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Defining Moments in Church History…(6)

Our journey through some of the most significant moments in Church history is propelled forward some seven centuries to the events known as the Crusades. Remember that we’re not finding the most important moments in the Church’s story, but those that have contributed the most to the world we have today. And for that, it’s hard to omit the Crusades.

Yes, this would be one of the darkest periods on our timeline. After Constantine initiated a merge between Christianity and His Empire, the pursuit of political power began to seep into the Church’s ideology. In some generations, pope’s wielded as much or more power than kings. Money flowed seemingly uncontrollably into church coffers, corrupting the Church’s sense of mission and its connection to the heart of its Savior.

Against this backdrop, Pope Urban II’s stirring sermon served as a call to arms for European Christians as they set out to rid Palestine of the Islamic invaders that had held their Holy Land for some four hundred years. In A.D. 1095 the Pope’s message was clear:

“A horrible tale has gone forth. An accursed race utterly alienated from God…has invaded the lands of the Christians and depopulated them by sword, plundering, and fire…Tear that land from the wicked race and subject it to yourselves.”

While some believe he only intended this speech as stirring rhetoric, but soon the pope’s representatives were mobilizing recruits. Tens of thousands of “knights” headed to the Holy Land. And the subsequent atrocities were underway–unbounded killings, burning property, crimes against women and children, and virtually any form of bloodshed the human heart might create.

Why? What was the reward for such conquest? Most sought adventure, the prospect of battle, and the wealth achieved through plundering these ancient lands. Some were promised spiritual reward, such as indulgence for the remission of sins, but it was soon quite clear that more temporal motives drove the Crusades. The Pope had seemingly launched his own “holy war” against the region and both Jews and Arabs were the victims.

Other than its horror, why does this series of events make our list. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered and the rift between Jews and Christians widened significantly. The Crusades greatly damaged Christianity’s relationship with the Eastern world. The acts of the Crusaders became a means for Muslims to encourage their most militant ideals. Even today, these actions of fanaticism and intolerance continue to dominate Christianity’s reputation in the Holy Land.

Yes, there are a host of other reasons why the Arab world despises the West, including its ideas of democracy, capitalism, and pursuit of equality for women. But the effort to convince followers of Islam that Christianity is a religion of love often can’t uproot the harvest sown by the Crusades. Hatred that endures for centuries requires more than ideology to stoke its flames. To maintain such angst against the western world, one needs evil actions on which to fixate. And sadly, the Crusades (though centuries ago) still provide “proof” of the evil intent of those who come in the name of Jesus.

Are they still relevant? Hasn’t enough time passed for such a wound to heal? Perhaps we would insist it has, but the “perpetrator” doesn’t dictate when his victim should overcome his pain. Forgiveness and healing can only begin in the heart of the victim. And, to date, the Eastern world has not demonstrated a desire for such restoration.

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