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Dystopia check-in

On Campus Crusade, pronoun hospitality, and when organizations get big

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Dystopia check-in
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I can’t bring myself to type “Cru.” It’s like somebody my age saying “riz” or “it’s a vibe.” To people of my age, Cru is still Campus Crusade for Christ. “Cru” just doesn’t feel right. Ditto for “pronoun hospitality,” which feels like something that would appear in a novel or movie about the dystopian future but is actually a very 2024-ish brand name for an idea that involves Christians being OK with doing the pronoun thing (or acting like we’re comfortable with other people doing it) as a means of being “winsome,” which is a word that needs to be retired forever starting right now. It’s the kind of brand name that somebody in a quarter-zip, writing on glass, no doubt got very excited about inventing.

That said, I’ve been aware of Campus Crusade for a long time, due to some family and friend connections, and a year I spent on the “mission field” with them in the late 1990s—air-quoted because 21-year-old me was in no way ready/qualified/remotely-useful in a mission-field context. In my lifetime, I’ve casually known Crusade to be a big para-church organization that has involved a lot of people raising money (and doing other good things, too).

I learned about the Campus Crusade/Rosaria Butterfield/Preston Sprinkle controversy because of a fine piece of reporting on it done by this very publication and shared with me by my wife. In a nutshell, Butterfield accused Crusade and Sprinkle of false teaching vis-à-vis the gender/sexuality/pronoun issues while speaking at a Liberty University convocation, which must have come as quite a surprise to the administrator that booked her to speak and then had to answer all the emails. You know you’re middle-aged when you read stories and immediately feel sorry for all the hate mail that somebody had to deal with.

That said, I’m inclined to agree with everything Butterfield said, which you can read about right here.

This of course set off the usual flurry of “requests to discuss this in person,” “blogged responses,” and “social media/podcast activity”—most of which is very predictable and very boring, and is the exact same thing we’ve been doing online for a couple of decades now.

Here’s a quick scouting report on the key players:

Butterfield: Became an evangelical media darling with her “used to be a lesbian English professor at Syracuse and is now a conservative evangelical” memoir, which was very well-received by everyone I respect (I haven’t personally read it) and which encouraged a lot of people. She is becoming less of a darling as more casual followers become aware of what she actually believes (the Bible, repentance as central to faith).

Sprinkle: Has never been quite as much of an evangelical media darling as he probably would have liked, but gained some traction with his centrist/political-exile (always cool!) culturally palatable stuff on gender and sexuality. If you want to know exactly what that consists of, you can read about it in lots of places. Sprinkle says some good things, and looks exactly what you would imagine this kind of guy (author/consultant/inventor of “pronoun hospitality”) looking like, if the press photos are to be believed. Why are all middle-aged consultants relentlessly boyish? They all have the haircuts of 31-year-olds, and the faces of 51-year-olds.

Crusade/Cru: The aforementioned big organization, which is teaching Sprinkle’s particular brand of gender/sexuality stuff, and I assume began doing so when it became incumbent upon Big Organizations to be able to articulate (and maybe even retroactively have) their beliefs on all of these things.

Increasingly, it seems like these organizations are functionally grounded in a kind of financial pragmatism—the kind that sticks its wet fingertip to the cultural winds and shapes messaging accordingly.

My personal journey with organizations like this is roughly as follows:

Childhood-Young-Adulthood: “They’re Christian, and while I may not have any idea what they actually stand for, I’m positively inclined because evangelism is good.”

Young-Adulthood-Post-Reading-Ron-Sider: “I’m skeptical because they’re big and have money.”

Middle-Age: “I’m just skeptical.”

I’m skeptical because a lot of what young me presupposed about the world, and about big para-church organizations (and Christian colleges), has proven to be increasingly less Christian, by which I mean grounded in the authority of scripture and rooted in repentance being central to faith (as we see in scripture). Increasingly, it seems like these organizations are functionally grounded in a kind of financial pragmatism—the kind that sticks its wet fingertip to the cultural winds and shapes messaging accordingly because there are a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of big salaries to continue paying. What’s noticeable about Paul and his letters is that he definitely didn’t do this.

A lot of para-churches and Christian colleges, when they’re young, have a sacrificial, daring, mission mindset that isn’t primarily concerned with comfort and trips and conferences and reimbursements and living-as-well-as-the-world (or better!)-but-having-your-Christianity-too. But it seems that for many of them, this has been replaced by a kind of “if we can get it we should get it” mentality that looks/feels/functions a lot like the world. And then one day your Christian college lands in this place of, “Well, we probably shouldn’t build apartments on campus for parents of students, but hey, we have the money so let’s do it!”

At the risk of sounding a little bit like the Emergent Church™ (RIP) by asking too many questions that don’t have answers (remember how cool that was??), here are a few questions that culture moments like the one above raise, for me:

  • Am I constantly seeking to mortify and repent of my own sin? Which is, by the way, painful ... but so necessary to growing in the Lord and walking closely with Him and enjoying His grace.
  • Is my organization, or the one I’m about to support financially, or the one where I’m about to send my kid to school, led by people who know their Bible, love their Bible, and see it as without error and authoritative for all of life? More than finances or market share?
  • Am I, in my own spirit, consciously or subconsciously, seeking to leverage every situation for maximum advantage and financial gain? Have I drifted from a mission that I would have once articulated for myself or my organization?

It’s been written many times before, but I’m reminded of it anew here, that the gospel—the idea that I was once dead in my trespasses, and raised to new life in Christ, only because of His work on the cross—is fundamentally offensive and foolish to the world. But I’m also reminded that I shouldn’t be a jerk about it, because I am as much in need of grace as any sinner who has ever lived.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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