CRUSADES AND JIHAD
by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, December 2005
Christians (with the exception of Quakers and Mennonites) have always accepted the need to fight in self defense. Did not Jesus say to his disciples "the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:36). In the face of the murder and rape of our family, we are not committed to non-violence. And wherever possible, we recognize the need for government and armed police to protect us from criminals. "The authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4).
But Jesus also warned against the use of arms to rob and oppress others. "All who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). This suggests that offensive warfare to subdue the territory of others is never our duty. We are to propagate the good news of the love of God, but it is never right to use force to convert others to our faith.
Four hundred and fifty years after the first Arab jihad had taken Jerusalem, a French army mounted the first Christian crusade (1096-1099). These unholy warriors proclaimed themselves as Christians by wearing a white cross on their chest. A group of undisciplined armies, led by feudal barons, raped and pillaged their way across eastern Europe and present-day Turkey. Jerusalem was taken (1099), and Godfrey of Bouillon was appointed the first Christian king of the city. As a boy, I used to admire the huge statue of him mounted on a horse in one of the parks in Brussels. Nineteen years later, the holy city was recaptured by Saladin, the powerful Sultan of Egypt and Syria (1187). And again after fierce fighting forty years later, Jerusalem was back in European hands (1229-1244). The last of the crusades came to a miserable end when the European army was finally routed in Egypt (1250)..
Jacques Ellul said that "the crusade is an imitation of the jihad" (The Subversion of Christianity, 1986, p.103). But that does not explain how Christians were persuaded to engage in these 250 years of folly and carnage. The word crusade is certainly an unfortunate term. For Jesus, the cross was a submission of love to overcome the legalism, guilt, and fear of death that enslave us.
What then were the causes of this tragic aberration of Christian history? Evidently some joined in the crusades in the hope of enriching themselves. But this was also a time when feudal knights in shiny armor were committed to chivalry. They longed to impress their lady loves and their lords with their courage, horsemanship, and faithful service. And the motives of the kings who supported these armies were always confused, if not downright mischievous.
In our day, Dr. Billy Graham preached in an impressive series of evangelistic meetings in many major cities. There were some very good results, including the joining of black and white Christians and others from many races in the great choirs that sang every evening. It was however unfortunate that the term crusade was used to describe these efforts. The singing of "Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war" does not help to clarify what we are about. So we cannot blame our Muslim friends for imagining that Christian crusades and missionary endeavors are a modern form of jihad. After nearly ten centuries, the crusades still make it difficult to explain that there is no room for jihads and crusades in the Kingdom of the Messiah.