Sessions such as “Challenges of Brown Faces Navigating White Spaces,” “Men and Women Leading and Working Together,” and “The Gospel Opportunity in the Midst of the Immigration Crisis,” introduced idealistic Christian students to the problems of white supremacy, patriarchy, and border control.
One of the general sessions, lead by Sandra Van Opstal, a Chicago pastor and activist, illustrates the danger. To a cheering crowd, Opstal shouted, “We cannot raise a banner to Jesus, and stay silent while we experience another holocaust!” And no, she was not referring to abortion. In fact, the injustice of abortion was not highlighted in any CRU sessions. Her targets were Donald Trump and border agents. In a Twitter post from June 29, Opstal even compared border agents to the Gestapo.
What would inspire an evangelical leader to make such wild assertions? According to Opstal, though she was “born again,” in a Southern Baptist church, she was “liberated” later on in the “Church of God in Christ,” a historically Pentecostal African-American denomination. Opstal now describes herself as “an evangelical of the Latino nature,” adding, “and it’s time for you to take your cues from us now.”
In her CRU speech, Opstal’s major critique of “the church” was that “intellect and intention” have taken a back seat to “embodiment and action.” She blames churches for sending missionaries while not working against genocide and apartheid; building buildings, while not fighting the unjust prison system. The church’s complicity in “greed,” “American Exceptionalism,” and “racist structures,” all amount to an “idolatry” that she asserts is turning millennials from Christianity. As long as Christians ignore stealing Native American lands, inequality in housing for minorities, police shootings, and ICE raids, young people will say, “I love Jesus but the church smells gross.”
Opstal’s solution is to “preach the good news of liberating freedom,” learn from “black, brown, Asian, and Native lived experiences,” and ultimately read the Bible through the lens of the oppressed.
She illustrated her point with a story. First she studied the book of Amos for ten years, then she went to seminary where she learned Hebrew and studied it some more. However, it was not until she ministered at Stateville Prison in Illinois that she “began to see Amos differently.” She states:
In the book of Amos, over and over again, he tells us that trampling on the poor through purchasing through companies that exploit workers and harm and endanger human lives and cause war for our luxurious jewels and our electronic batteries is not worship.
The danger in Sandra Van Opstal’s approach is that it places a barrier between human beings and God’s special revelation. In her world, a subjectively defined oppressed, are necessary for Christians to truly understand biblical truth. Opstal, and others with alleged oppressed or minority status, stand to gain power as those with special knowledge in how to interpret the Word and the world. And, to an organization filled with college students already mostly compromised with Leftist assumptions, it will probably work.
The only real casualty is the Gospel itself, and the humans it could have helped. Opstal claims that her activism is designed to draw disenfranchised students to Jesus. “We want you to belong to this revolution we’re starting here on campus.” Though she criticized alter calls, not once did Opstal talk about redemption in Christ as payment for sin. Repentance only came up in the context of “societal and structural evils.”
Opstal, and CRU’s message to older folks is this: “If we want to get this next generation of people who are spiritually hungry, yet disorientated and dissatisfied by what they see in the church, then the church has to change.” “The very people that we’re trying to keep out of our country . . . maybe they are the ones that will keep our young people from walking away from the church.”