FARMVILLE, Va. – Longwood University’s students and faculty returned from spring break last month to find their campus peppered with a welcomed but anonymous message – thanks to the school’s Baptist collegiate ministries.
Small signs with the word “judging” inside a red circle slashed with a diagonal line – the universal symbol that something is prohibited – sprouted in grassy spots across campus. They were the first stage of the BCM’s three-week “No Judging” project.
Modeled on a similar experiment undertaken last year by the Baptist collegiate ministries at Virginia Tech, the Longwood project was an attempt by the BCM’s 90 members to change the image of Christians on the 4,400-student campus.
“Talk of the signs happened everywhere -- from the coffee shop on campus to the dorm rooms to lecture classes,” said sophomore Emily Caviness, the BCM’s missions coordinator. “Theories spread and rumors ran wild about the different possible groups responsible for the signs.”
Many students assumed it was a Longwood-sponsored campaign, perhaps spearheaded by the Student Government Association. Others attributed it to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, since it coincidentally fell during National Coming Out Week.
Few speculated it was the work of one of Longwood’s Christian organizations.
“That’s exactly what the BCM was expecting,” said Caviness.
The yard signs were followed a week later with two large wooden panels placed in prominent spots on campus. Each side of the two panels asked a question: “When do you feel judged by Christians?” “When do you feel judged by the Church?” “When do you judge the most?” “Is there a time when judging is okay?”
On each sign permanent markers were attached for passersby to answer the questions.
“By the second day the boards were almost entirely packed with writing, so that the once white boards now looked black from a distance,” said Caviness.
BCM members crafted responses to each question, based on the comments written by dozens of students on the panels, and in the third week wrote their responses on small pieces of wood which they attached to the original panels – and for the first time let students know it was a BCM project.
For instance, to the question, “When do you feel judged by Christians?” BCM responded, “Dear Longwood Community, We as Christians are sorry that you have felt judged by us. We are only human, and sometimes we mess up and forget the job God gave us. We want to be more than just words; we want to love you by serving you. We’re called to love you like Jesus. Love, Baptist Collegiate Ministries.”
Below the response they wrote “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Luke 6:27.”
“The approach BCM took in writing their responses was a humble and scriptural one,” said Caviness. “It was important to the BCM students to not be defensive but genuinely apologize for the ways Christians have hurt others. As members of the BCM continually stated, ‘Christians are called to love.’ This idea was the backbone of every response BCM wrote to their campus. They also included Scripture in their answers, to show their responses reflected God, not themselves.”
On Thursday of that third week, BCM members wore white t-shirts emblazoned with the “No Judging” symbol. That night an outdoor rally was held with two worship bands and a speaker, which was followed by a free dinner at the BCM building.
“At the rally, students seemed to hover (mostly from a safe distance) near the area, some walking by several times, curiously listening and watching as BCM worshipped God and heard a sermon challenging them to judge for themselves and accept Christ as the Savior,” said Caviness.
“God was at work on Longwood University’s campus,” she added. “Members of the BCM saw some of the impact this project had on individuals, especially during the final week. God provided opportunities for them to have personal conversations and even share the no judging message with entire classrooms of students.”
One BCM member said the experience prompted a conversation in class. “As soon as I sat down, the girl I sit next to turned to me and asked about my shirt,” she recalled. “I explained to her that our organization wanted to let the campus know that we are sorry for when others have felt judged or hurt because of us, and that that is not God’s plan at all. I told her we are called to love just as Christ does, and so that’s what we wanted to convey through this project.
“This girl, whose name I didn’t even know, spent the rest of the class talking to me about her struggling faith and personal life. We connected. I wasn’t sure how this project was going to go, but after the experience I had with her, I knew God was at work, that hearts were being changed and walls were being torn down. It was an amazing day.”
One non-Christian student called the project “awesome.”
“It wasn’t even about the BCM -- it was just, like, about love,” she said. “I get that. It really makes me think about God and stuff. It’s definitely not something I would have expected from Christians, but that’s why I really liked it. I felt like they reached out to me personally.”
The project was a leap of faith for the BCM, said Caviness.
“With this act of love the BCM showed their campus why Christ came, and if nothing else, gave the campus an example of love that no student at Longwood is soon likely to forget.”