Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Crusaders and the Cross

How the impulse was aroused among Christian schools and colleges to adopt the nickname "Crusaders" is a mystery to me. A charitable analysis might infer that revivalists of decades past took the nickname from the evangelistic "crusades" of the 19th-20th century. But that doesn't explain the fundamentalist revivalist "Crusaders" who wouldn't want to be caught within sniffing distance of a Billy Graham Crusade.

I think the better explanation is that both the revivalist evangelists and the academic institutions wanted to identify themselves with the fiery militancy of the armies that battled their way to Jerusalem. I've seen a few Crusader logos with a knight with a lance on a horse, but a preacher silhouette with a big Bible and a pointy finger? Not so much.

But those armies were Roman Catholic mercenaries. They raped and pillaged their way to Jerusalem. To say that they were advancing the Kingdom of Christ would be to misunderstand fundamentally the nature of the Kingdom and, frankly, to blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it seems to me that complete historical ignorance is the best possible motivation behind associating the Crusaders with institutions that profess to be biblical and Christian (to say nothing of the added irony of fundamental and Baptist).

At least one institution known as "Crusaders" recognized the incompatibility I've described. Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, had this to say about the Crusades:
It was not until I became aware of how offensive the image of the Crusades is to large segments of the world that I was forced to take another look at these historical events, and what I discovered was anything but ideal. Christians massacring Muslims; Muslims massacring Christians; Western Christians killing Eastern Christians and vice versa. We are hard-pressed to find anything in these disastrous waves of fighting that our Lord might have approved, despite the fact that the conflict was ostensibly carried out in His name. Try, as I did, reading up on the Crusades, searching for anything with which you would be willing to identify; you will find it an eye-opening exercise. It is little wonder that so many view these unfortunate historical episodes so negatively . . . .

[Some might respond that] that the cross is offensive too; are we going to abandon that? To which, of course, the answer is no. We will stand or fall with the scandal of the cross. But we must not complicate that scandal by introducing our own scandals into the equation, scandals that may block others from seeing Jesus in our midst.
Under Dr. Litfin's leadership, Wheaton abandoned its Crusaders mascot. Here's the statement that summed up the rationale:
Wheaton College exists, so we claim, "for Christ and His Kingdom." I have become convinced that making this change is a simple matter of faithfulness to Christ.
Read the whole statement here.

Friends, former classmates, former co-workers, and people I've never met: I can imagine three possible responses to this argument among those who have relationships within institutions that retain the Crusader mascot.
  1. You can deny that identifying with the Crusades is incompatible with faithfulness to Christ. If that describes you, commit yourself to give careful study to what really happened in the Crusades.
  2. You can agree and do nothing. If that's where you're at, consider whether you value peaceful indifference more than pursuing faithfulness to Christ through what might be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation with someone in a position to effect change.
  3. You can agree and commit yourself to do something about it. This might include contacting a pastor of a church with a Christian school, a college president, a board of trustees member, an alumni relations coordinator, or an athletic director. This doesn't mean you blow your top. Let's be humble, knowing that we were too ignorant and too apathetic for too long. And let's certainly remember that the people in a decision-making capacity right now are most likely not the individuals who were responsible for the unwise choice. Don't demand an immediately positive response. The responsible individual may have to take time to get other key leaders to agree. Or he may want to wait for a time when he does not appear to bow to external pressure. But our objectives must be that Christ's name be honored, not that we get the credit, and not that change take place on our timetable.


Chris Anderson said...

We've talked about this before, Ben, and I heartily agree that this is an unnecessary offense. It's not a matter of political correctness; it's a matter of (intentionally or unintentionally) associating Christian institutions with something wicked done in the name of Christ. It's a bad testimony to the world, and it's a terrible thing to be holding before children and teens as though it's something to celebrate. Using "Crusaders" as a mascot makes as much sense as using "Jihad" or "Holocaust" as a mascot. If you have it (and I honestly don't know which schools do, with a very few exceptions), I'd urge you to change it.

