Jesus’ followers should imitate his methods as well as his teachings. Hence, the Crusades were a mistake because the European Christians used violence to spread the gospel of peace.
Vander Laan shows us a European fort on Palestinian soil, complete with moat — the Heights of Issachar, “Belvoir” in the French. The castle held 450 soldiers and 50 knights.
Saladin, the Muslim military leader, laid seige to the fort in 1180 but couldn’t take it. But the knights finally surrendered when the rest of Palestine fell to the Muslims. They were given safe passage to leave, and they sailed back to Europe.
When the Crusades began, knights ruthlessly killed all non-Christians. They’d even locked Jews in synagogues and burned them alive. The Crusaders went so far as to kill many Orthodox Christians for the crime of not being Catholic.
The Crusaders did what they did in the name of Jesus, grossly distorting the gospel for economic and political gain.
Ever since, it’s been hard to preach Jesus to Jews and Muslims, because the Crusades so contradict what we teach.
Indeed, anti-Semitism finds deep roots in the Crusades. The Protestants were often also belligerently hateful to Jews. Martin Luther said reprehensible things, which helped create a culture that treated Jews as sub-human.
American Christians often call evangelistic efforts “crusades,” which is a serious problem to Jews and Muslims.
Jesus, of course, often used very confrontational language, but he took on his enemies by giving his life. He never would have countenanced anything like the Crusades.
According to the Lost History of Christianity, one of the little known and very tragic results of the Crusades was the persecution and deaths of numerous Asian Christian. Christianity had reached all the way to mission points in Japan, even though Islam ruled much of Asia. Christianity was tolerated as a minority religion and even prospered, sending missionaries eastward and having bishops and monasteries reaching toward the Pacific.
But the Islamic rulers were afraid that their Christian minorities would rise up in revolt to support the Crusaders, and so they were often brutally suppressed. Indeed, it’s arguable that the Crusades were the beginning of the destruction of the Asian Christianity, which is now almost entirely extinct despite once numbering in the millions.
There is an “on the other hand” here. We often forget that Jerusalem and the rest of the “holy land” was once in Christian hands. It became Muslim by conquest, although the conquest was bloodless, the Christian ruler of the city welcoming the Islamic army in exchange for being allowed freedom to continue to practice Christianity. You see, early on, Islam was seen more as a nationality than a competing religion, and the Arab rulers were often seen as preferable to Persian or Byzantine rulers they replaced.
As a result, for centuries Christianity and Islam coexisted, although under Islamic rule. It was threats from surrounding Christian nations — European Crusaders, expansion of the Russian (Orthodox) empire, and such that triggered much of the suppression of Christians. And they were, at times, brutally suppressed, so much so that today the Christian presence in the Muslim world is almost nil.
The church and power
One of the interesting conclusions that Philip Jenkins, author of Lost History of Christianity, draws is that Christianity often suffers, and suffers severely, when it becomes too tied to secular power. It may seem prudent to be allied with today’s powerful ruler, but today’s powerful ruler is tomorrow’s overthrown ruler, and the allies of the loser are often killed.
Another conclusion is that when we tie Christianity to secular power, we often feel obliged to treat as enemies the enemies of the secular power. Thus, during the Crusades, the European Christians attacked Orthodox Christians in part because the Byzantine Empire was a rival power. We’ve often had trouble distinguishing our religion from our nationalism.
Just so, the Crusaders were not unhappy that the Muslims persecuted their Christian minorities, because the Christians weren’t Catholic Christians and didn’t honor the Pope, who was both a religious and a secular leader at the time.
Thus, one of the great tragedies of being too closely allied with a nation is that Christians often find themselves declaring fellow Christians as enemies, even killing them.
The scriptures on power
What does the Bible say?
(2 Cor. 12:9-10) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul would have made a perfectly awful lobbyist. His special interest group would have failed to move Rome, because he didn’t know how the game is played. It’s about money, volunteers, and trading favors. We’ll help you gain power but you’ll owe us, so you’ll do what we want. No, Paul seems to think that weakness is better than strength. How naive can you be?
Of course, Paul uses a different strategy from the modern church because he has a different goal. His goal is to persuade the lost to accept Jesus. People’s hearts are touched by a man willing to suffer imprisonment and beatings to teach about Jesus. People are repelled when the church seeks to make them act like Christians under threat of imprisonment.
If, for example, we truly believe homosexual conduct is sinful (and it is), then we’d do the homosexuals a great favor by sharing Jesus with them and lovingly encouraging them to repent. If they’d do so, they’d gain not only salvation but also a relationship with Jesus and a loving church community with an eternal mission. They’d gain purpose, community, and family.
But if we instead prevail on the courts and legislatures to make homosexuality a crime, and if the law were to actually be enforced, they’d still be lost and they’d enjoy none of the blessings of salvation. Nor would they in any way feel loved. They certainly wouldn’t be more likely to be converted. And why should they?
Of course, if we could legally ban homosexuality, we’d improve our lives. We’d make the world a more comfortable place for the saved. But I’m not persuaded that God called us to comfort.