The Christian awareness campaign “I Agree with Adam” ended last week, but the message — and tactics — of the participating religious groups remains a prime topic of discussion.
The campaign is part of a nationwide Christian evangelistic outreach strategy that has already taken place at other universities. The initiative is organized by Campus Crusade for Christ, the national umbrella organization of local student groups Athletes in Action and Yale Students for Christ. CCC’s action branch, GodSquad, has published a detailed 44-page informational packet outlining how the campaign should be structured, and these recommendations resemble the practices undertaken by evangelical students at Yale last week. Though representatives of the Yale groups said they had not taken cues from the campaign manual, its instructions prescribe tactics that include a statement of faith from a student representative in the sophomore or junior class, the wearing of brightly-colored T-shirts, and faculty sponsorship, all characteristics of the “Adam” campaign.
YSC staffer Charmain Yun ’95 said that although she had never seen or heard of the GodSquad packet, she was aware of similar campaigns carried out at other universities. But Yun said in an e-mail that last week’s strategy differed from those at other universities and colleges because participants revealed early on who and what they were agreeing with, rather than withholding that information and building suspense.
University Chaplain Rev. Frederick Streets said that while he supports the campaign from the perspective of free expression and provoking discussion, he believes many students found the message to be divisive. The CCC information packet states repeatedly that Christian unity is a goal of the campaign, yet many students and University religious personnel said the week ultimately split the Christian community, due to the theology behind the movement as well as its tactics.
“The statement was not objectively objectionable, but somehow it makes you feel uncomfortable with their campaign,” Battell Student Deacon Andrew Beaty ’07 said. “Had they used the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed, [Battell] would’ve agreed automatically.”
Streets said he thinks the churches listed on the “Do You Agree with Adam” Web site, as well as the participating campus ministries’ national associations, are not adequately “open and affirming.”
“This campaign is part of a national organization whose theological views are considered conservative and evangelical, and has been experienced by some as judgmental and divisive and not at all inclusive, particularly of men and women who are gay and lesbian,” Streets said.
Streets said the campaign may be a disservice to the mainstream Christian community, as those of other faiths may perceive Christianity at Yale to be dominated by the evangelical sect of the faith. Given the presence of diverse religious groups at Yale, Streets said he encourages students to explore various possibilities.
“I want to emphasize the importance of students bringing to their exploration of religion the same critical approach they would to their studies and to take their spiritual life seriously by looking into the variety of communities here,” Streets said.
Streets said the non-denominational Battell Chapel was not originally asked to participate in the campaign, but when the Council of Student Deacons asked to be included on the list of local churches detailed on the campaign’s Web site, YSC formally requested Battell’s support. Still, Streets said, Battell could not declare its support for the campaign because the ecumenical character of the church is at odds with the theological views of the sponsoring conservative evangelical Christian organizations.
Like Battell, St. Thomas More, the Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale, was not originally asked to participate, and also declined to sign on to the statement later in the week because it disagreed with the statement’s assertion that Christ is the only path to heaven, said Katie Byrnes, a campus minister at St. Thomas More.
Byrnes said she thinks the campaign was beneficial as a conversation starter, likening its potential for religious discussion to Ash Wednesday, a day when some Christians mark their forehead with ash to symbolize the sinful nature of human beings.
The campaign spawned 11 reactionary facebook.com groups, some more facetious than others, and at least one serious effort at a counter-campaign among other campus religious groups. Max Gladstone ’06, along with friends Scott Caplan ’06 and Dan Jordan ’06, e-mailed eight other religious organizations on April 5, encouraging them to consider posting their own “I Agree with” posters around campus so as to add new dimensions to the debate.
Gladstone said he objected to the black-and-white view offered by the campaign, and that he wished to present alternative beliefs.
“My friends and I felt … that the religious movements behind the campaign were being somewhat disingenuous by presenting the religious question as a yes-or-no thing,” Gladstone said. “While I can understand why evangelical groups feel that faith is a yes-or-no question in a way, I think that presenting it this way restricts the wide range of debate you could have on a campus like this.”
No other religious organizations launched a concerted countereffort, Gladstone said, because they were concerned that by doing so they would be perceived as reactionary and their campaign would ultimately be counterproductive.
Gladstone is a former Staff Reporter for the News.
Yun said she thinks the week accomplished its goal of stimulating conversation about “religion, relationships with God, and faith in Jesus Christ,” but that some of the more negative responses reflected poorly on Yale’s student culture.
CCC Media Relations Director Tony Arnold said he was not personally aware of Yale’s campaign last week, but he was not surprised that one occurred. Similar campaigns have been conducted recently at several U.S. colleges, including Pennsylvania State University in 2000, the University of Florida in 2001 and Kansas University in 2002. In the Ivy League, three campaigns have occurred over the past decade — two at Harvard University and one at Columbia University.