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September 21, 2011Leadership

Cru Who? Lessons to Learn from the Name Change at Campus Crusade

Suddenly, name changes are in the news-- everywhere. Name changes are a big deal and I have been thinking about how to weigh in on the Campus Crusade controversy. So, I wrote this post a week ago to reflect on the Campus Crusade name change. Since many people are now discussing a potential name change for Southern Baptists, I have also posted about that at the Between the Times blog, where I blog about denomination-specific issues, on that issue. Yet, this blog is about Cru and Campus Crusade.

In July, the organization formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, founded over half a century ago by Bill Bright, announced the changing of its name to "Cru." And, in less time than it takes a seraph to say "holy, holy, holy" the condemnation began. Some accused the leaders of kowtowing to political correctness while others saw it as part of a continuing trend to remove Christ from the public discourse.

How exactly a thoroughly evangelistic, solidly biblical organization removes Christ from public discourse is well beyond my powers of reason, but this was exactly the interpretation that came from none other than Fox News. With the headline "Prominent Christian ministry drops 'Christ'" and in an interview with Cru's U.S. Vice-president (Steve Sellar); Fox made the charge that the decision was specifically about dropping Christ from the name.

It really is frustrating that so many wholeheartedly buy into the media when it supports their preconceptions and that so many seem unable or unwilling to think for themselves on the issues. It may be accurate that Fox is more conservative than CNN or MSNBC, but they, too, fall into the trap of producing entertainment and calling it news. In other times they try to make a story when none exists.

The reality is that Cru has an entire page of its website dedicated to the decision process there revealing, among other things, that more than 1,600 names had been considered and that the old name "Campus Crusade for Christ" no longer represented their mission since they were larger than a campus ministry. It was also enlightening-- and heartening-- to see them considering the negative effects the name had in Muslim countries. From the Cru website:

Our name presented obstacles to our mission. The word "campus" does not adequately represent all our ministries in the United States and confuses our constituency as well as potential partners. The word "crusade"-while common and acceptable in 1951 when we were founded-now carries negative associations. It acts as a barrier to the very people that we want to connect with. It's also a hindrance to many Christians who would like to partner with us but find the word Crusade offensive.

Our surveys show that, in the U.S., twenty percent of the people willing to consider the gospel are less interested in talking with us after they hear the name. We are changing the name for the sake of more effective ministry.

When your name is a hindrance to your mission you have three options: Change the mission, change the name, or suffer the consequences. I'm glad they chose to change the organization's name, as the other two choices were certainly less than optimal for the Kingdom.

Another bandwagon hanger-on was the now ex-Fox News personality, Glenn Beck. Apparently with little research being done, or with that little research being ignored, Beck launched into a foundationless tirade against the name change that would make...well...Glenn Beck proud. He said, at the beginning of his mocking rant, "They decided Christ might be offensive." The problem here is this: Beck's challenge is demonstrably false. Both the website and the interview with Steve Sellars make it plain that the name change was not to deny anything, but rather to increase the impact of their ministry. Why do so many evangelicals believe someone like Glenn Beck rather than the trusted leadership of Campus Crusade?

Even more out of touch were some of the comments on Beck's website. After wading through that garbage for a few minutes one might get the idea that Cru had been taken over by a group of atheists who were steering it away from Bright's original vision for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. In fact, as Sellars and Vonette Bright (Bill's widow) both point out; Bill Bright himself had been promoting the idea of a name change for decades. It is true that Christians can be suspicious because of institutions and organizations that experience theological drift: the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA, now "The Y"), Harvard and Yale universities come to mind. However, regardless of how finely tuned a person considers their own news radar to be, Christians do not need to be like blue whales indiscriminately swallowing all the plankton around them. Gullibility is not a fruit of the Spirit. Just because it is on Fox News doesn't mean it's true and just because Glenn Beck says it does not make it worth repeating. We must use a biblical filter of truth and error, of foolishness and wisdom. This is far too often lacking. Perhaps those who claim the name of Christ should trust their brothers and sisters who also claim the name of Christ. I think we're on the same team, after all.

So ill-aimed were the criticisms leveled at Cru that John Piper felt obliged to weigh in:

Glenn Beck ridiculed the change as he wadded up the report and threw it away. His entire focus was to attack the wimpy people who avoid using the name Christ for fear of giving offense. The problem with Beck is that he cared nothing about dealing with the real problems created by the name "Campus Crusade for Christ."

The problem was not "Christ." The problem was the limiting word "campus" (when CCC ministers to millions that have nothing to do with any "campus") and "crusade" (which for millions of people has one main connotation: Medieval crusades against Muslims). Beck's approach is not responsible journalism but careless hype for the religious right.

This is not to say that Cru didn't make a mistake by failing to anticipate such a negative response-- I think they did. Ultimately, though, the names of organizations matter less than their fidelity. I was amused at people who expressed disapproval, emphatically stating the need for "Christ" to remain in the name, likening the change to being ashamed of Christ. I guess the Wesley Center, Reformed University Fellowship, InterVarsity, The Navigators and Baptist Campus Ministries have been denying Jesus for a long, long time.

Thankfully, a broad representation of Christian leaders rose up in defense of Cru's leadership. For what it is worth, I think Cru is a great name, because it describes a great organization filled with people who seek to make the name of Christ more widely known.

Feel free to weigh in and discuss in the comments below (be sure to review the comment policy). If you would like to talk about the potential name change for the Southern Baptist Convention, please join the conversation at my Between the Times post.

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Cru Who? Lessons to Learn from the Name Change at Campus Crusade