Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
Last week, Evangel University1 in Springfield, MO, announced it will change its mascot. The athletic teams will no longer be “the Crusaders.” The university’s interim president, George O. Wood, wrote that the image contradicts the school’s mission. The name refers to medieval Christians who waged holy wars against Islam in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, often slaughtering Middle Eastern Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. Since this can offend many of the people to whom Evangel alumni minister and the crusaders’ tactics contradicted many of Jesus’ teachings, university leadership felt it was time to change.
Wood wrote, “Ultimately, this decision was made because I am convinced that our Christ-centered focus requires it. This is not a cultural response to political correctness, but simply the right thing to do.”
Evangel is not the first Christian organization to abandon a “crusade” name. In 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ (a college-campus ministry that played an important role early in my walk with Christ) shortened its name to Cru. While Billy Graham referred to his evangelistic events as “Crusades,” his son Franklin prefers the more celebratory term “Festivals.”
Some Evangel alumni support the decision. Others are accusing the school of surrendering to “cancel culture.” It can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between wise caution and surrender to society.
Cancel culture—a movement to ostracize and silence people and institutions that do not support liberal politically correct ideas about morality, race, etc.—has affected both sports and Christians. The Washington Redskins football team recently dropped their nickname (they are now the Washington Football Team); the Cleveland Indians will follow suit after the 2021 season. Some Native Americans felt the names promoted negative stereotypes. Being of Irish and Canadian descent, I wonder when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will drop their nickname. Will the Vancouver Canucks drop their nickname? What about the Yankees, Patriots, Braves, Chiefs, etc.? When will it end?
Perhaps some of the nicknames, mascots, and logos have negative connotations and should be replaced. On the other hand, maybe people are reading their own fears into an image.
Christians have also been “cancelled” for biblical beliefs. Celebrities, ministers, or politicians who believe in traditional heterosexual marriage or that there are only two genders face hostility or censorship in the media.
In 2021, we act surprised by these developments, but followers of Jesus have faced cancellation and censorship since before the crucifixion. The Pharisees tried to cancel Jesus for three years, eventually having Him crucified. On Palm Sunday, as Jesus’ followers shouted His praises while He entered Jerusalem, they ordered Him to silence His disciples. Jesus said, “If these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
Six days later, Jesus was dead and buried, and His disciples were silent. However, on Easter Sunday, the stone that blocked the entrance to His tomb cried out by rolling away, proclaiming His glory by clearing a path as He rose and walked out of the tomb. Before long, His disciples could no longer remain silent. Seven weeks later, they began to fulfill His mission to “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Although Caesar and the Sanhedrin tried to silence them, the disciples could not help but proclaim what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Eventually, the Roman Empire fell, the Jewish nation was scattered, and the Gospel spread to every continent. Despite all opposition, the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against the church of Christ, and they never shall.
Satan will always seek to silence the Word of God. The world’s system will try to cancel it. However, God’s Word will not return void. Our mission remains the same: to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God-become-man, and His Kingdom will endure forever. He died to bring forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it. He will come again. No matter who tries to cancel us or how hard they try, we will be victorious.
Holy Week reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle. We proclaim that Jesus is Messiah and King. The world tries to silence this message, but Jesus cannot be contained, stopped, or silenced. His followers will not be silenced either. Yes, we must fight His battles, proclaiming His Gospel instead of the social and political agendas we are often more eager to choose. We must proclaim Him with the same enthusiasm as His earliest followers, who shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).
Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord! Renew and empower us by Your Holy Spirit so that we may be Your witnesses now and always.
1Evangel University was formed by a merger of Evangel College (an Assemblies of God liberal arts college, which my wife attended), the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS, where I earned my master’s degree), and Central Bible College. Since Evangel College and AGTS were separate entities when I attended, I do not have a strong emotional attachment to the Crusader mascot, but I can see where the Crusades often conflicted with Christ’s teachings and historic Christian “just war” doctrine.
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Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.