The Children’s Crusade of 1212, was a disastrous effort by as many as 30,000 children to peacefully convert Muslims in the Holy Land to Christianity. You can well imagine how badly it ended for a disorganized and poorly led mob of children, primarily from France and Germany, attempting to make it across the Alps to the Mediterranean—where they expected the seas to miraculously part ala the Exodus. It is estimated that at least two-thirds of them either died along the way or were sold into slavery. None made it to the Holy Land, and very few made it back home. The more fortunate became permanent residents in Genoa, Rome or Byzantium—relying on the generosity of at least some Christians.
“The Children’s Crusade” is also the subtitle of Kurt Vonnegut’s semi-autobiographical, satirical novel about the firebombing of Dresden: “Slaughterhouse Five.” I read Vonnegut’s novel when it was first published in 1969. It’s a book that will very quickly make one a cynic. A mixture of fact, fantasy and sci-fi, it is magical realism at its very best.
The War in Europe was in its final stages on February 13, 1945. Dresden had no military significance and because it had not been previously bombed it was crowded with refugees, mostly widows and children. No one knows exactly how many were incinerated. Estimates range from 40,000 to as many as 130,000. Vonnegut was a 22.-y.o. POW who survived because his detail was working well below the city in a slaughterhouse carved out of solid rock.
As they emerged into the daylight, they were greeted by a landscape so bleak that he said it looked like they had been transported to the surface of the moon. His detail’s chore then became burying or further cremating the thousands of dead bodies. And why the children’s crusade? Probably because the GIs who fought the war were men in their teens and early twenties. They weren’t cynics yet. They were children. They were still true believers.
Now as I see stories in the media about the flood of Central American refugees at our border I think: “The Children’s Crusade, again.” Their journey seems almost as surreal and as hazardous as the migration in 1212, and the victims (parents and kids) as naive as the teenagers who fought WW-II. Something like 52,000 children have arrived at our border with Mexico near Laredo, Texas, so far this year. Most of these children were sent here by parents desperate to have their kids escape the drug gang violence and grinding poverty of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Some are unaccompanied, but most are intrusted to “coyotes”—the human traffickers who are in it for the money.
Yesterday there was an incident in Murrieta, California that made me ashamed to be an American. Three busloads of kids from the Texas border were being relocated to shelters in CA. They were blocked by a flag-waving, poster-carrying mob telling them they were not welcome here. Some of my Tea-Partier Fb friends were quite thrilled by this incident.These are the same pro-life people who will belabor a point about the rights of a fetus, but alien children—no, not so much. I gather they have been intoxicated by too much conservative talk-radio, and in some twisted way they view the Murrieta mob as patriotic. Over a week ago when this humanitarian crisis first grabbed the headlines Rush Limbaugh said we should load them all on C-17s and deposit them back in Mexico. Glenn Beck, conflicted as ever, first made fun of the emigration and then later said we should do what we could to care for the children. In the past couple years Beck has been playing the Christian card a lot. I’m sure when he thought about it, it occurred to him that callously sending them back is not what Jesus would do.
I kind of think that Jesus would have used the same whip on the Murrieta mob as he did the money-changers in the Temple. I think he would have recalled His Father’s words in Exodus 22; “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (Ex. 22:21-24)
Jesus had a special place in his heart for children (Mk. 9:37, 10:16), not because they were innocent but because they were helpless. He also said what we do to the least of His children, we do also to Him. But he wasn’t talking about ‘merkans, was He. We’re special. God help us. Our country is no longer a beacon of hope, it’s become a fearful selfish mob.