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Lisa Sharon Harper

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By Any Other Name: Campus Crusade For Christ Becomes Cru

Posted: 07/22/11 02:43 PM ET

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Maybe, but a Stink Rose by any other name (say...garlic?) might get more play.

On July 19th, Campus Crusade for Christ announced its plan to officially change its name to Cru in early 2012.

Brown v. Board of Education had not yet been fought in the Supreme Court when Bill and Vonetta Bright christened their evangelical campus-based ministry "Campus Crusade for Christ" in 1951. The evangelical church context was overwhelmingly white, middle class, and suburban. The nation and the church had not yet been pressed to look its racist past and present in the face. The world had not yet been rocked by the international fall of colonialism, the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the disillusion of the Vietnam War, the burnt bras of the women's lib movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the rise of the Black middle class (more African Americans now live in the suburbs than in inner cities). In short, theirs was not the world we live in today. So, the name Campus Crusade for Christ smelled sweet. Over the past 20 years, though, it has become a stink rose ... warding off many who might otherwise have come near.

Steve Sellers, Cru Vice President of North American and Oceania Ministries, explained in a recent interview: "Even staff were pulling back from using the name in the course of their jobs both internally and externally. Hindrances with the old name led the board to begin a process to examine the name in 2009."

In a recent interview Larry Christensen, Cru New York Regional Director, reflected:

"The old name just didn't work any more on any level. The word "campus" didn't work because we're no longer focused exclusively on campuses. "Crusade" didn't work because as the church diversified that word became more and more associated with a dark period in church history. Even the word "Christ" presented roadblocks as we wanted to engage Orthodox and conservative Jewish people in conversations and relationship. It made them cringe because it was associated with The Holocaust.

According to Sellers, a commissioned study found that of interested non-Christians who interacted with Campus Crusade staff twenty percent pulled back from the relationship when they heard the name of the organization.

"Twenty percent name alienation is an extremely high number," Sellers added.

Campus Crusade is nothing if not practical. In the 1940s Tent Revivals were the evangelistic method of the day. By the 1960s that wasn't working, so founder Bill Bright developed a practical way to share the gospel; a little gold tract folks could share with strangers. It was called The Four Spiritual Laws.

Apparently, it's been a while since The Four Spiritual Laws worked like it did when I was a member of Campus Crusade back at Rutgers University. Summer 1987, I participated in a Campus Crusade Summer Project in Wildwood, NJ and walked scores of people through that little gold booklet on the Wildwood boardwalk. Twenty-five people, in all, prayed the sinner's prayer with me that summer.

But things have changed.

"We're embracing the new reality," Christensen explained. "Now evangelism takes place more often than not in the context of community. And people in their 20's and 30's as a generation are saying 'I want to make a difference in my life.' In fact," Christensen added, "the recession has pressed the issue. People know they may not get the American dream, so now they're seeking lives that make a difference."

"In the old days," Sellers said, "there was a split between the evangelicals, who proclaimed good news, and the liberals, who did good deeds. We don't see a split anymore! We're doing both!"
And indeed Cru has been engaged in both. Hurricane Katrina was the tipping point. Tens of thousands of Crusade staff and students trekked to New Orleans to help the clean-up effort. Since then, Crusade started a new ministry, Global Aid Network (GAiN).

With this culturally sensitive response to the growing diversity of our world and its attention to poverty issues, I wondered about the current budget crisis. What would Cru's response be to systemic poverty -- poverty entrenched by poor public policy.

In the shadow of the debt-ceiling war and the budget crisis, more than 20,000 people have joined The Circle of Protection for the poor. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, David Beckman of Bread for the World, Lieth Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Richard Stearns of World Vision among many prominent faith leaders others have joined hands with heads of denominations and other faith leaders to form a "circle of protection" for the poor. It is the poor who are most vulnerable to budget cuts right now.

As Jim Wallis said on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning, how we balance the budget is a moral issue. There are choices we need to make.

So, in the final moments of both of my interviews, I asked Christensen and Sellers: "Do you see a day coming when Campus Crusade might send a representative to join the Circle of Protection for the Poor?"

Both answered separately: "We have a long way to go, but we're moving in that direction. The name change is only one part of that."

But it is part of it.

Dear Jesus, let it be so.

 
 
 

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