Our popular culture is driven by narratives. And one of the most prevalent narratives at work today defines followers of Christ as angry, anti-scientific bigots who oppose all progress, and cannot get along with anybody. Meanwhile, Islam is popularly championed as “a religion of peace.” Indeed, we are frequently lectured that radical Islamic terror is merely a delayed response to all the mindless violence heaped upon Muslims by Christians during the Crusades.
That’s the pop narrative, but should we in the church hang our heads in shame? Christians who have surrendered to this politically correct myth should read Rodney Stark’s fine little book God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. Dr. Stark is a highly respected scholar and professor who has authored more than 38 books and 132 scholarly articles published in more than 14 languages.
God’s Battalions opens with a quotation from what became Muhammad’s farewell address to his followers. “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.'” That divine calling was included in the Qur’an (9:5;) “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them [captive,] and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.” Only eighty years after the prophet of Islam died in 632, his Muslim empire had killed or removed Christians from most of the Middle East, all of North Africa, Cyprus and most of Spain.
Wherever Islam prevailed, Christian and Jewish citizens were given “the freedom to choose.” The free choice was stark: conversion to Islam as an alternative to death or enslavement. People of the Book who refused to convert were known as dhimmis, and official policy decreed they should always “feel inferior… and know their place.”
When Pope Urban II finally responded to pleas for help in 1095, his letter detailed gruesome torture inflicted on Christians traveling to the Holy Land, and sacrilegious destruction against churches and sacred sites. Muslim armies were steadily advancing on Constantinople where thousands more saints would be murdered, tortured and raped before revered Christian sites would be defiled and lost forever. He asked for volunteers to defend the people of Christ.
Not only are the Crusades a chapter of very ancient history dating back more than a thousand years, but they were a defensive struggle against the violent ambitions of Muhammad and his followers. All these centuries later, the masked gunmen of ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram have hardly hijacked the ideas of Muhammad: they are in compliance. The same racial hatred that animates their reign of terror is taught in government funded schools and mosques across the Middle East.
Granted, religions frequently evolve over the centuries. The earliest followers of Jesus Christ were so opposed to violence that they rejected all forms of warfare and even service in the army. Today most American Christians are willing to serve in the Armed Forces to defend our freedom. Similarly, we can be sure there are schools of thought in Islam which now see Jihad as a spiritual struggle rather than armed military conquest. No doubt, many of our Muslim neighbors here in the USA hold that non-violent interpretation.
But you and I must remember that the real religion of peace is the one established by the Prince of Peace. Not only did Jesus Christ never carry a sword or call for armed conflict, but he taught us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and forgive those who offend us; remembering that the forgiveness of God is central to our hopes and dreams. More to the point, Christ requires that you and I must “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”
The ethos of Jesus requires at least three responses from his followers in this world where saints are at risk while the PC thought police give radical Islamists a free pass:
- We must pray for those who wish to destroy us. We support mission strategies in Muslim lands. We will not allow angry accusations or fearful attitudes to quench the love of Christ at work in our hearts.
- We must be missionaries here at home. Our Muslim neighbors need Jesus Christ more than anything else. They already accept the fact that he is a prophet. We must help them understand the benefits he offers as savior and Lord.
- We must be informed. Don’t just nod and shrug when skeptics say Allah is just another name for our heavenly Father; that Muhammad is a latter day Jesus; or that Islam and the Christian Faith have much in common. Smile and engage with simple truth.
All Americans have the right to worship any god or no god at all; in their own building if they should so desire. We all benefit from the First Amendment. But as the late Senator Patrick Moynihan put it, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Be ready to speak the truth in love, and to do it with gentleness and respect. We are not here to win arguments: we are here to win souls.
Lift up the Cross!