Love/Hate campaign starts tough conversations on Wayland campus

PLAINVIEW – It started with a bunch of signs.

Overnight, the campus of Wayland Baptist University had sprouted 300 white yard signs, bearing the words “Love” and “Hate” on alternating sides. The buzz began early, with folks wondering what the signs were about. Red notes in campus mailboxes encouraged students and others to share their thoughts on an online “blog” site.

“The signs were supposed to get everyone’s attention, and they very much did so,” said Donnie Brown, Baptist Student Ministries director at Wayland and the organizer behind the Love/Hate project with his Leadership Team. “We had more than 200 entries on the blog, and between that and the signs, there was immediate conversation on campus.”

The Love/Hate project started Monday, Feb. 19, with the intent of opening up conversations among believers and nonbelievers on campus and giving Christians a chance for serious introspection.

“The whole purpose is for Christians to take a look at themselves through the eyes of nonbelievers and see how they view the church and Christianity,” Brown explained. “Through that we learned that the nonbelievers on campus have a picture of Christians and it’s not always a good one.

“It was for us to examine ourselves and ask, ‘Have I given a wrong picture of Christ?’ and then to make a sincere apology to nonbelievers and the campus and begin opening doors and taking down the barriers.”

Modeled after a 2006 experiment at Louisiana Tech University, Love/Hate definitely stirred up conversation on campus. The simple signs were the first step. The following week, the signs gave way to larger boards in the University Center with specific topics, allowing passersby to add their opinions about such issues as dating, college, church, religion, money, family and government. Black markers let people share their hearts anonymously on the various subjects. And they did.

“There were even more people talking after the response banners,” Brown said. “Our students were supposed to take those conversations and use them as a springboard for spiritual things.”

The third week, Brown had signs put up that allowed students to print apologies for wrongs done or misconceptions about others. The boards began to fill as student leaders made themselves vulnerable and admitted wrongdoing. Leadership members began wearing red shirts with “Love” and “Hate” on either side to represent openness to conversation.

Chapel on Wednesday, March 7, was a pivotal time as Brown explained to the student body what the entire Love/Hate campaign was trying to accomplish. While speaking, he constructed a wall on the stage of Harral Auditorium using cinder blocks, then closed the service by asking students from the audience – representing all walks of life – to come dismantle the walls. It was a powerful metaphor.

“If we’re going to take the two greatest commandments seriously – to love the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves – then we have to tear down the walls so we can talk,” Brown said. “I asked if anyone agreed with my idea that we need to apologize and begin breaking down the barriers to come up on stage. I figured I’d have maybe 25 and there were more like 75.”

If the intent was to get conversations going, Brown said the campaign was a success. He said a female student who had listed an apology for her behavior was approached by a male student who asked her to help him change his life, wanting to part ways with foul language and get back into church. That experience alone showed Brown that Love/Hate was having some positive effects.

He said the BSM plans to host weekly lunchtime meetings centering about topics of conversation of interest to students, borne out of the Love/Hate project. He’s asked his leadership team to bring forward ideas and will encourage all students to participate in the group dialogues.

While issues of misjudging, stereotyping and misconceptions about believers and others are common on all college campuses, the campaign is meant to focus away from pointing blame and onto creating positive change.

Though the official part of the campaign ended as Spring Break began on the Wayland campus, Brown said the real work has yet to come.

“Has Love/Hate been a success? It’s definitely got people talking now, but only time will tell,” he said. “It’s up to the students to continue to take down the walls or we’ll be right back where we are.”

“The whole point is to say, ‘We’re just people,” Brown added. “If Wayland is to become a place where we can have different beliefs and still love each other unconditionally, we have to get to that point.”