Coach C said...

I made this cause my crusade once upon a time.

Did not end well.

terpstra4 said...

my objection to change. . . but then we couldn't do sader jacks

a former crusader, now mascot free for 12 years


Ben said...

Chris, or, say, the "Catholic University Inquisition."

CC, would love to hear about that.

Tim, I expect that'll be the best opposing argument I hear.

Anonymous said...

Humm. Crusades? Crusaders?

Back in the early eighties, I taught at a strongly Calvinistic Christian school in Oklahoma sponsored by several SBC churches.

Interestingly, our school logo was a crusader (complete with horse, shield, lance, etc), and our sports teams were called the Crusaders (excellent teams, by the way).

Yet I don't recall any intense hand wringing over the crusader theme among the many hundreds of Calvinists who attended the school and sat on its boards.

My theory for their lack of outrage at the crusader theme is that they probably equated the many Calvinian sponsored riots in Europe against Roman Catholic villages, churches, and institutions as quasi-crusades and thus saw them as righteous.

Since, however, most modern Calvinists have pretty much given up that method of spreading the faith (that is, crusading against Catholic villages in the name of Jesus), they might consider dumping that old revivalist theme of the crusades.

Have a good one.


Don Johnson said...

Well... The Roman Catholic church didn't really exist until the Council of Trent. That would be Post-Reformation.

So to insult those who do continue to use the name with the pejorative "RC" is inaccurate.

... but really, is this worth all the angst?

There was once a professional hockey team called the Cleveland Crusaders. So???

Are you against using Native American 'caricatures' as mascots also? Supposedly to some these images are just as offensive.

This really seems like a non-issue.

Or maybe everyone should take after the Oregon Ducks. There's a mascot we can all be proud of!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jordan M. Poss said...

Kudos to Don Johnson--this is a non-issue. Where does it stop? When the last Braves, Redskins, or Rebels team has been renamed to something benign?

The only historical ignorance in regard to Crusading history is the characterization of the Crusaders "raping and pillaging their way to Jerusalem." Was there misdeed? Yes. Was that true of any medieval army? Oh yes. It was accepted procedure to completely sack a city that refused to surrender--resistance forfeited mercy. To carry this moral outrage over the name "Crusaders" to its logical conclusion every team bearing the name of Knights, Cavaliers, Paladins--you name it--would also have to drop its name.

Whether you are Catholic or not is unimportant--look at the Crusaders and their motives in their historical context. The Crusades were an effort on the part of western European Christians to defend and, ultimately, reunite a Church divided between east and west. The Byzantine Empire had been beset for centuries by Islamic caliphates that, since their capture of Jerusalem in the 7th century, had gradually taken all of the Middle East and Anatolia from them.

Read Thomas Madden's New Concise History of the Crusades if you'd like to have the Enlightenment-era, now-PC myths of Crusading exploded. The Crusades were not an act of violent evangelism or genocide. They were an attempt by Christian warriors to help beleaguered coreligionists and reopen the Holy Land to Christian pilgrimage. It is not for nothing that the first Crusaders called themselves "pilgrims"--"Crusader" was coined centuries later.

So yes, it does all boil down to political correctness, political correctness based on ignorance of history and an unwillingness to call out Muslims as well as Christians for the violence.

Jon S. said...

Christian Warriors?

So are we advocating violence to defend the church?

Anonymous said...

Nonissue? Not hardly. Paul would do without meat if it offended a brother and was at the same time willing to offend for the sake of the cross. If it is a gospel issue, no compromise. If it isn't a gospel issue, then it is something you can defer to.

Holding onto the name crusader at a christian institution is not the same as the KC Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, or any native american reference. Those businesses are not trying to promote the gospel. We are.

Dan Salter said...

