“Recent tension, some division and ministry challenges:” Euphemism and avoidance in Cru leadership’s talk about racism

This is the fourth post I’ve written about current controversy in Campus Crusade aka Cru, one of the largest religious orders in the world. I began this series after learning through some light digging that Cru was allegedly coercing some (and now requiring all) staff to sign NDAs (You can learn a bit about this here).

My first two posts (here and here) were connected to a November, 2020 report entitled ‘Seeking Clarity and Unity,’ written by Cru staff members, objecting to various initiatives to root out racial injustice within Cru. In those posts, I discuss just some of the document’s numerous errors and misconceptions and, worse, its reliance on racist tropes.

Letter to Cru President Steve Sellers, at the start of a 174-page document outlining objections to Cru’s approach to racial justice

Given just how inflammatory this document is, I wondered why I could find no other public discussion of it. I considered the meaningfulness of this silence, in light of Cru’s use of now-mandatory staff confidentiality agreements.

Then last week, someone sent me a copy of a video, circulated to all Cru staff in March, 2021, containing Cru US National Director Mark Gauthier’s response to the 174-page report. You can download a transcript of this video in the link below.

I’ll highlight just a few things I notice in Gauthier’s statement, though I recommend you read it in full as there are plenty of other things to say.

  1. The backdrop Gauthier uses for his video statement, a map of the world painted in white, is completely thoughtless at best.
Cru US National Director Mark Gauthier

2. The way Gauthier frames his message is likewise striking. After giving a note of personal thanks about prayers for his parents, he laments “the shooting that happened in Atlanta today, where eight people … lost their lives.”

What matters here is what is missing. No mention of the shooter nor of Christian white supremacy.

This prepares Gauthier’s audience for how he will talk about the Cru report, how he will never use the word “racism,” never state in clear terms the report authors’ strong emphasis on (a misconception of) Critical Race Theory. Instead, Gauthier refers to “this topic,” “recent tensions,” “some divisions,” “concerns,” “this group,” “deep hurt.”

I read this aspect of Gauthier’s statement as further fostering a culture of silence and euphemism in Cru. I note that Gauthier is behaving just as the report authors want him to, avoiding “emotionally charged” words like “racism” or “systemic racism.”

3. Following on from this, a Cru staff member shared with me their observations about Gauthier’s implicit prejudice in the ways he characterised the Cru report authors as compared to those who objected to the report.

On the one hand are the report authors, the theologically-minded group who have “concerns” about being “biblically based.” Gauthier mentions the feelings of this group, but he roots these feelings in “theological conerns about our ministry” (line 125). In these ways, Gauthier presents to us the rational research group.

On the other hand, Gauthier characterises ethnic minority staff as those who have “feelings” of being “invisible, unseen and undervalued.” These staff are “hurt” and experiencing “confusion.” Gauthier began his video statement by minimizing a Christian white man’s recent murder of ethnic minorities. Now, consistent to that, he positions staff experiencing racism as a primarily emotional group, neglecting the all-too-real rational basis of their fear.

4. I’ve already mentioned Gauthier’s use of euphemism, his avoidance of “emotionally charged” language. This trend makes his use of the forceful word “unauthorized” all the more striking. This is the strongest language in his statement, in my opinion, and Gauthier twice uses it to describe the actions of those who shared the anti-CRT report beyond what he believes to be its only appropriate audience: Cru President Steve Sellers.

So, rather than clearly condemning this highly inflammatory, racist document in strong terms, Gauthier’s key objection seems to be the fact that people found out about it. The problem is that the report was shared without proper authorisation.

5. Finally, in watching the video, I lost count of the number of times Mark Gauthier uses the word “mission.” Upon closer scrutiny, I found that apart from the word “staff,” Gauthier says “mission” and “missional” more than any other content word (18 times).

Given that Gauthier is reading out a prepared statement in the video, this emphasis must be seen as intentional. Gauthier’s desire is to direct his audience away from any discussion of the “deep divide in our ministry” (line 129) and towards Cru’s “mission.” In this way, Gauthier again adopts the language of the Cru report authors, who frequently used the words “missional drift” to characterize their chief concern.

From the Table of Contents in the Cru Staff Report ‘Seeking Clarity and Unity”

Certainly there is much more to say about Gauthier’s statement. For now, all this taken together, Cru leaders continue to give the impression that Cru is not an organisation where those soliciting and circulating misrepresentations of racism will be clearly and publicly condemned. From Gauthier’s statement, it seems not even to be a place where Christian white supremacist violence can be explicitly named.

As a scholar of religious language, I am keen to understand more about how powerful leaders in religious orders like Cru wield their authority, manage the flow of information and construct and police their borders. At times of conflict and crisis, we stand to learn a great deal about the beliefs of a religious community and how these beliefs play out in the lives of its members. And the more powerful and influential such communities are, the more we need to scrutinise and hold them accountable, the more urgently we must require that they act transparently.

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