By Steve A. Johnson, PhD, ScD
I have had the pleasure to read this very thoughtful article on an interesting topic. I will try to summarize the argument without distorting it in any major way. The author begins with the claim that evangelical literature on the Crusades is plagued with the essential view evangelicals have about the Crusades, a view that is plagued with problems of accuracy. Moreover, the author assumes that these problems with accuracy could result in negative consequences. Therefore, evangelicals need a more adequate historical account of the Crusades, and they especially need this account when interacting with Muslims. Again, the author assumes/claims that if Christians embrace the more historically accurate account, this single step will yield positive consequences vis-a-vis Muslims.
The author embraces the view that the “new scholarship” conclusively and persuasively holds that the Crusades were based on a just cause to go to war with Seljuk Muslims. However, the “new scholarship” also apparently holds that the Christian Crusaders had appealed to an inadequate theology to justify their war against the Muslims. What was this inadequate theology? The author accepts the “new scholarship” claim that the Christian Crusaders fought to gain indulgences declared by the Pope that would alleviate punishment for sin.
With this view, the author’s position is that there is no need to apologize for the Crusades because the Crusades were just, and present-day Protestants do not embrace the Roman Catholic motivation for engaging in the Crusades. This argument is buttressed by the claim that “new scholarship” has demonstrated that the Crusades were just because rather than being a proactive attack on Muslims, they were to create safe pilgrimage for Christians to go to Jerusalem. Ethics often evaluates an act based on the motives and intentions of the moral actor, but also considers the consequences of the action. The author at one level questions the motives and intentions of the Christian Crusaders, but at another level supports the alleged motives/intentions to create safe pilgrimage. The consequences are not considered.
At still another level, the author questions the consequences of some views about the Crusades. For example, if an argument emboldens Muslims about their participation in the Crusades, that view is inadequate. The author believes that one should be concerned about the consequences on Muslims of one’s words about the Crusades.
So, what should evangelical Christians do? The author suggests an apology be offered to Muslims, but not an apology for the actions Christians took at the time of the Crusades. Those actions were purportedly just. Christians should distance themselves from the Roman Catholic theological motivation for the Crusades. However, whatever view one takes, according to the author, it should not exaggerate the importance of the Crusades. Muslims do not come to the Lord based on a Christian position about the Crusades.
So again, what should evangelical Christians do? Here the author’s proposed solution is the most creative part of the paper. The proposal is that Christians use the history of the Crusades as an evangelistic tool. The author believes that by emphasizing that the theology of the Shia-Sunni animosity during the Crusades did not help Muslims, they, the Muslims, may have their hearts softened to consider the “true nature of God’s work in this world, and how the Jesus of the New Testament will solve them.”
I fully embrace part of the author’s proposal, namely, that whatever one talks to Muslims about—the Crusades or any other issue—the approach should be to help point the Muslim toward Jesus rather than to some other point of an argument, even if the argument is based on a better view of history. After that, I significantly differ from the author.
One, the proposal is not grounded in any empirical evidence that it would contribute in part or in toto to the desired outcome, i.e., pointing Muslims to Jesus. Two, I have no problem apologizing to Muslims about the Crusades. It was deplorable, even if one was just in entering war. The just war theory discusses two types of justice, namely, having just reasons for entering war and employing just means to wage the war. There are considerable horrendous accounts about the concrete ways Christians violated justice in the actual waging of the Crusades. So, let us not globally rate the Crusades in a positive light that justifies all aspects of the actions of Christians.
Three, distancing from Roman Catholic theology is questionable and may simply have the undesirable consequence of showing deep theological divisions within Christianity, or even end up demonstrating that one’s theological stance is irrelevant to the morality of one’s actions. If I were a Muslim, I would point out that Muslims do not have to go back to the Crusades to understand that whether Protestant or Roman Catholic theological motivation is considered, current attacks initiated by the West against Muslims continue to violate justice in waging war, even if they are just in entering war. Muslims could name numerous countries in which Christians either directly or through policy “justified” the unjust means used to kill Muslims. Who wins that argument? Right now, many U.S. politicians, regardless of Christian denomination, are attempting to justify having no consequences for Saudi terrorism because when the murder of an innocent Saudi is weighed against the money U.S. gains from Saudi Arabia, money wins. Discussions of the Crusades considering current injustices by Muslims and Christians seem trivial.
I agree that we should not exaggerate the significance of the Crusades. However, my view is that discussing them is an exaggeration. I would rather show a Muslim my repentance about how I either knowingly or unknowingly contribute to a view about the value of Muslim life as less than the value of a Christian life. I would apologize for too much rather than apologize for too little and in ways that gloss over deeper sins and injustices in my heart and actions.
All of that said, I fully embrace the author’s statement that the Crusades are not keeping Muslims from embracing the gospel. What is? I don’t have the total answer, but my hypothesis is that it is multifaceted and in part related to bad witness of Christians, such as myself, as we parse arguments to historically justify force against Muslims, or we support political leaders who demonize Muslims such that politicians can more freely create policies and laws that support force against Muslims whether refugees, immigrants, or citizens of Muslim populated countries.
We know, however, that Jesus gave us our walking papers and we are to reach out to Muslims wherever they are, and we are to do so in love exemplified through our heart, soul, mind, and strength directed toward glorifying God.