Hmm. I think I would lineup with Don J. and Jordan on this one. The purpose of the Crusades, as Jordan noted, was "an attempt by Christian [or RC or non-muslim] warriors to help beleaguered coreligionists and reopen the Holy Land to Christian pilgrimage." Sounds a lot like the U.S. going to battle to maintain our freedoms, including the freedom of religion. The crusades were not an evangelizing mission. I think most of our Christian institutions would give a nod to defending our freedom of religion (and helping someone else) even through war.

Must a Christian institution choose a mascot that is only and purely Christian? I guess lions, rams, bears, and leopards would be ruled out by the book of Daniel as godless representations.

Really…this is probably a non-issue.

Ben said...


Your argument still has the lead.

Ben said...

I was going to just let this one go and allow the folly of some of these responses to speak for itself. I changed my mind. I want to ask a couple questions of those people who think Crusaders is a perfectly reasonable athletic nickname.

1. Do you seriously mean to suggest that Christian institutions have no more moral obligations than the Washington Redskins? I'm simply flabbergasted that "the Atlanta Braves do it" has been offered as a defense.

2. Do you seriously want to make this a religious freedom issue? Warriors in the name of Christ conquering foreign territory, murdering civilians, enriching themselves? That's about pilgrimages? C'mon.

3. Do leopards conjure images in the minds of vast swaths of non-Christian culture of past atrocities committed against them by people pillaging in the name of Jesus? I'm not sure they do. But then, I grew up in a Christian school whose mascot was a lion. I always thought that one was cool since Jesus was a lion. Maybe I'm prejudiced.

Dan Salter said...

1. The link to the Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, etc. is not one of connection to moral standards of the organization. C'mon, now. Let's not go overboard in the analogizing. The point is not that these teams have offensive names, so Christians can have offensive names too. The point is that the general reception of names does not (and should not) put people in mind of past ills that may have been done by these groups. Actually, bringing up Christ as the Lion of Judah is a perfect example. Lions have done tragic things to human beings (good ones and bad). But the image intended for Christ is one of strength, courage, and ferociousness in attack against enemies. We don't wring our hands over the analogy thinking, "What about the mother whose child was attacked by a lion." (Okay, not in America, but maybe in Bible times.) The bad, unthinking deeds that a lion does does not disqualify it from how God wanted the analogy used.

2. No, it is not a religious freedom issue. Again, take care with the analogy. The Crusades were organized and undertaken not for murder, rape, and pillage. They were undertaken for legitimate reasons (see Jordan's post). Just like our patriotism (including love of religious freedom) drives us around the world "when our cause it is just," the crusaders' vision, mission, and goals were to right the wrongs of land aggression and attack by a horde who also happened to be diametrically opposed religiously. The demand to stand for what they perceived as right and the drive/zeal to right the wrongs, I think, are that to which the mascot image is supposed to relate.
3. None of the pillaging was done in the name of Jesus. The capitulation to history's revisionists harms our values. Must we really denounce the vision, mission, and goal that is good because someone might now be offended? While we do not want to create unnecessary offense, acting sorry for the crusades so that no one now is offended denies the values that underlie the mission. I hate the fact that pillaging, murder, and rape occurred in that context as it has in many other instances. But I'm not going to deny that the mission of the crusaders was not morally right or necessary. I can be glad the crusaders crusaded although appalled at their atrocities along the way. I am glad that Washington and his men fought for this country's independence although I am appalled at some of the things they did in their march across farmlands and homelands of their own country. I can be glad for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his goals although not happy with some individual events or conduct.

The crusaders stood for something that this country is losing--the passion to stand firm and advance what we believe is right. Our country is quickly turning to head-in-the-sand, non-offensiveness, again crying for peace at all costs. And we Christians are helping it along with our hush-hush, don't offend attitudes that give away values as a peace offering.

Please realize that I'm not a swashbuckling, run-over-everybody crusader. I totally agree that we should not offend if we can help it. But we must consider the trade-off. This is not a major issue, so giving it up can be easy. But doing so is not consistent with our values.

