As our church continues the series, “Living a Resurrection Faith in a Post-Christian Society” we are examining what it means to be the church today. Where to be American once brought the likelihood of Christian faith, that is not the case now. This week’s topic is “How Do I Relate to People of Another Faith?”
In looking at the lectionary passage, Acts 3:12-19, we witness an encounter between Peter and the Jewish onlookers following a miraculous healing in Jerusalem. Since this account was written over fifty years after the fact, it has the appearance of a Christian-Jewish dialogue. In actuality, it would have been an intra-Jewish conversation since Christianity had not yet emerged as separate from Judaism at that time. The shame Peter throws toward those in Jerusalem would have been as one Jew to another rather than as a Christian toward a Jew. It also would have been from a minority population to the majority rather than as equals or from a position of power.
This makes a difference in power dynamics because someone in a minority position doesn’t wield the same kind of power as someone in the majority.
Later, after Christians became the dominant population, Jews became a minority group that were blamed for the death of Jesus. During the Crusades, the Muslims were seen as the religious occupiers of the Holy Land that needed to be driven out. Due to the distance between the countries in Western Europe and the Middle East, it was not easy or cheap to travel with armies that far. Some felt that the Jewish populations were a good substitute because they were within reach. In 1096, the Rhineland massacres took place in Germany which some historians look at as a precursor to the Holocaust.
Sometimes economics bridge
a gap where other methods fail.
The atrocities of the Crusades didn’t stop with Jewish populations. In 1209, Pope Innocent III decided to crackdown on the Cathars who were Christians that didn’t submit to the authority of the Pope. While they resided in the town of Beziers, France, they lived in harmony with the Catholics there. The Crusaders recruited to eliminate the Cathars ended up slaughtering around 20,000 people in the town including women and children and then burned the town to the ground. It was the French monk Arnaud Amalric who was later reported as being asked how they would tell the difference between the Catholics and Cathars in Beziers and replied, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.” This has been paraphrased in later military endeavors as “Kill ’em all – let God sort ’em out.”
Even though the Europeans did not recapture the Holy Land during the Crusades, Muslim populations still have difficulty with the term “Crusades” and what it meant for the treatment of their populations (including women and children) during that time by the West.
As we look at our own history, if we are to have a conversation with someone of another faith, it helps if we recognize our previous shortcomings. In the past, we have practiced dominance rather than dialogue. It is time for us to see the death of the Crusade mentality in Christianity and allow the love of neighbor to be resurrected. In this love, we practice respect for others – even those we would consider opposed to our faith. This approach is Christ-like as we remember that Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
This may also mean that we need to repent of when we have been the persecutors – just as we rightly decry terrorism today, there are periods in our history that have not dignified our Christian witness.
Photo by Merrimack Collage via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.