Were the Crusades Christian?

Last week when making a point about the distortion of religions, our President claimed the crusades were undertaken in the name of Christ. The claim repeated by Mr. Obama is one that has been repeated many times by many people and will be repeated many times over again. Were the crusades Christian?

The crusades were an ostensibly Christian undertaking, claiming to be in the name of Christ. The crusades did not take place in a religious vacuum. The crusades took place in a socio-political environment in which the Roman Catholic church was tightly interwoven with numerous national governments. Church and state were not separated and were, in fact, nearly inseparable. Despite the claims, to say the crusades were Christian has as much merit as saying the Seattle Seahawks NFC victory was Christian. Christian claims and Christian participation do not a Christian event make.

Yes, the Crusades claimed Christianity for their support. No, the Crusades were not at all a Christian undertaking. Historically, nations have long claimed Biblical and Divine support of their cause in war. During the Civil War the Union and Confederacy both claimed God was supporting their cause. In the World Wars Americans claimed Divine support. In First Gulf War and the war on terror, America claimed Divine support. These claims do not prove any of those wars were Christian undertakings. Nothing in the Bible teaches an army of church men are to march into Palestine and drive out its conquerors, just as nothing in the Bible teaches America was to drive Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan.

At this point someone will protest that God told Moses, Joshua, Saul and David to conquer the land of Canaan and to wipe out entire populations. This claim is true, but Israel is not the church. The scope of this article does not allow time to go into the specifics of the Old Testament, God’s commands to Israel and God’s working in the world during that time. One recognition is vitally important to understanding how God’s command to Israel have no bearing on the crusades. The church and Israel are not the same in function, purpose, relationship to the world or governance. Israel in the Old Testament was a nation, acting as an autonomous government among the many nations of the world. The church is not and never has been a nation. The church is not a federal agency with its own army, justices and legislatures that imposes its will by force and fiat on those who resist. The church is something very different and distinct from a nation. The church has no authority to declare war. No true church will claim Jesus’ support of violence, murder and barbarism and no genuine Christian can claim Christ’s example for brutality, assault and bloodshed.

The crusades were not Christian in any way. They may or may not have been just (that’s a separate discussion), but they were not Christian. Christian is that which follows the teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. Anything contrary to the New Testament is not Christian. Anything not built on the clear teaching of the New Testament cannot claim to be Christian. Only that which is defined in the New Testament as Christian behavior can legitimately be called a Christian endeavor.

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