Evidently, many people who work at the University of Wyoming only recently realized their mascot was a Cowboy.
I lived in Cheyenne, 50 miles east of the University of Wyoming, from 1999-2001. While there I made it to several UW football and basketball games, the last of which followed an opening round NIT loss to Pepperdine and introduced me to the experience of driving over a mountain pass during whiteout blizzard conditions. Those times added the Cowboys to my college sports allegiances alongside Jacksonville State and Alabama. Somewhere at my house I still have my ball cap with “Pokes” across the front. My worn-through Cowboys T-shirt has since been relegated to yard duty.
Recently, faculty at the university and others have criticized a marketing campaign tagged with the slogan “The world needs more Cowboys.” Because I live in 2018, I didn’t need to read any further to know their reasons. But, I did anyway.
It’s sexist and racist, they said. You only get the image of a white, heterosexual male, they complained. The logic follows that the university only represents that group.
A Georgia Tech fan wouldn’t think it weird to refer to himself as a Yellow Jacket. The same goes for a Georgia fan saying she’s a Bulldog. You have to be pretty smart to attend those schools, so I’m guessing those folks don’t literally think of themselves as insects or pooches. Rather, they’re representing the spirit of that University.
Living in Wyoming, I saw the fierce loyalty locals had to their state. They treasure rugged individuality and having a mental fortitude that pushes through a challenge. Pastors told me snow was a preacher’s best friend. Why? Because people who wouldn’t attend church otherwise made the trip when the weather dared to tell them they couldn’t.
The people I met were friendly, but you had to prove yourself to them. They detested “dime store” Cowboys who would try to look the part with no bona fides. At its core I understood the term “Cowboy” had nothing to do with someone’s gender or race. It concerned things like honor, determination to get a job done, and overcoming things that would make others sit in the dirt and declare “not fair.”
Known as The Cowboy State, Wyoming is officially nicknamed The Equality State, having been the first in the country to give women the right to vote in 1869. So, the people have a long history of looking past one’s exterior to find the worth inside.
All of this shows the Church can also use a few more Cowboys.
Those same traits heralding Wyomingites also make it a tough place to minister, pastors told me. The independence becomes an attitude of rejecting Christ.
“They feel their generosity is enough, but they don’t need God. To them going to church isn’t even a consideration,” said Max Janzen, one of my favorite pastors ever when my wife and I attended Sunnyside Baptist in Cheyenne.
Listen to Max and other pastors in Wyoming and you’ll see how they require a “Cowboy” attitude as well. Don’t give up. Have honor in what you do. Avoid shortcuts.
“It’s all about relationship-building out here,” says Max, now associate pastor of College Heights Baptist in Casper. “You have to work to be a part of a lost person’s life. Many reject the concept of ‘church,’ but recognize and appreciate a good, solid neighbor.”
Being offended has become a favorite American hobby. I know this because a nickname that had been used at a college for 132 years can suddenly be deemed racist and ignorant. Ironically, the critics are the ones only looking at the surface.
The Church isn’t innocent in this attitude. Sometimes we get offended when we realize the culture doesn’t see us as it did before. Check pretty much any societal study on the church and you’ll see it’s true.
But that doesn’t mean we accept the culture’s trajectory. It does mean, however, that we not be so expectant on people coming to church based on the zip code. It’s going to require persistent, intentional, relationship-building with those who see Sunday the way you do Saturday. It’s going to require us finding ways to live out the gospel to those who haven’t seen it.
Forgive me, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, but it’s going to require a few more Cowboys.