

John, p. 48

“Like the Bible calls for.” Bringing the authority of the Bible is bringing the big guns.

On p. 50, another staff member called Geoffrey is quoted as saying that at a recent retreat, “almost every talk was on immigration or race, sociology, politics … It really hurt me, because I definitely see a priority to go to the nations. I want to see every nation reached, and we can’t just focus on domestic issues.”

“Every nation reached.” Bringing the authority of the Bible’s great commission to spread the gospel is, again, bringing the big guns.

This theme carries on, as “Minority Staff #30” likewise frames the concept of “hurt” as discomfort with discussions about systemic racism, white privilege and systems of power.

There are now two religions inside the Christian church, and now inside Cru. One religion is the Christianity of old, but the second religion is a brand new religion of systemic racism, white privilege, and systems of power … I admit I’m still hurt and jaded.

p. 57

The authors’ summary of their theological appeal cements this perspective on hurt, in a caveat to their later language policing I mentioned at the start of this post. Don’t mistake us, they write. We don’t want to minimise “the hurts that our ethnic minority brothers and sisters have endured.” We just don’t want them to say the words “systemic racism.” You can say you’re suffering. Just say it nicely, please.

Let us again affirm – we don’t want to minimize the need for racial reconciliation nor the hurts that our ethnic minority brothers and sisters have endured. We too have a desire to reach every ethnic group with the gospel. But we do differ on how to work toward those goals.

p. 91

A polarising and paternalistic line in the document’s conclusion likewise speaks volumes about the authors’ aims and prejudices. “It is also hoped this study will help both groups currently concerned about such issues within the organization calm down …”

from p. 174

Given the authors’ lightly veiled use of this same angry-black-person racist trope only a few pages earlier, the document authors are leaving their long-suffering readers with quite a punch in the gut. As I’ve come to learn over the past few months, Cru’s minority staff members have alot to be mad about. But in the words of Solange Knowles, it seems they aren’t really allowed to be mad.


6 thoughts on ““Calm down”: Campus Crusade aka Cru leaders debate racism and critical race theory

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