Markwell under the microscope: The story behind Cru’s campaign

Cathaleen Qiao Chen

Matthew Markwell is an ordinary student at Northwestern – one who just happens to have his name plastered all over campus.

In the past two weeks, Northwestern Cru’s pervasive evangelical Christian campaign has become a popular topic of campus conversation. Their message, “I agree with Markwell,” can be found on nearly every sidewalk block and on herds of orange T-shirts worn by Cru members.

It’s even spawned a backlash campaign featuring a website and mock Twitter account.

However, the seemingly unconventional campaign is actually part of a nationwide effort by the evangelical Campus Crusade for Christ, of which Cru is a member. According to an informational packet posted on CruPress, a website for Campus Crusade for Christ, the “I Agree With” campaign originated in 1999 on Humboldt State University’s campus in California.

The idea was to use one student’s name as the figurehead to cultivate curiosity on college campuses about Christianity. In the past decade, the “I Agree With” campaign has been implemented in schools including Michigan State University, where the campaign “agreed” with Kirk, and University of California, Berkeley, where everybody was talking about Paul.

According to Cru intern and event planner Steve Rudelius (WCAS ’11), Cru executed this campaign on NU’s campus about a decade ago. The decision to revitalize it was made last spring, Rudelius said, long before McCormick senior Markwell was chosen as the face for this month’s campaign. Following the standard procedure of the national “I Agree With” campaign, NU’s “I agree with Markwell” movement is not intended to be about Markwell himself.

“Our campaign has really nothing to do with me. I’m just a name and people agree with my belief, which is that we can all have a personal relationship with God,” said Markwell.

In a manifesto published on the campaign website, iagreewithmarkwell.com, Markwell says he believes that in order to develop a connection to God, people must accept the sacrifices of Jesus Christ and surrender their lives to Him, a standard proclamation of faith that has been paraphrased by many other Campus Crusade for Christ member organizations.

Despite the current prevalence of his name on campus, Markwell said his everyday life hasn’t changed much. The computer engineering major, who is graduating in 2013 because he participated in McCormick’s co-op program, does some freelance work as a code-writer. In his free time, he plays Super Smash Bros with his friends at his dorm, Bobb Hall.

“Honestly, it could have been anyone else in Cru’s student leadership team,” Markwell said. “I’ve been on Cru for four years, and I guess they picked me because I can, or at least I hope to, adequately communicate my beliefs.”

Markwell was also picked for his humility and good character, said Cru intern Meghan Kollbocker (WCAS ’11).

At NU, Cru’s mass-mobilization of publicity and outreach began last week with chalkings, flyers and social media. Cru members were encouraged to wear their shirts starting April 4, said Cru member Kayla Foulk, a Weinberg sophomore and former Daily staffer. Those who wear the shirts are able to catalyze curiosity on campus without having to actively solicit attention, Markwell said.

NU economics Prof. James Hornsten wrote in an email to The Daily that this particular marketing strategy uses human curiosity to entice interest in the campaign, similar to the viral advertising campaigns of movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield.”

Those movies earned attention by disclosing minimal information, “thereby inspiring rampant speculation as to what these movies were actually about,” Hornsten wrote.

Since the first flyers were posted on campus, many NU students have responded to the campaign. Not all of it has been positive.

“The purpose of the campaign was and is to raise discussion, and I think that is happening,” Rudelius said. “I’d say it’s been successful in the sense that it has raised dialogue about Christ.”

Over the past week, angry blogs sprang up among the student body, many of which accuse the campaign of being invasive and deceptive. A group of anonymous students have even created a counter-campaign, idontagreewithmarkwell.webs.com.

Weinberg sophomore Alex Sayde said he finds Cru’s campaigning methods to be misguided and “irresponsible intellectually.”

“From what I understand, the reason why they chose to go with ‘I agree with Markwell’ as opposed to ‘I agree with Jesus’ is that they’re conscious of the fact that Christianity is stigmatized on campus,” Sayde said. “I think what they’re doing amounts to no more than trying to put one over everybody by giving Christianity a different name, and that name is Markwell.”

Markwell said the ultimate goal of the campaign is “to facilitate discussion. … If there’s a Christian who disagrees with our message, then the people involved in this campaign would be open to talking about it.”

However, Weinberg junior Ben Dorfman said he believes because of its Christian message, the campaign is already erasing some opportunities for additional religious discourse among students.

“The issue with the campaign is that they’re trying to say they’re an open forum, that they’re trying to start discussion,” said Dorfman, who identifies as Jewish. “But when you’re saying you agree with Jesus Christ, it closes off certain conversations already.”

Other campus Christian groups have noticed the “I agree with Markwell” campaign, including the University Christian Ministry.

“If what they want is to open dialogue, then they’ve been successful,” said Rev. Julie Windsor Mitchell of UCM. “If their goal is convincing other people to become Christian or have a relationship with Jesus, then I think that is more questionable, because I’ve talked to so many people with negative reactions.”

According to Mitchell, many students have been offended by the campaign because they say it places Markwell’s faith above other Christian traditions and viewpoints. She said the group’s message isn’t representative of
the Christian faith as a whole.

“For me, the main emphasis (of the Christian faith) is the life and love and example of Jesus and his ministry here on Earth,” Mitchell said. “In a way, I think this could turn out to be a good thing. I’ve had so many conversations with students in the past few days. We could possibly organize some sort of discussion on this issue between UCM and Cru.”

To conclude the “I agree with Markwell” campaign, Markwell will publically address campus next Thursday at 9:00 pm in Fisk 217.

As the campus discussion around Markwell’s message reaches its height, student protestors have expressed their dissent by defacing campaign posters and using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to poke fun at the campaign. Photos publicly posted on Markwell’s personal Facebook page last year resurfaced Tuesday night on the popular Facebook page Northwestern Memes, including one of him posing with dead rabbits and an assault rifle. “I agree with Markwell,” the sardonic caption reads. “Bunnies are nonbelievers.”

Markwell isn’t fazed.

“I honestly expected this to happen; none of it has a personal effect on me,” Markwell said. “I did think about blocking my Facebook so people wouldn’t be able to use my information, but I decided it would be better for me to be vulnerable and honest to people than to present myself like something special.”

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