home about JOU blog stories/
ongoing works
resources contact

Mt. Zion Speech

We are often asked, Why the Reconciliation Walk? Why an apology for the Crusades, an event that happened so long ago. Can anyone really apologize for something that occurred at a time when our view of the world was so different from what it is today? Are we just opening old wounds? Can an apology really do any good?

We also asked ourselves these questions when we began to consider an appropriate response to the 900th anniversary of the First Crusade. We felt that an event of such historical importance should be commemorated. After all, the Crusades helped define the way Muslims, Jews and Christians see each other, creating the mythologies through which we still instinctively approach one another to this day.

In the final analysis, it this powerful mythological legacy that has compelled us not only to commemorate the anniversary but to confront aspects of the Crusader legacy that continue to negatively shape our world today.

We all know the "what" of the Crusades: There were the massacres of Jewish communities in Europe, massacres that were justified by theology and that laid the foundation for centuries of institutionalized anti-Semitism leading eventually to the Holocaust.

Then there was the slaughter of Turkish Muslims, cannibalism in Syria, and the pitting of the Eastern Church against Muslim and Jewish neighbors by manipulative foreign powers.

Finally there was the gruesome slaughter at Jerusalem, an event crowned by the singing of praises to God while blood ran in the streets and down the upraised arms of the Christian warrior-worshippers.

Such is the "what," of the Crusades, those infamous atrocities that we all condemn as the barbarism of an earlier age.

Yet we cannot help but note that our century has witnessed a dramatic return to the slaughter of innocents. Since the 1980's the percentage of civilian casualties in war has risen to a truly barbaric 74 percent, and the trend towards dreadful religious wars and religiously tinged ethnic conflict accounts for much of this carnage. If we are to escape this slide back to medieval practices, we must consider the "why" of the Crusades as much as the "what" of the Crusades.

As Western Christians, and as laymen prone to the same passions and excesses of our laymen Crusader forbears, we began to focus especially on the religious motivations that drove these ordinary Crusaders, and upon the theological justifications that encouraged Crusader warfare.

"Medieval man was convinced that the Second Coming was at hand," Steven Runciman wrote in his classic history of the Crusades.i[i] Runciman, together with groundbreaking historian Norman Cohn, stressed that prophecies and apocalyptic literature were crucial driving forces for the average Crusader, at times also providing convincing evidence to influential churchmen who otherwise would not have supported Crusading warfare.ii[ii]

"Prophecies declared that the Holy Land must be recovered for the faith before Christ could come again," Runciman wrote. He added that the difference between Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem was not very clearly defined in the minds of Crusaders, leading many to believe that Pope Urban promised "to lead them out of their present miseries to the land flowing with milk and honey."iii[iii]

Whatever the political motives of the leaders, it was the belief that Christ's promised kingdom could be established through political and military action that compelled the average Crusader. As historian John France wrote recently, "Each Crusader was convinced that every Muslim he cut down represented a step nearer to paradise. To hack down a child, as many must have in Jerusalem, was an act whose merit was equal to that of the Good Samaritan. These were rational people performing what they believed to be the will of God and certain that it would contribute to their own salvation."iv[iv]

The Crusaders believed their actions were benevolent. After all, they were establishing God's kingdom, and whatever the carnage in the short-term, the long-term benefits outweighed all other considerations. Such justifications cling to us today. The end goal of a saved soul or the establishment of a millenarian dream has for too long justified torture, forced conversion, religious prejudice and much worse.

It is clear to us that this aspect of the Crusader ethos is still with us now. Many Christians continue to trust power to bring redemption.

Of course they are not alone, faith in violence and domination is a constant temptation for all of Abraham's children. It is a temptation that attempts to undermine Abraham's calling.

The Jewish tradition recognizes Abraham's call to leave the nations dominated by the cruel empires of the ancient world. Islam calls our attention to Abraham's brave refusal to worship the idols of his homeland, and the Christian emphasis is on his faith in the unseen. All of this points us to a faith in God alone, a faith that shuns the gods of war that the world trusts for its security. Abraham's singular faith in God represents a brave choice to trust in a radical vision of security and peace, rather than in the comfortable status quo of conflict.

This then is our reason for an apology. It is to say that we, as physical and cultural descendants of the Crusaders, recognize and renounce the motives and acts of the Crusaders. The Crusades belie the spirit and teaching of Christ, whose kingdom was, like Abraham's faith, not part of this world of violence. Christ shunned the sword and embraced selfless love, preaching universal good news that recognized no borders; the Crusades therefore betrayed the essence of his life and message.

Today, we would like to make a challenge to our fellow Christians in the West. We ask them to remember with us the First Crusade, and especially the 900th anniversary of Jerusalem's bloody conquest. Nine hundred years ago this week, the Crusaders breached the walls of this city bearing the cross but betraying its meaning.

Statement by Matthew Hand, Reconciliation Walk Field Director, on the eve of the 900th Anniversary of the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem. Delivered at Mt Zion, Jerusalem.

  Reconciliation Walk Community   home about jou articles stories get involved contact
© Copyright Reconciliation Walk 2012
Designed by EPESENT