#4. ADMIT! … honestly the sins and mistakes of the past

September 17, 2001

Four weeks ago we began to present excerpts and summaries of the ten chapters from part two of a book I am writing, with the working title,”BRAVE NEW EUROPE – who will shape it?”

Part One of the book describes Europe in a time of megashift in worldviews – perhaps towards a new paganism – as the remaining ‘baggage’ of Christendom is jettisoned.

Part Two unpacks ten imperatives necessary to recover faith, hope and vision for Europe’s future.

#1. was “Ask!…what is God’s will for Europe?”
#2. was “Reject! …the Enemy’s disinformation”
#3. was “Remember! … what God has done”

#4. is: “ADMIT! … honestly the sins and mistakes of the past”

Early in 1993, I stood with my friend and colleague, Lynn Green, on the north side of Old Jerusalem’s massive grey-white stone walls, east of the Damascus Gate. Together we read a bronze plaque announcing that at this spot, on July 15 1099, Godfrey de Bouillon had breached the walls of Jerusalem and had taken the city for the Crusaders.

At high school I belonged to a Christian club called ‘Crusaders’. I wore a lapel badge depicting a white shield with the red St George’s Cross, embellished with a sword and a helmet. A Jewish classmate would ask me in disgust why I wore that badge. Didn’t I know, he would ask me, that the Crusaders raped and pillaged their way across Europe towards the Holy Land? Frankly, I didn’t. Crusaders were heroes, weren’t they? And Billy Graham held ‘Crusades’ too, didn’t he?

Lynn now filled in the details not mentioned by the plaque. After breaking through these walls, he explained, the Crusaders had herded Jews into a synagogue, setting them alight in one great holocaust oven. Terrified Moslems had fled into a mosque on which the Crusaders had raised their banner indicating a safe haven, only to be slaughtered by the soldiers of Christ wading knee-deep into the defenseless crowd. After three years of killing Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews in similar holocausts on their expeditions down through Europe and into the Middle East, the militia Christi then knelt and gave thanks to God for delivering the city into their hands.

As the 900th anniversary of the First Crusade approached last decade, Lynn believed it was time to re-evaluate these events. It was high time Christians humbly and sincerely apologised for these misguided and destructive expeditions of sanctioned ‘Christian’ violence in which the cross was inverted into a sword, hacking out a blood-stained legacy across Europe, the Middle East, history – and current events.

The devastating events of the Crusades – there were eight in total – have remained bitter memories between East and West. They have continued to influence social, religious and political relations not only in Europe and the Middle East, but also in today’s global politics: including the Gulf War, Russia’s fears of NATO’s eastward creeping borders, and even the latest terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

On July 15 1999, the 900th anniversary of Jerusalem’s ‘liberation’, and after three years of retracing the First Crusade route down through Europe towards the Holy City, Lynn and a group of over 400 Christians representing 33 different nations gathered in Jerusalem for a solemn assembly. They looked back over those past three years, starting at Cologne Cathedral at Easter 1996 – years in which Jews, Moslems and Orthodox Christians had opened doors of hospitality in country after country to over 2,500 westerners delivering a simple apology, acknowledging the wrongs of the crusades:

“Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across down through the Balkans and into the Middle East. Fuelled by fear, greed and hatred, they betrayed the name of Christ by conducting themselves in a manner contrary to His wishes and character…. Their path went through your land. Their actions left their mark on your people. We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors.”

A Moslem cleric in Cologne, at the start of the Reconciliation Walk, had said whoever had conceived this plan must have had an epiphany. Religious and governmental leaders everywhere had welcomed the initiative with warm gratitude. Yet what had meant most to the team members was the reception they had received along the route, being waved into houses and being offered tea, coffee or cold drinks. Many well-wishers lined the roads offering encouraging words, often expressed in tears. The depth of the wounding caused by this shameful phase of ‘Christian’ history was evident in the outpouring of gratitude expressed towards the walkers.

Now finally in Jerusalem, the group split into three delegations, to deliver apologies to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Chief Rabbi of Western Jews and the Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine.

Without forgiveness, there is no hope and no future. Healing begins when we honestly face the past. Desmond Tutu dramatically underscored this truth over the last decade as he nurtured his nation from black-and-white polarity towards rainbow diversity, chairing the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation.

As with Nehemiah, we need to admit and confess the wrongdoings of our spiritual fathers (Nehemiah 1:6). Church history has many shameful pages. Skeletons galore lurk in many a church cupboard. Sins of commission and omission have contributed to today’s spiritual landscape in Europe. Yesterday’s wrong choices and actions have granted spiritual powers legal rights and footholds in countless situations across the continent. They have spawned grievances and resentments between people groups and religious communities, generations and genders, social classes and nation states. Wounds have remained unhealed. Guilt has remained unresolved.

Today’s headlines from Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Russia, the Middle East and Northern Ireland have roots centuries-deep. Very often, arguments among God’s people have been the initial cause. It is no coincidence that the Crusades were initiated less than fifty years after the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, leaving a spiritual, political and cultural faultline scarring Europe today. And the occasion of that Schism? a hair-splitting argument over the use of the word filioque, denoting the full godhead of Christ, implying that the Holy Spirit was sent from the Son as well as from the Father!

What then can we, God’s people, do about past wrongs? Isn’t this a task for the EU? or the UN? or NATO? Is there really any point in getting involved in issues that have become so politicised? Perhaps not, if the root of an issue was simply political or military. But if such conflicts were the legacy of sectarian strife within the Body of Christ, or, as in the Crusaders’ case, misrepresentation of Christ’s message, then only Christ’s followers could really do something about the root problem.

No other group or institution can apply the atonement of Jesus Christ to situations of conflict. This means confessing the truth about unjust actions of our tradition or people, turning from unloving to loving responses, extending and receiving forgiveness with old enemies, and doing what we can to restore damage and injustice.

This is true at all levels of society – in our families, neighbourhoods, cities, nations, and internationally. For reconciliation is what missions is all about: the reconciliation of individuals and families with God’s original purposes, of communities and neighbourhoods with God’s will, of cities, peoples and nations with God’s intentions for them.

The list of past sins and mistakes demanding present responses from the body of Christ is depressingly long. Probably the first division within the Body of Christ is the deeply-rooted anti-Semitism ratified at the Co

uncil of Nicea in 325AD, under Constantine, who concluded: “Let us then have nothing in
common with the most hostile
rabble of the Jews….; let us withdraw ourselves from that most odious fellowship.” Another friend and colleague, John Dawson, has joined with others on prayer journeys, diplomatic initiatives and convocations of church leaders to address this fundamental rift.

The Crusader spirit carried over into the voyages and exploits of the Conquistadors, the Inquisition which continued into the 19th century, Europe’s role in the slave-trade and even into Europe’s colonialism. Walking down the Greenwich Meridian Line through England and France into North Africa has been YWAMer David Pott’s way of encouraging an appropriate response to the still unresolved legacy of slavery’s shameful chapter in history.

John Dawson has initiated the International Reconciliation Coalition (www.reconcile.org) to encourage believers worldwide in the ministry of reconciliation. He suggests we identify the ancient and modern wounds of injustice, pride and prejudice in our nations needing healing in a biblical way. These could involve conflicts of race, class, culture, gender, vocation, labour and management, regions, religion, nationalities, generations and families.

Such issues are not simply to be left to governments and social welfare departments, to professionals and law enforcement agencies. This is a task for the People of Hope, for those entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation by the God of Hope.

Healing Europe’s wounds requires an honest admission of yesterday’s sins and mistakes.

Next week, we need to face up to the truth about the present.

Till then,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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