Plain white Cru not white enough for Florida evangelicals

Plain white Cru not white enough for Florida evangelicals November 22, 2023

Earlier this month, Erika Booth, “an Osceola County School Board member backed by the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee” won the GOP primary for an upcoming special election for the state legislature seat in Florida’s District 25. Former Navy flight officer Tom Keen won the Democratic primary in the district formerly represented by Republican Fred Hawkins.

The reason I’ve paid attention to this race is because of the candidate Booth defeated in that Republican primary, former Republican congressional candidate Scotty Moore. Moore lost the support of many Florida Republicans because of his long history with a radical, “woke,” left-wing parachurch ministry linked to George Soros.

You would never, ever guess the group that description refers to, as in this headline: “Will Scotty Moore’s long association with George Soros-tied Christian ministry turn off GOP voters in HD 35?

Believe it or not, that’s talking about Cru, the impeccably conservative white evangelical campus ministry organization.

We’re not talking about InterVarsity here — an organization long viewed as suspiciously “liberal” because they once invited Tony Campolo to speak at Urbana. We’re talking about Campus Crusade for Christ — an organization so essentially white-conservative that they wouldn’t understand the joke in the previous sentence.

But the angry, white Fox News right has been angry with this group ever since they officially changed the name back in 2011. That met with bad-faith howls of feigned outrage from white Christians who complained that Campus Crusade for Christ was taking “Christ” out of their name — even though all of those same people had, themselves, almost always referred to the group previously as “Campus Crusade.”

The point of the name change, of course, wasn’t to stop saying “Christ,” but to stop saying “Crusade.” They weren’t taking “Christ” out of their name, but were, rather, trying to take the sadism out of the Crusade. I wasn’t personally impressed with the new name — “Cru” sounds too much like Crusade-lite, or like a late-’90s album from fired Mötley Crüe replacement singer Jon Corabi. Just switching to “Campus for Christ” would’ve been better.

Still, it was a positive step to see the ministry finally recognize that the Crusades were Not Good — that the name “Campus Crusade for Christ” was about as appealing as, say, “Campus Inquisition for Christ.” When you’re just trying to get college students to hand out copies of the Four Spiritual Laws tract to their classmates, it’s better not to suggest to everyone that your real aim might be to slaughter Orthodox Christians, plunder Byzantium, and rape and pillage all the way to the Holy Land. Campus Crusade has long worked closely with international missionaries, and after 60 years of those missionaries returning to the states and telling them “You know, that word isn’t really well-received over where we work …” they finally listened.

But to Cru’s angry white Christian critics, listening is a Bad Thing. It’s a sign of weakness. The name-change, they declared, was a form of “political correctness.” (This was 12 yeears ago, remember, back before “woke” replaced “political correctness” as the thing one denounced to demonstrate one’s commitment to being a bigoted jerk who thinks listening to anyone else is bad.)

Even worse, Cru began trying to expand its outreach to appeal to non-white students. Its white conservative critics viewed this as a dangerous sacrilege tantamount to teaching one’s slaves to read an unedited Bible. They feared the pursuit of “diversity” would lead to horrifying excesses like “social justice,” enforcement of the Reconstruction Amendments, or legal miscegenation. They liked that Cru remained a ministry mostly of, by, and for white people. Any effort to produce a more motleyed Cru terrified them.

And so a rump faction of white dead-enders within the ministry resorted to the white evangelical Sacrament of Indignation, i.e., the Open Letter. They aired their grievances about diversity and inclusion in a 179-page document titled “Seeking Clarity and Unity.” I would guess that name’s echo of the infamous “A Call to Unity” of 1963 (aka, the Alabama [White] Clergymen’s Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) was unintentional, except that their book-length open letter also echoes the substance of that notoriously obtuse earlier letter.

Christianity Today covered this back in 2021. “Cru Divided Over Emphasis on Race,” their headline said — which was accurate, just not in quite the way they meant, unless that was a shortening of “Cru Divided Over Whether to Continue Its 70-year Emphasis on the White Race.”

Titled “Seeking Clarity and Unity,” the document was submitted to Cru president Steve Sellers in November 2020 and spread inside the organization before appearing online in May. Its authors, a grassroots group of Cru staff members, raise concerns that a “victim-oppressor worldview” has become embedded throughout the organization, dividing staff and detracting from the true gospel.

Describing the authors there as “a grassroots group of Cru staff members” without mentioning that its a group of white Cru staff members seems misleading and/or misled.

That follows the framing of the “letter” itself, which presents itself as the objective concerns of a “grassroots group” of staff who are devoted to the gospel and are thus opposed to those people over there — the subjective, emotional, racially identified and therefore racially motivated people. The all white group is described as generic Christians motivated only by their identity as Christians. The ethnically diverse group is described by its ethnicity, and thus defined and confined by that ethnicity, and presented as motivated solely by it. (And if the latter group objects to this framing, noting that the all white group is all white, they will be denounced for “identity politics” or for “playing the race card.”)

The letter worked — Cru backpedaled away from its “diversity” efforts, realizing that if even those tepid, symbolic baby steps produced this kind of backlash, they didn’t dare attempt anything substantial.

But the letter also worked too well, going viral across white Fox News Christian social media where Cru became a favorite target for the feverish white panic over “wokeness.”

As a result, those Republican Christians no longer respond to Cru the way that any normal person would. A normal person would be, like, “Oh, you mean that campus ministry group that’s so fundie they make Young Life seem cool by comparison?” But for these white Christians, the name Cru now suggests nightmares of “Critical Race Theory” and “cultural Marxism” and all the other Scary Phrases the white right uses without having any idea what they mean other than that they’re scary.

But what about Cru’s alleged “ties to progressive megadonor George Soros”?

Well, Soros’ company has a charitable foundation that matches employees contributions to the nonprofits of their choice. And once, back in 2010, a Soros Fund employee donated to Cru, which received a check from the Soros Fund Charitable Foundation for $2,700.

That’s it. That’s the full extent of Cru’s “ties” to Soros. A single donation from a single employee paid through Soros’ charitable foundation and just large enough to maybe cover the wages of one campus minister for a few weeks. For the white right, that’s such a big deal that it becomes the shorthand description for 70 years of campus ministry and evangelism.

Bill Bright died in 2003, seven years before this one-time $2,700 donation from a Soros employee, but for these right wing white Christians, Bright’s obituary now must be rewritten: “William R. Bright was a Soros-linked American evangelist who founded the Soros-funded Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951.”

These white Christians aren’t upset about George Soros because he gave a lot of money to PACs supporting John Kerry in 2004. They’re responding, instead, to a mythic imaginary Jew — the antisemitic trope of the wealthy puppeteer, the brains and money that white racists imagine must be behind Black unrest.

The beginning of that Florida Politics post tries to describe that as euphemistically as possible, but it’s all right there:

Republican House candidate Scotty Moore worked 15 years for a campus Christian outreach group. That’s no shock for a social conservative, but the ministry boasts ties to progressive megadonor George Soros [winks extravagantly] and was recently embroiled in controversy around a social justice agenda [makes lunging, whole-arm air quotes while saying “social justice agenda”].

Scotty Moore is not related to either Russell Moore or Beth Moore. But he is yet another very conservative white evangelical who has now been anathematized as some kind of far-left liberal by white Christians who view him as being insufficiently anti-anti-racist.

For the belligerent white right, Moore’s link to Cru is a deal breaker. Maybe it used to be a safe, staid bastion of the conservative white evangelical establishment, but not anymore. Now it’s the kind of place that takes a little too long before getting bullied into agreeing that diversity might not be good.

 

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