It is also correct to say that many Christians slaughtered innocent persons in the name of God, but it is also correct to say that Muslims did the same. Most of the "secular" knights were in fact seeking plunder and lands, but the religious Orders of the Knights Hospitallers and Knights Templar were fighting for the Holy Land itself.
The original purposes of the Knights Templar were to protect Christian pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land, and to perform charitable works for the poor. They did not take part in the excesses of the First Crusade, as the Order was not created until 1118 A.D.
The Knights Templar became the most notable "permanent" force in the Holy Land, but neither it nor the Knights Hospitallers, and later the Teutonic Knights, had sufficient numbers of knights to hold the Holy Land by themselves; the principal Christian forces left the Holy Land to return to Europe.
While the Knights Templar could not hold onto the Holy Land, the knights who belonged to that Order fought to the death in numerous battles. When captured, the Templars would not renounce Christ, even when being skinned alive by their Muslim captors. The Muslims learned to respect the Templars, and dreaded them as the most fearsome warriors in Christendom.
But the Templars did not hate Muslims; in fact, the Templars had a vast intelligence network composed of loyal Muslims. There is an instance of a Muslim being harassed by a Catholic priest while praying in the Dome of the Rock; the Templars ejected the troublesome priest so their Muslim friend could pray in peace!
The Crusades might have ended very differently if the Christian kings and princes had availed themselves of Templar intelligence; but alas, they did not, and the Holy Land was lost . . . at least until 1948, when the Jewish state of Israel was recreated, as had been foretold by prophecy thousands of years before.
But the history of the Templars did not end with the Crusades. In what was to be the greatest test of the Order, Templars were arrested by King Philip the IV of France, and they were tortured. King Philip was broke, and he had hoped to replenish his royal treasury with the money held in trust by the Templars. Clement V was the Pope at that time, and was a virtual captive of King Philip in Avignon, France. Many knights reached the Templar fleet at La Rochelle, and fled to Portugal and Scotland. In Portugal, they became the Knights of Christ, and in Scotland they were welcomed by King Robert the Bruce, who had himself been excommunicated by the Pope. The Templars were tortured under Philip's orders, and many confessed to false charges under torture. All but a handful recanted those confessions made under torture, however, and among those was the Grandmaster, Jacques de Molay, and the Preceptor of Normandy. The latter were burned at the stake as relapsed heretics; while the flames leapt about the Grandmaster, however, he called the King of France and the Pope to the judgment seat of Christ "within the year." The Pope died a month later, and the king died within four months.
In Scotland, the Templars elected Robert the Bruce as their new Grandmaster, and they trained the Scots in the tactics of the Muslims they had fought for so many years. At the battle of Bannockburn in 1324, a group of Templar knights charged into the English right wing, and collapsed it. That charge, coupled with the tactics learned by the Scots from their Templar instructors, helped the Scots to win that battle and their independence. Templars also fought in Spain to return that land to Christian control.
The Scottish Knights Templar represent an Order of knighthood that was dedicated solely to God; its members all took individual vows of poverty. Theirs was an austere rule, as they individually owned only their white mantles and their weapons. They represent the highest order of Christian service: those who lived simply and were willing to give their lives in defense of the faith. And while there was conflict between Muslims and Christians during the Crusades--as there is today--the Templars were respected by their Muslim foes, and a Muslim knew that if a Templar gave his word, that word could be counted upon.
The Crusades will continue to be debated for as long as there are people left upon this earth. There were some dark episodes in the history of those campaigns, but most Western historians agree that without the Crusades, the Muslim armies would have eventually overrun Europe.
Today, the Order is concerned with its original charter: to perform charitable works, and to help defend Christians who are persecuted in foreign lands.
Hopefully, both Christians and Muslims have learned that violence is not the solution for addressing their individual differences. While the Christian church today is overwhelmingly pacificist, however, we see a dangerous increase in Islamic extremism. The Knights Templar is working to focus attention on the plight of the persecuted church, and to help bring pressure on Communist and Islamic governments to allow Christians true freedom of religion.
The Scottish Knights Templar of today, like the Templars of old, count many Muslims as friends. Not too long along, our Order petitioned the government of Jordan to allow its medical students to study in the United States, when Jordan was considering a boycott of US institutions on the basis of "Zionist" influence. We argued that neither medicine, nor the study of medicine, should be politicized; the students were allowed to come to the USA to study.
As the Apostle Paul said, our fight is with the evil powers in this world. We have nothing but love for our Muslim brethren, and while we would like for all of them to be Christians, we respect their religion and culture.
We do not promote war, but peace. And we exhort all Christians to take their Christian service to "the next level," and to not forget their brethren who are in chains, and who are being tortured, as St. Paul admonished us in Hebrews 13:3.
We ask that Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions join us in making the religious freedom articulated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality. And if we "crusade" today, it is to allow people practice the faith of their own choice, according to the dictates of their own conscience.
James R. Reese, KGOTJ
Grand Prior of the USA
Priory of the Holy Angels
Scottish Knights Templar