In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a pilgrimage eastward toward Jerusalem, ostensibly to assist Constantinople against the Turks and to stop the Muslim advance through the Holy Land. History has been dubious as to the real motives for the pilgrimage, however. Pope Urban II was a pious pope but he ruled the Latin Church at a time of immense internal upheaval. The Latin West and Greek East split from one another in 1054 and there was an ongoing power struggle between competing royal families in Europe. Islam had spread and taken hold of regions of Spain and it was an ever-present threat to the hegemony of the Church and the princes of Europe. In all, the Church was unraveling in Rome and Constantinople. Pope Urban called the pilgrimage for reasons that were neither ecclesial nor pious. What came to be known as the First Crusade was as much a team-building exercise for the disparate stakeholders in Europe as it was a high-minded exercise in liberation. It did unite the West and helped Constantinople with its Turk problem. But, ultimately, it was for naught. As the crusades continued, those who participated did so for their own glory and enrichment. By 1204, the Fourth Crusade nearly destroyed Constantinople and saw the treasures of the Eastern Church pillaged.
To those modern Crusaders who are fighting the culture war, I caution you to take stock of what you are really fighting for. Ecclesial and political leaders encourage crusades against enemies they think need to be eradicated. But in the overwhelming majority of instances, they are asking you to fight against an out-group because they are losing control of their own spheres of influence. Pope Urban II successfully united an unraveling society, not by addressing the real problem, rather he distracted them from their disintegration by identifying an enemy they could unite against. It’s far more complicated to address economic and religious conflicts than it is to simply divert attention away from them. But the problems never went away. Within a couple of centuries, crusades became an industry and even a career path. And those power struggles of the 11th century were still being fought in the 13th century. But now, the problem became intractable because it grew far beyond the control of a single well-meaning pope.
Please don’t fight against enemies someone else chose for you. Charismatic leaders, even well-meaning Christian ones, are seldom ideological. To the contrary, they are quite utilitarian in their leadership. They will do what is necessary to empassion their followers. Anger and fear are phenomenal motivators. But a leader who embraces the ideology of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will never use or sanction fear. They know there is no place for fear in the Kingdom of God. Fear is not your friend. It is your enemy. If you want to unite against something, unite against fear.
To those of my Christian brothers and sisters who believe we are at war with the culture, please stop it. Just stop it. Making disciples of all nations when you are at war with them leaves one option for you and Jesus never made a disciple of anyone at the edge of a sword.