This week something fascinating has happened. My Sunday School class (World Religions-Islam) and my Sermon Series (Questioning Christianity: Dealing With Tough Questions of the Faith) have collided.
Here is what I mean. This Sunday I am continuing a sermon series called “Questioning Christianity: Dealing With Tough Questions of the Faith.” The question we will be asking and answering this Sunday is, “Why Believe in Christianity When So Many Christians are Hypocrites?” When you start digging into this topic you realize that one of the questions that comes up is regarding the Crusades. Historically, people have questioned how Christianity can be good when it has been responsible for things like the Crusades. To sum it up, there seems to be a hypocrisy between what Christians say about being a people of peace and what they do, start wars.
That leads very nicely to the Sunday School class about World Religions. This Sunday we will be talking about Islam. If you know your history you know that between 600-1000 A.D. there was quite a bit fighting that took place between Islam and Christianity. What if I told you that the narrative that many of us have been told about the Crusades was only partially true? What if I told you that when past Presidents spoke about Christianity and the Crusades they were only telling us one side of the story? Do you remember when President Obama said this at a prayer breakfast in 2015?
Is this the only conclusion that we should derive as we think about the Crusades? That Christianity and Islam are basically the same when it comes to violence in the world?
I want to submit to you that there is another side to this discussion that we need to be aware of. As you begin to study the history of the Crusades there are a couple of things that stand out to you. One, yes, there were some awful things done in the name of Christianity and we need to admit it. To deny this basic fact is to deny history. Two, to claim that Christianity started the wars and that they were the aggressors is to completely misunderstand what actually happened.
Let me share with you a few quotes from the historian Rodney Stark that shed some needed light on this subject:
One: “These claims (that “Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam”) have been utterly refuted by a group of distinguished contemporary historians. They propose that the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations, by many centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West,
and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places.”
Two: “Muslims began raiding Christian areas in the lifetime of Muhammad. Then, a year after his death, Muslim invasions began in earnest when their forces entered Syria, then a Christian province of the Eastern Roman Empire. Muslim forces soon won a series of battles, taking Damascus and some other cities in 635, and by 636 the Byzantine army was forced to abandon Syria. Next the Arabs marched into the Holy Land—Jerusalem was taken in 638, Caesarea Maritima in 640. From there Muslim armies invaded Christian Egypt, taking Cairo; Alexandria fell to them in 642. A major Muslim Empire now ruled most of the Middle East and was spreading along the North African Coast—then a major Christian region. Thirty years later the Empire stretched past Tangier and reached the Atlantic. By 714 much of Spain was occupied. Soon major thrusts were made into France before the Franks managed to repel the Muslim forces in 732 at Tours, little more than 100 miles south of Paris. In 831 Muslim forces invaded Sicily and held it until 1072, and in 846 they sacked Rome and then withdrew to rule over southern Italy for the next two centuries. Thus, by the time of the First Crusade, Christendom had been fighting a defensive war with Islam for more than 450 years!”
I would strongly encourage you to read the entire article by Rodney Stark HERE.
We need to know the actual events of history so that we can respond in an intelligent and godly way when we are faced with questions about the Crusades and hypocrisy in the church. Again, were there atrocities done in the name of Christ? It appears from many sources that the answer is clearly yes. I believe that this is due to the fact that people claiming the name of Jesus Christ were not truly following in his foot steps. But, we also must understand that much of the fighting done by the church was done in response to the fact that their lands had already been pillaged and conquered. Kevin DeYoung explains it like this:
Christians lands had been captured. Surely, they thought, this could not stand. For an American, it would have been as if Al-Qaeda sacked Washington D.C. following 9/11, set up shop for Bin Laden in the White House, and turned the Lincoln Memorial into a terrorist training center. It would be unthinkable, cowardly even, for no one to storm the city, liberate its captives, and return our nation’s capital to its rightful owners.
We don’t digest this information and come to the conclusion that we should hate our enemies. The Bible makes it clear that the only enemy we have is Satan himself. We are to love all people and that definitely includes those who are a part of the Muslim religion. Instead, we must inform ourselves so that we are able to engage people who have serious questions about the Christian faith.
Questions? Comments? Love to hear from you!