LCF’s shirts, signs spark response

Beth McHenry

Starting on Friday, Jan. 21, the Lawrence Christian Fellowship began a campaign designed to encourage discussion about and raise awareness of religious issues on campus. Through a combination of posters, T-shirts, and a letter to the editor of the Lawrentian, LCF caused a considerable buzz on campus. Student reactions varied from support to indifference to outrage, and some students believe that a response is necessary.
According to LCF President Ann Miller, the program was planned by LCF’s executive board – a leadership team comprised of six members – during first term and announced to LCF members at the end of last term. According to Miller, who also wrote the letter to the editor printed in the January 21 issue of the Lawrentian, the program was in no way, shape, or form intended to be a political statement and was “absolutely not to recruit members.”
Although Miller’s letter was a personal statement of her beliefs, the senior was chosen by the LCF executive board to represent the views of LCF members and introduce the belief poster campaign.
Two days before the Lawrentian was distributed, LCF made T-shirts with the statement “I stand with Ann” available to any Lawrence students on LCF’s mailing list. LCF also provided copies of Ann’s letter to students so they could be aware of what principles they would support by wearing T-shirts.
According to Tim Webster, an adult adviser for LCF affiliated with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and a Lawrence alumni, there were several ideas as to what the T-shirts should say, including several that referred directly to Jesus and Christianity. It was eventually determined that “I stand with Ann,” would be a modest way to express unity.
Miller’s letter was accompanied by posters placed around campus that presented the uncensored personal belief statements of other LCF members, along with each student’s signature.
The final part of the outreach program was a series of interviews of Lawrence students recorded on video. The interviewers asked two questions: “Is there anything you would be willing to stand for, even at personal cost, and if so, what is it?” and “Is there anything in the teachings of Jesus that you affirm or find applicable to your life?” The video was filmed early in the week following the publication of Ann’s letter and was shown at the Jan. 26 LCF meeting.
As expected, responses to the mission varied across campus -although LCF students found support, many students were offended, disgusted, or disappointed with the project.
Non-Christian students perceived the campaign as self-righteous and resented the idea of being “converted,” whether or not this was a public goal of the campaign. Some students felt that the campaign only confirmed Christian stereotypes. Andy Olson said, “I don’t think anybody converted to Christianity from these posters. I think more people were alienated.”
LCF executive board member Joe Rodenbeck said, “We acknowledge that in various times and places people have committed atrocities in the name of evangelism, however, we wish to make no association with their methods. Far too often evangelism is linked with violence and cultural imperialism … Far too seldom does our society consider that most evangelists were dedicated to helping the poor and making peace.”
The primary goal for most members of LCF, including Rodenbeck and Miller, seems to have been creating discussion on campus. Says Webster: “This is what Lawrence is for. It’s about batting ideas around, it’s about talking about things, it’s about disagreeing, it’s about discussing, it’s about trying to persuade people, it’s kind of about free speech, but it’s more than that. It’s deeper than just free speech, it’s part of the purpose of the university.”
Says Rodenbeck, “Lawrentians, it seems, can be very uptight regarding religion. Hopefully people would become more open and willing to talk about it.”
LCF members also looked to achieve secondary goals through the project. LCF member Melody Waring particularly wanted to express that “some of us really fun, normal people are actually Christians … Let’s be honest: Christianity has kind of a stigma at Lawrence – and at a lot of liberal arts universities. Christians are seen as backwards, intolerant, judgmental, prudish, and Republican. Because of this stigma, a lot of us want to cover up the part of our identity that’s Christian.” Students like Waring feel that the outreach campaign gave them the opportunity to dispel some stereotypes.
Allison Berry commented that she perceived the project as a “show of power, not support. That show of power is oppressive to those who are actually in religious minorities.” Berry adds that LCF’s venture becomes less laudable when one considers that a large majority of the United States is Christian, making Christians a group that hardly needs support from oppression.
Several other students had problems with the implication that LCF is openly opposed on campus. Weiss said that her response to the project was initially surprise, since the program seemed “unprovoked.” Weiss went on to say that, for her, a major flaw in the project was that the phrase “I stand with Ann” seems to imply that people stand against Ann. Commented Berry, “if this was an effort to encourage people to question their beliefs, there would have been more than one belief presented.”
Much of the disagreement seems to come from misunderstandings between groups, despite similarities. As president of Hillel, Weiss can empathize with LCF. “I understand what it is to want people to be involved.”
However Weiss also admitted that, “Seeing signs made me uncomfortable. It’s not a Jewish thing to advertise your religion.”
Conversely, Webster described the goal behind the T-shirts as “a Christian thing. Community support is really important in Christianity.”
Weiss is currently organizing an open forum in which angered students can discuss their concerns about LCF’s outreach program. The forum was originally planned as a Hillel meeting, but Weiss later decided to expand the discussion to other concerned students. Weiss does not anticipate any public response to the LCF project because “any response will seem a retaliation.”
Although LCF and Miller have received mostly secondhand feedback, a few students have actively responded to the outreach program, and LCF seems to welcome negative responses as well as positive ones. Webster met personally with one student regarding her concerns and he points out that her comments will be made available on the LCF website along with positive comments.
Miller claims that LCF members “were absolutely encouraged by the outcome,” both positive and negative. For Miller, the primary goal, opening discussion on campus, has been achieved.