One of the joys of ecclesiastical deism is that Protestants don’t have to answer readily for the political and cultural consequences of the Crusades, a phenomenon that as Andrew Wheatcroft shows, etched into the memories of the West and East perceptions that still inhabit planet earth. After all, if the church did not exist between 500 and 1500, the Crusades were not the church’s business.
Still, as off-putting as the Crusades were, Protestants were not as squeamish in employing the word as they should have been. For most of his career, for example, Billy Graham’s urban revivals were known as “Crusades.” And until a decade or so ago, Wheaton College’s mascot was the – that’s right – Crusader. (They changed to the lame and uninspired Wheaton College Thunder.) And then we had Campus Crusade for Christ, recently renamed Cru. This cultural insensitivity is likely another consequence of ecclesiastical deism – not knowing church history leads to incalculably bad appropriations of it.
Twentieth-century evangelicals were not the only Protestants who could not resist invoking the imagery and language of the Crusades:
Gradually, the common meaning of “crusade” in the English language became a metaphor for a sustained and powerful action in a good cause. But the older sense of the cross and holy war was still a potent symbol. Nor was the specific enmity to Muslims completely lost. I remember singing at school a hymn by J. E. Neale, which had been popular since first published a century before. Neal had reworked a text by Andrew of Crete.
Christian, dost thou see them
On the holy ground?
How the troops of Midian
Prowl and prowl around?
Christian, up and smit them,,
Counting gain but los:
Smite them by the merit
Of the holy cross.
. . . . Neale’s usage was atypical, and he later produced a more anodyne version. The “troops of Midian” were transmuted into “the powers of darkness.” Perhaps he considered this more appropriate to the mission fields? Likewise, “infidel,” which had still been in use in the early nineteenth century, fell out of favor with hymn writers. “Heathen lands” and “pagan darkness preplaced the wastelands of the infidel. Perhaps “infidel” was too precisely associated with Mediterranean Islam? However, in 1911, Robert Mitchell returned directly to the language of “crusade” in its original bellicose sense:
Hark to the call of the New Crusade,
Christ over all will King be made;
Out to the world let the challenge ring:
Make Christ King!
His refrain elaborated the theme:
Hail to the King of kings! Triumphant Redeemer!
On march the solders of the New Crusade.
This is the battle cry: Christ made the King?
And to our Sov’reign we allegiance bring:
Prince, Guide and Counsellor He shall be.
Carry the standard to victory!
Hail to the call of the New Crusade:
Make Christ King!
Strong is the foe of the New Crusade,
Sin in its armour is well arrayed;
Into the fight we our best must fling:
Make Christ King!
There were hundreds of missionaries to the Holy Land at the time that Mitchell wrote, but the big battalions of evangelism directed their attention elsewhere. Nevertheless, the essential terminology of “crusade” and conquest remained a constant presence in Christian discourse and activity.
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century evangelicals crusaded, as they believed, for a spiritual victory, not for territorial conquest. But the word does not allow so facile a separation. This ambiguity between a holy war in a spiritual sense and a victory over the temporal forces of darkness had a long degree. Two seventeenth-century near contemporaries, John Bunyan and Thomas Fuller, both wrote books entitled The Holy War. Bunyan’s allegorical intentions were clear from this title: The Holy War Made by Shaddai upon the Diabolus foe the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World or The Losing and Taking Again for the Town of Mansoul. It was publsihed in 1682. Thomas Fuller’s The Historie of the Holy Warre was equally popular. (197-98)
Billy Graham, Wheaton College, and Bill Bright got it honestly.