The Common Good

Reflecting on Our Response to 9/11

Sojomail - September 11, 2008


We cannot kill our way to victory.

- Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying before a congressional committee about the U.S. war in Afghanistan. According to McClatchy news reports, "Mullen said he is examining 'a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region,' an acknowledgement that the current approach lacks coordinated reconstruction and humanitarian programs." And, "Experts inside and outside the U.S. government agreed that a key reason for the resurgence is a growing popular sympathy for the militants because an over-reliance on the use of force, especially airpower, by NATO has killed hundreds of civilians." (Source: McClatchy)

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Reflecting on Our Response to 9/11

Seven years ago this morning, airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania. The next day I joined with a few others to draft the following statement. In a few weeks, more than 4,000 of America's religious leaders of all faiths had signed it and it was printed as an ad in The New York Times.

Seven years later, as we remember that day, it is appropriate to reflect on this statement and to wonder how the world would be different if its counsel had been heeded.

We demanded "that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability." Yet after seven years of war in Afghanistan, we are still engaged against a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden has still not been found. Then, 9/11 was used as a rationale to invade and occupy Iraq, a conflict that has now taken the lives of more than 4,000 American troops and countless Iraqis. Rather than "the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions," we have seen the erosion of our civil liberties, torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and indefinite detentions without trial.

Today on this anniversary, let us pause to remember those who died, to reflect on what has happened since, and once again, "Let us rededicate ourselves to global peace, human dignity, and the eradication of the injustice that breeds rage and vengeance." We offered a different way to deny the terrorists their victory, which, I believe, could still be followed. It's not too late to change our course. Please read and reflect upon the original statement.

Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism

We, American religious leaders, share the broken hearts of our fellow citizens. The worst terrorist attack in history that assaulted New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania has been felt in every American community. Each life lost was of unique and sacred value in the eyes of God, and the connections Americans feel to those lives run very deep. In the face of such a cruel catastrophe, it is a time to look to God and to each other for the strength we need and the response we will make. We must dig deep to the roots of our faith for sustenance, solace and wisdom.

First, we must find a word of consolation for the untold pain and suffering of our people. Our congregations will offer their practical and pastoral resources to bind up the wounds of the nation. We can become safe places to weep and secure places to begin rebuilding our shattered lives and communities. Our houses of worship should become public arenas for common prayer, community discussion, eventual healing, and forgiveness.

Second, we offer a word of sober restraint as our nation discerns what its response will be. We share the deep anger toward those who so callously and massively destroy innocent lives, no matter what the grievances or injustices invoked. In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life. We pray that President Bush and members of Congress will seek the wisdom of God as they decide upon the appropriate response.

Third, we face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge -- even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious.

But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.

Our American illusion of invulnerability has been shattered. From now on, we will look at the world in a different way, and this attack on our life as a nation will become a test of our national character. Let us make the right choices in this crisis -- to pray, act, and unite against the bitter fruits of division, hatred and violence. Let us rededicate ourselves to global peace, human dignity, and the eradication of the injustice that breeds rage and vengeance.

As we gather in our houses of worship, let us begin a process of seeking the healing and grace of God.

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Holding 9/11's Emotions Up to the Light of God (by Brian McLaren)

All of us remember this day, where we were when we heard the news, our feelings, our fears. ... In many ways we have run from the feelings of that day ... grief, grievance, unity, confusion, dislocation, vulnerability and solidarity. In many ways, we quickly transmuted those emotions into ones that we are more familiar with, ones we know how to "work with" -- anger, lust for revenge, blame, and scapegoating, offended pride, even hate. But maybe now, seven years later, we are able to return to the feelings of that day and in some way learn from them now what we may not have been able to learn from them back then.

The Church's Role in the Georgia-Russia Conflict (by Jim Forest)

The recent Georgia-Russia mini-war in and around South Ossetia was definitely not a religious war, but serves as a reminder that religious identity doesn't even come in third place when issues of national identity are at issue. While the battle raged, the majority of participants -- and casualties -- were Christians on both sides. ... No matter how borderless Christianity is in theory ("neither east nor west, neither Greek nor Jew"), in practice national borders are as substantial as cathedral walls. The Orthodox churches in Russia and Georgia -- led by Patriarch Alexei in Moscow and Patriarch Ilya in Tbilisi -- are no exception.

Why My Church is Hosting a Poverty Sunday (by Troy Jackson)

Two of the mantras that my evangelicalism has taught me over the years are these: 1. Be True to Scripture, 2. Avoid Politics. The heart for God's word is not all that surprising, given the "Sola Scriptura" roots of Protestantism and the attempt to be faithful to the Bible that have been consistent earmarks of American evangelicalism. The second mantra might be a bit surprising, especially as evangelicals have been branded as part of the Religious Right over the past several election cycles. Despite media portrayals, however, the vast majority of evangelical churches have not preached Republicanism. Rather, they have avoided politics altogether, leaving the partisan work to Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and the late Jerry Falwell.

Torturing the Least of These (by Jimmy McCarty)

Jesus spoke of the last judgment in Matthew 25, saying that what we do for "the least of these" we do to him. The least of these includes the hungry, naked and homeless. It also includes the imprisoned. How we treat those who are in prison is how we treat Jesus Christ, and it is part of the basis on which God will judge our lives. In torturing those imprisoned for crimes they have not yet been found guilty of, we torture, again, our Lord and Savior. For people who claim to follow the one who said we are no longer to function according to "eye for an eye" ideology, but to "turn the other cheek," to not speak out against those who would continue to use the methods of the cross is wrong.