Paul said...

Ah yes, Sader Jacks. But if they would switch to the "Sabers", then the that particular exercise could continue as "Saber Jacks". No one would even notice.

I have an argument that beats Terps:

Wasn't the cross in some sense at the center of the Crusades? I know it was on all their gear at least.

Well, I heard the president of this particular institution state in chapel that "the cross is not the epicenter of sanctification".

So if that is indeed what he believes (yikes), and the cross was what was driving the original Crusaders then perhaps it is time to separate and get a new mascot for the sake of theological precision and consistency.

Don Johnson said...


I'm not defending anything, just saying you're getting a little over-heated over a non-issue.

I think Dan answers everything pretty well, except I'm not glad for Washington!! Although I agree and support American ideals. But that's another debate.

Actually, I think all sports teams should become "Swamp Angels". That would be the ultimate mascot, I'd say.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Michael said...

Ben, I wish you would commit yourself to a serious study of the Crusades. You don't know how the Crusades happened or why they did, so I understand why you *think* critics of the Crusades are right. But they are wrong.

Ben said...


Perhaps you could offer your positive assessment of the Crusades. And perhaps you could interact with someone who has done some serious study—Duane Liftin. Unlike you, he has staked his academic reputation and leadership to some degree on the factual basis of his argument. If you could explain with some specificity how the things he asserts are untrue, that might help folks understand the argument you're making.

As it is, you've said nothing more than "I'm right and you're wrong." That doesn't cut it for credibility, even in a blog comment.

Michael said...

My positive assessment of the Crusades: they were defensive wars, no different than a man retaking his home from burglars by invading his living room from his kitchen. They were thoughtfully undertaken by pious kings for sound doctrinal reasons. They were conducted in a Christian manner. The results were millions of lives saved from Muslim rapacity and, for a time, respectful treatment of holy places.

Dr. Liftin makes two arguments. He says Wheaton should not offend people who view the Crusades as wrong, and that's a fine meat-offered-to-idols stand to take. But then he says those people are right to think that, which is not true.

I am not going to talk to Dr. Liftin because I do not know him. It's true he is a better man than me with something to lose. But, there are equally capable scholars who publicly defend the Crusades at risk to their own reputations. I'm not asking any of you to interact with them.

Dan Salter said...

Ben seems to have a point about arguing from ignorance. It probably could apply to both sides of the discussion. I would suggest that anyone who really is interested in "doing the right thing" read the book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)" by Robert Spencer, focusing on Part II of the book about the Crusades. Some pretty heavy research went into this book and the 60 pages of Part II may give us all some better insight. The book is only $13.50 at Amazon.
...or we could just, you know, sort of keep talking round and round.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think when we're done with Crusaders we ought to deal with all the schools that still use "Patriots." Patriots have committed horrible crimes against humanity. And there are men whose lives were ruined by Patriots. And many Patriots owned slaves, even defended slavery. And Patriotism is nothing but warmed over moralism that overemphasizes externals over internals, thinking that it's more righteous than the natives from whom they stole natural resources. Patriotism seems always to have its best interests in view. What about other countries that suffer because of Patriotism?

I'm for Throwrugs as a nickname. Go Throwrugs. It fits the Bible better. Love is not easily provoked. When the other team steps on us, we're actually succeeding with our concern for the condition of their foot. And the last shall be first.


Greg said...

A patriot is one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests, according to Webster (the dictionary, not the black kid).

Seems like kind of a positive term, no? And not at all like Crusader. Unless you're talking about Bill Belichick, in which case your post makes sense.

Coach C said...

I think the bottom line question is why in the world do athletic mascots have to be spiritual? Why do they have to be anything other than a symbol of alumni pride, be that a furry animal (cougar), an invertebrate (banana slugs), a person of questionable heritage (hoosier), an inanimate object (cyclones) or a bird.

Pick a mascot that is completely, morally neutral and have fun.