Part of my role as University Pastor at Capital University is to support the spiritual life of our entire community. Not just the Lutherans. Not even just the Christians. All people, from Hindus and Agnostics to Jains and Atheists to Sikhs and Buddhists. It also extends to our Jewish, Muslim, and Orthodox community members. These interfaith partners are uniquely important in this discussion because the Crusades furthered antisemitism and Islamophobia across Europe and the Mediterranean. The Crusades dehumanized Muslims and lied about both their rule of the Holy Land and the content of their faith. These Western European Christians Crusaders even sacked Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Christian) Empire, killing innocents indiscriminately and stealing treasures to take back to Europe. In short, the legacy of the Crusader itself is not one of valor. Here, then, are some key conversation points to have an honest conversation about the Crusader nickname:
- The Crusades began with a call to arms from Pope Urban II of the Roman Catholic Church in 1095, who publicly sought two goals: reinforce the Byzantine Orthodox forces against Turk's westward migration and guarantee safe passage for Christian pilgrims to holy sites in the Middle East. While these may offer morally defensible goals, the actions of the Crusaders (named both above and below) did not consistently reflect the goals.
- It is important to note that, when Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade, he explicitly referenced the genocidal language used in scripture when giving the Crusaders their marching orders.
- Crusaders often pillaged homes and towns on their journey, taking advantage of innocents along the way, the poorest of people, justifying their theft with claims to a holy cause. See Jonathan Riley-Smith's The Atlas of the Crusades.
- Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades presents numerous first person accounts from the period, which report Crusaders taking part in cannibalism of Muslims, as well as repeated instances of sexual assault and murder of civilians all of religious identities. The later is corroborated in Asbridge's The First Crusade: A New History and Jonathan Phillips's The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople.
- European Crusaders often retained conquered lands rather than return them to the Byzantines, their supposed allies. These lands are sometimes referred to as "Crusader States" and existed from Cyprus to Edessa to south of Jerusalem. See Thomas Asbridge's The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land.
- Cappy, our caricature of a Crusader, is actually a costume much more akin to a hoplite in the Trojan or Spartan armies, or even a Roman centurion, than a Crusader from medieval Europe. Many see this fictional representation as distant enough from the actual Crusader to diminish the offensive association. Others, however, look at the use of a Crusader mascot as a minimization of the violence that European Crusaders perpetrated on Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians.
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Capital University's partner denomination, advocates an accompaniment model of international mission. Rather than force our way of life upon others, we accompany them in the way of their cultures and religions, a perspective that explicitly rejects the messages of the medieval Crusader mission.
We should consider this history of the Crusader persona in light of Capital University’s recently approved strategic plan. If we are purposeful people, then the name Crusader must be purposeful. I cannot, in good conscience, identify with the purposes most commonly associated with this historical figure, as illustrated in the information I give here. If we desire to be an open community embracing hope, then that community must be metaphorically and actually open to all and pursue identities that are hopeful for all. The legacy of Crusaders, seeking colonial power over foreign lands, exploiting the people that they encountered, and murdering Jewish and Muslim civilians (as well as even their own Christian allies in Constantinople) is simply not consistent with our strategic plan. As ethical stewards, it is time for us to leave behind a mascot with, at the very minimum, an ethically ambivalent legacy. To support free inquiry for all members of the Capital community, we must release the bonds that restrict or prevent participation within our community. To effectively create an inclusive university for all people of faith, we must not glorify—or even appear to glorify—violence against people of color or people of other faiths, the expressed intention of the original Crusaders.
None of this means I do not support our athletes, coaches, or teams. I love our Capital community and give thanks for the hard work and dedication they put into their classwork, their practices, and their games. Advocating for a new mascot is not advocating against our student athletes. In fact, what I want is a mascot that truly reflects their courage, dedication, and perseverance, a mascot that holds high the ideals we share together as #CapFam.
We should identify as a campus that seeks hospitality for people of all faiths. We should not place the moniker of Crusader upon anyone, especially those members of the Capital community whose religious forebears were killed, murdered, and violated, whose wealth was stolen, and whose homes were ransacked by the Crusader armies of Europe. Nor should we expect that all Christians find the Crusader nickname appropriate, palatable, or honorable.
In sum, to claim the name Crusaders identifies us as exclusive rather than inclusive; as Euro-centered rather than globally committed; as comfortable with a history of violence against the other rather than devoted to peace with all people. We can be #CapFam or we can be Crusaders. We cannot be both, not with the legacy of a Crusader truly in view.
It is time for a new mascot, one that evokes bravery and honor, courage and integrity. We should choose such a mascot. We deserve such a mascot. The Crusader simply is not it.