Dealing With The Past

I'm a tad dismayed because there's a movie coming out this weekend that I really want to see but, because of time constraints, won't be able to till Monday at the earliest. The movie is Kingdom of Heaven. It's a period film about a young French man [played by the always elvish Orlando Bloom] who joins the Christian Crusade to defend the city of Jerusalem from Muslim invaders. Interestingly enough, while it would seem a movie of this topic would spark controversy in our politically correct times, not much has been said about it. It's a fascinating time of history that has been too often ignored.

Some of you are unfamiliar with the Crusades, so pardon a very brief history lesson: In 1095, Pope Urban II decreed that Christians should take Jerusalem out of the hands of the Muslims; Muslims had taken control of the city in 638 and Crusaders finally took the city in 1099. The Muslims then recaptured the city in 1187. Except for one brief additional period of Christian rule, the Muslims prevailed and maintained control of the Holy Lands.

It's difficult for Christians to reflect upon the Crusades. A byproduct of these campaigns were horrible atrocities committed by Crusaders in the name of Jesus. Thousands of innocent people were killed, women raped and towns destroyed, all by people who claimed to be accomplishing God's will. Some Christians refuse to acknowledge this as part of their heritage- especially those with a Protestant background who claim no responsibility for actions of the Roman Catholic Church. But this is part of our past. Yes it's disgusts us to think of what happened back then and we would never imagine doing things like that today, but we can't escape these skeletons in our closet.

As a Christian, I am part of the catholic church [little "c" meaning "universal"]; what we would call the body of Christ. That means I'm not just responsible for my actions. Being part of a universal community expands my accountability to all Christians- past, present and future. Those followers of Jesus, who hundreds of years ago rampaged the countryside and slaughtered people, are my spiritual ancestors. Christians in Rwanda, who a few years ago shed the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, are my brothers and sisters. And future believers, who commit violent acts years after I'm dead and gone, are my descendents. This may sound crazy to you, but I believe it to be a Scriptural truth.

There's a problem in the way we've presented the Christian faith the past few years as a "personal relationship." True, each of us must decide what we will do with Jesus in our own lives, but we are also instructed to be involved in each other's lives. Throughout the Bible we see the importance of community and Christianity. Most of Paul's letters in the New Testament are written to churches [and when he writes to individuals, it's almost always about churches]. When someone in the community is entangled in a serious sin, it is the responsibility of the church to deal with it. You don't get a free pass just because you're not the offending party. For example, there's an interesting read about a church needing to handle an incest problem in I Corinthians 5.

I guess my point is this: you can't dismiss the sin of others with a mere Bart Simpson "I didn't do it." Don't be afraid of the shady past of the church; it doesn't discount our message. Trying to bleach Christian history of past indiscretion to make Christianity look better isn't effective. It's just not believable. The church and Christians are flawed, but our founder is not. Despite all the excess baggage and guilt the church bears from thousands of years of screwing-up, powerful and redemptive things are happening in this world. The way of Jesus can work. It just takes some work.

Don't run from your past. Learn from it.