Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Manchester and the Crusaders

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Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

God, jihad, crusades

“The Roman church had an unswerving belief in itself as the vessel of divine grace in the world and the source of all divine authority, ordained by God and founded by His Son Jesus Christ on the ministry of His disciple St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. In such a mindset it was impossible to conceive of the Roman Church as doing wrong, or of Rome admitting any rival to an equality of authority. To maintain the power and to extend the sway of Roman Catholic Christianity in the service of the Prince of Peace, even warfare was permitted.”

-excerpt from the Introduction to A Brief History of The Crusades, © Geoffrey Hindley, 2003, published by Constable & Robinson Ltd., London

Of course, the representatives of Islam have the same solid convictions about their prophet and their role in the world. After the death of Muhammad in 632, the caliphs, the “Commanders of the Faithful,” embarked on a massive campaign of jihad to extend the reign of Islam throughout Arabia, North Africa and into Europe.

Representatives of Islam today say that it is a religion of peace and that jihad means to struggle in the way of God, primarily in the form of an internal spiritual struggle against injustice and for purification in order to attain to paradise.

The Roman Catholic tradition of pilgrimage had much the same purpose, to step aside from the ordinary cares of life and devote oneself to an activity that would cleanse the soul from guilt, and prepare for heaven. The first crusade of 1095 was proclaimed by Pope Urban II as a pilgrimage. Thousands of people set off on this new pilgrimage, pushed by a profound fear of judgment on their sins and the promise that participating in the pilgrimage would ensure the pardon of their sins and entry into heaven. If they happened to die along the way, or in battle against the unbelieving Muslims, their salvation was ensured.

So they set out with the sign of the cross on their banners. Cross in French is croix and the whole project came to be called a croisade, which led to the English word crusade. Thus began centuries of cruel bloodshed, each side motivated by the firm conviction that they were doing the will of their God and thereby earning their salvation.

I won’t enter into a discussion on the correct meaning of jihad, but I think I can safely say that the Crusades were a perversion of the Christian faith and the teachings of the New Testament. Not all the crusades were directed against the followers of Allah, some were directed against the true followers of Jesus Christ. The Albigensian Crusades were directed against people who sought only to live out their faith in peace and who had no ambition to enter into the realm of secular authority. This was considered an intolerable affront to the authority of the Church of Rome and led to particularly cruel and bloody persecution.

As a spiritual descendent of the Anabaptists, Albigenses, and whatever other name the peaceful Christians were given in past eras, I want to clearly state that the Crusades were not a valid manifestation of the true faith in Jesus Christ.  The mere fact that our spiritual forefathers repudiated the use of force in matters of faith was enough to make them hated by the perpetrators of the Crusades.

As a corollary of this, perhaps it would be well to avoid terms like evangelistic crusades or campaigns. Evangelism should not be carried out in a way that could be understood as an attempt o conquer others.

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