Moving the Abortion Debate Beyond Partisan Purists (by Tony Campolo)

While at the Democratic National Convention, religious leaders of other faith traditions personally thanked me for my efforts. Even leaders of some pro-choice organizations hailed this compromise, claiming that at last they could find some common ground with pro-life advocates. Purists, on the other hand, have had hard words for me, claiming that I should not have been involved in any way with a political party that is pro-choice. While I understand their desire to settle for nothing less than the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, I nevertheless believe that my decision to work for abortion reduction was a good one.

The New Monastics and Mosaic Leadership: Otra Voz (by Gabriel Salguero)

I've been following the recent online conversation about racial reconciliation and the New Monastics rather closely. Why? Because it is a conversation whose time has come. I honestly believe that much good work is being done in regard to engaging the mosaic of Christians about issues of poverty, race, privilege, and voice. That said, in the words of James Weldon Johnson, "Stony the road we trod." Some time ago, I blogged about a mosaic revival happening in the United States. I would add that this mosaic revival has been happening all over the world for some time. By mosaic revival I mean a Christlike movement across race, gender, culture, and economics where we all come to the table as equals, as children of God. I think that this revival in many of the movements (it is not limited to these but I am responding to a particular conversation) like New Monastics, Sojourners, and the Emergent Church is in an embryonic but promising state.

Dealing With Rejection (by Bart Campolo)

The other day Marty invited some neighborhood kids over to help with a mailing she brought home from work. Before they got started, she sent 12-year-old Heather across the street to fetch 13-year-old Jasmine, who has been part of our fellowship from the very beginning. Heather returned a few minutes later, alone and puzzled. "They were in there, but they wouldn't open the door" she told Marty. "Jasmine's mother said you need to call her."

Reaching Out Across Differences (by Seth Naicker)

I have paid keen interest to this current presidential race. Being from another country, the whole process is quite fascinating and emotive, as gifted rhetoric and track records are flaunted for the public eye and reflection. However, as much as the presidential race and electoral process in North America is capturing and intense, a person who is listening closely to the issues and policies presented will find him or herself quite confused by the arguments that are presented by candidates and speakers from both the Republican Party and Democratic Party.

My Summer with Daddy King (Part 3, interview by Becky Garrison)

[continued from part 1 and part 2] The movement had shifted very dramatically in those five years between 1961 and '66. Black power had come into force. In 1961, I was welcomed by the church and the black community. In 1966, I was treated more skeptically. As an example, my wife helped a group of people build sort of a head-start school, which was going to open in the summertime. The day before it was supposed to open in 1966, the school was burned to the ground.

Called or Drawn to 'The Abandoned Places of Empire'? (by Sharaya Tindal)

The very first mark of the New Monastic movement is to relocate to the abandoned places of the empire. However, after quick research, most of the social justice-geared intentional communities I found were either directly inside or in very close proximity to major cities. While there are enclaves within major metropolises that have seen the scourge of the empire, most of the American landscape is drenched in suburban and rural locales set far and away from the residual financial welfare the empire produces. And if that is the case, then the rationale for the privileged suburban dweller to relocate to urban hubs needs reexamination.

Anti-Christian Violence in India (by Benjamin Marsh and Adam Taylor)

On August 24, a massive program of violence against Christians began in the Kandhamal district in the Indian state of Orissa after a Hindu leader, Swami Saraswati, was killed by Maoist rebels. Retaliatory violence has claimed at least 25 lives and sent 10,000 Christians fleeing into the jungle. This is the same region that was torn apart by violence instigated by Swami and other Hindu extremists against Christians on Christmas Eve of last year. Ben and I had the honor of visiting the area this past June on a delegation trip in which we interviewed families and witnessed firsthand the degree to which justice has been denied to thousands of people who lost their homes, churches, and sense of security. Even then it was clear that the root causes of the violence had not been fully addressed and that the situation remained a volatile one without stronger state intervention to pursue justice and foster reconciliation.

New Monastics and White Privilege (by Eliacín Rosario-Cruz)

For me and mine (my family, community, friends) this conversation is not just another topic of the many we can choose from; this conversation is part of our core beings. Because of this I want to invest time and energy in conversations and relationships that will generate mutual transformation and growth. As a good friend told me recently, "blog conversations are a good start on a small front -- but the real work is ahead of us."

Hyphenated Emergents (by Phyllis Tickle)

In all of this reshuffling and reconstituting, there are also other parishes, however, other churches and congregations that are moving to embrace emergent Christian thought while melding it with extant and/or historic expressions of the faith. They are known as the hyphenateds. They are the presbymergents and methomergents, the luthermergents, and the baptimergents, the submergents and the anglimergents, etc. They fascinate me more even than do completely emergent congregations, because they seem to me to be engaged in the more difficult task of bringing to the party the best of two worlds, the ancient and the future. They are hyphenated, in other words, because they seek to meld the DNA and passion and post-modern theology of a new form of Christianity with the extant body and operative history of an established tradition.

Fact-Checking and Faith First (by Jim Wallis)

But now the conventions are over and the fact-checking can begin. There were a lot of very partisan things said at both conventions (that is the reason for conventions), but now all those things should be tested. I hope those who say that this will be an election about "personalities" are wrong. It must instead be about the real issues facing the country and the world. Whose tax policies will benefit whom the most? Who offers the best hopes for poor and middle-class families? And who has the smartest policies to defeat the real threats of terrorism -- not whose rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalism is tougher? So let the fact-checking begin, and given the speeches we have just heard from some politicians, we will need full-time fact-checkers.


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