My earliest encounter with the term “religious crusade” probably goes back to junior high history. Still, I don’t remember the term being used much other than when Billy Graham came to town.
He went from city to city, holding “crusades.” I remember watching them on TV, “must watch” television back in those days at the preacher’s house. Graham came to Denver when I was a young teenager, and it was a big deal.
Our suburban church was heavily involved in promoting and participating in the crusade. We piled into cars (our church never had a bus) and drove to Bears Stadium (now known as Mile High Stadium) to join the eager throng. Those of us who liked to sing arrived early so we could sing in the massive Crusade Choir under the direction of Cliff Barrows. That was “big-time” as we rehearsed a couple of verses of each of the evening hymns.
The organist who accompanied the choir was Don Hustad. I encountered Hustad many years later when he was teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. I remember him as an imposing figure. He stood in front of the 1,400-seat Alumni Chapel to lead a thousand men. When he said, “Sing!” we dared not do anything else. You could tell he was accustomed to being out in front of a crusade.
As I think about it, the term “crusade” was used because the purpose was to take a city for Christ. Billy Graham came to Denver, and every other major city, to stake a claim for Jesus. The term caught on for us Baptists, and the word “crusade” was frequently used as a replacement for the term “revival.”
Baptists were accustomed to holding one- or two-week-long revivals, with evangelistic preaching and singing every night. Believe it or not, when I was a kid, we had a two-week-long Bible school every summer. We knew how to do church back in those days. Revivals became one-week crusades, then weekend revivals, then weekend seminars, and now, I don’t even know if they still exist.
However, crusades are alive and well. Not the evangelistic kind with fire and brimstone preaching and lively singing, but the crusades like the ones from the 11th to 13th centuries. Christians were alarmed that Muslims were taking control of the holy sites in Jesus’ homeland. In November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban put out a call to Western Christians to recapture the Holy Land from Muslim control.
“Countless thousands of people fought, died and even killed for the sake of Jesus.”
Men, women and even children responded to the clarion call to defend the faith. Yes, there was even a Children’s Crusade in 1212. Countless thousands of people fought, died and even killed for the sake of Jesus. It has been said that religious faith is a two-edged sword. Some are motivated to live sacrificially for their faith, and others are motivated to kill to protect their faith.
The Crusades created a rift between Christians and Muslims that has simmered ever since, sometimes to the point of boiling over. Think of 9-11 and our subsequent destruction of Iraq. The Crusade playbook of violence and killing is alive and well. In fact, it has moved far beyond declaring war on other religions. It is now Christians attacking Christians, in addition to Muslims, immigrants, gays and essentially everyone else deemed as sinners.
Billy Graham’s crusades were assaults against the Devil in an attempt to rescue lost souls. The Christian Crusades of today are an attack on the “culture.”
You’ve no doubt heard the term “culture wars.” Today’s evangelicals find themselves on the front lines in the battle to protect our world (or at least our country) from the evils of satanic culture.
“For today’s evangelical warriors, the enemy is science, Democrats, immigrants, and anyone living a ‘non-traditional’ lifestyle.”
When you go to war or on a crusade, it’s important to identify the enemy. The Medieval warriors were fighting the Muslims to take back the Holy Land. For Billy Graham, the enemy was Satan, who was stealing life and joy from people. For today’s evangelical warriors, the enemy is science, Democrats, immigrants, and anyone living a “non-traditional” lifestyle (think LGBTQ and all that implies).
The battlefields are school board meetings, voting booths, the southern border, and Fox News. The strategy at school board meetings is to eliminate anything from the classroom that might be used to indoctrinate our children, like modern science and historical research. The voting booth is where they fight the Democrats who threaten our democracy. The southern border is the front line for keeping out the godless hordes who might become Democrats if allowed to become citizens.
Just like the ancient crusaders donning their suits of armor and mounting steeds, and Billy Graham organizing local churches to participate in a citywide campaign, today’s culture warriors wrap themselves in Scripture and the American flag and go to war. People will be killed, and countless others scarred, but such is the price of war.
Just this past week, we witnessed a prime example of this attitude as Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene launched an offensive against President Joe Biden, a Democrat. She presented an enlarged nude photo of Biden’s son (not Joe Biden, but his adult son), at a congressional hearing. I’m not sure what she was trying to accomplish other than to embarrass him. I mean, is it a crime to be naked? Although, I think it might be a crime to show pictures of other naked people (I need to consult a legal expert).
Looking back nearly a thousand years, it’s apparent the early crusaders made a huge mistake thinking God was pleased with killing thousands of Muslims. As my friend likes to say, that’s not the God I know.
As I thought about Greene’s antics, my mind was drawn to a similar situation involving Jesus and the public shaming of an accused sinner. The woman was dragged out into the public streets and accused of being a sinner. When Jesus was asked what they should do with her, he paused to carefully weigh his words and then asked the accusers to share their own personal testimony of sinlessness before condemning the woman.
The accusers had sense enough to walk away in shame. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Marjorie Taylor Greene bragged about her efforts on Fox News later that evening.
“Jesus told us we are salt and light to the world, not napalm and cluster bombs.”
Jesus told us we are salt and light to the world, not napalm and cluster bombs. Jesus told us we are to love others, not expose, condemn and destroy. Today’s warriors might claim they are simply helping Jesus separate the sheep and the goats, but Jesus told us the criteria for differentiating is feeding the hungry and giving cool water to the thirsty, not letting immigrants die of thirst in the Arizona desert. Jesus told us the criteria was clothing the naked, not holding up their picture in front of Congress. He told us the criteria was healing the sick, not withholding health insurance.
Evangelical crusaders are doing the same irreparable damage to the church as did the Medieval crusaders, damage that continues a thousand years later. I can still see Jesus stooping over, scribbling in the dust as he shakes his head thinking, “What is wrong with these people?”
Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.
When perception overtakes reality | Opinion by Rodney Kennedy
Today’s evangelicals are medieval crusaders at heart | Analysis by Rodney Kennedy