Yes, you read that right. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the pontiff who speaks for 1 billion Christians, said that Jesus’s call to “make disciples of all nations” can be considered equivalent to the Islamic conquest of nations following the death of Mohammed. This conquest is a primary motivation for radical Islamic terrorism today, and the biggest Christian leader said “the same idea of conquest” can be linked to the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew.
In an interview on Tuesday with the French magazine La Croix, Francis minimized the difference between Islam and Christianity, arguing that the religions share a concept of subjugation.
Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.
This connection is so asinine, it can only be explained as a deduction from the liberal tenet that all religions are morally equivalent. Here is the passage, in Matthew 28, where Jesus issues the “Great Commission” to his followers (New International Version).
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus does say “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” but in context this does not mean every nation should surrender to his political leadership. He explicitly asks his disciples to do something different — to “make disciples” of all nations, not to make colonies of them.
The one connection here is the theme of struggle. “Making disciples” is hard work, and it requires personal investment with someone, rather than merely getting them to “convert.” Similarly, the idea of “jihad” doesn’t just mean conquest — it also signifies an inward struggle to subject your will to the will of Allah. Nevertheless, the pope is clearly inferring more than this. He says “the idea of conquest,” and nothing could be further from the true spirit of Christianity than armed conflict.
Throughout the gospels, the founder of the Christian religion insists that secular power is fundamentally different from “the Kingdom of God,” which he will rule. Indeed, this was a very controversial issue among first century Jews. “My kingdom is not of this world” explains why Jesus never took up arms against the Roman Empire, and this actually frustrated his followers.
Jews in the first century expected the Messiah to bring political freedom, as well as God’s connection to mankind. Many would-be messiahs rose up, arguing that they would lead a revolt to defeat the political rule of Rome. Jesus’s decision not to do so was one of the main reasons why the majority of Jews in the first century rejected his teachings.
Jesus promised that he would come again, and only then would he rule in any political sense. By contrast, Mohammed actually led an army of sorts into multiple battles in Medina and around Mecca. When his followers took up the sword to spread Islam throughout the Middle East, they were acting in accordance with his example.
By contrast, when Christians took up arms to liberate Jerusalem in the First Crusade, they did so one thousand years after Jesus had died, and not at all following his example. To claim that “the same idea of conquest” that prompted the Islamic wars and radical terrorism today rests in the Great Commission is quite simply fatuous and absurd.
Next Page: Why the Crusades have nothing to do with the Great Commission.
Where does the idea come from, if it is so wrong? In his new book Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History, sociologist and historian Rodney Stark noted that the Crusades have often been invoked as a motivation behind Muslim anger and the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. They were seen as the first step in European colonialism, and as a dark blotch on the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
But this myth could not be further from the truth. The crusades only happened four centuries after the Islamic conquest, and only after Muslims had conquered Christian lands in Syria, Turkey, North Africa, Sicily, Spain, and even southern France by the sword. The crusader kingdoms relied on vast amounts of money from Europe, and allowed Muslims to live in peace under Christian rule. They were about protecting Christians who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, not about converting Middle Easterners to Christianity.
If the Great Commission had been the impetus for the Crusades, as Pope Francis suggests, then the Christian leaders would have insisted that anyone under their rule convert from Islam to Christianity. That they did not do so is telling. The Great Commission is about making disciples, not conquering peoples, and there is no connection between it and the Crusades.
But, as President Obama himself reminded us, liberals like to point to the Inquisition and the Crusades as examples of the evils inherent in Western civilization — as if these two “dark” events could blot out the civilization which abolished slavery (twice), gave birth to science, and unleashed the mind-boggling technical progress which gave us airplanes, iPhones, and laptops.
Nevermind all that progress. “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Obama chided. Even if these were legitimately bad things — something against which Stark argues, rather conclusively — they cannot be compared to the benefits, increasingly spread across the world, of such things as capitalism and technical progress.
Liberals like to focus on the negative aspects of the West not because they are really bad, but because they tie in with something remembered less fondly than the growth of science or the eradication of slavery. Many peoples still recall the humiliations of European colonialism, and that is the driving force behind mocking Western civilization, and Christianity which gave birth to it.
Next Page: How the backlash against European Colonialism drove Pope Francis to say something ridiculously false.
Indeed, in the same interview, Pope Francis said, “When I hear talk of the Christian roots of Europe, I sometimes dread the tone, which can seem triumphalist or even vengeful. It then takes on colonialist overtones.”
Liberals may be right to condemn colonialism, the system by which European states conquered and ruled over peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. But praising the benefits of Western civilization and that civilization’s Christian roots is not the same thing as saying European peoples should rule over non-Europeans.
In seeking to right the wrongs of the past, liberals demonize a culture and a civilization that is very different from the domineering states of Europe. As Francis also said, “Christianity’s contribution to a culture is that of Christ in the washing of the feet.”
Making disciples is more foot washing than colonialism, and anyone who does not understand this does not understand Christianity. Jesus famously washed the feet of his disciples, and this servant leadership arguably inspired both capitalism and representative democracy.
Emphasizing the moral equivalence between the Islamic conquest and the Crusades is the modern liberal’s way of opposing the idea that Western civilization could possibly be central to the remarkable peace and prosperity of the world today. Yes, there is still a ways to go, but Christianity and the civilization it inspired is the solution, not the problem.
In any case, Christianity is not Islam, and the Great Commission is not Jihad.