Faith forum: Nine years later, how does 9/11 resonate in a religious context?

The Rev. Mary Newberg Gale, associate pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:

One could argue that 9/11 no longer resonates in a political or social context, but only in a religious one. Nine years later many have forgotten the lessons learned in its aftermath. In those moments we saw the worst of human nature yet responded with the best — daring rescue workers, caring for strangers, willingness to help. Sadly, we abandoned those moments, and hatred, anger and discrimination have gradually become the more dominate response.

Sept. 11 yields a paradox of faith. It needs the best in us but invites the worst in us. We blame others in the name of religion and stereotypically attack those who believe in a different way. It challenges Christianity’s call to embrace the stranger, care for the foreigner, and to love and pray for our enemies. It pushes the boundaries of our ability to understand — and follow — the religious texts we claim to hold so dear. It pushes us to the very things we abhor in others. It blurs the line of our call to love the other — instead we find ourselves burning holy books and perpetrating violence against places of worship. We turn an act of terror perpetrated against Americans of all faiths into a veritable war between religions.

President Bush reminded us in a speech to Islamic leaders, “All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true face of Islam. It is a faith based upon love and not hate.” We would hope that Imams say the same about Christianity. Yet, many of us have forgotten Bush’s prescient, powerful words. Many see America as taking the seemingly easier path — one of hatred, violence and division.

A powerful aspect of Christianity is its admonition to love that which is different, to protect those on the edges of our world; socially, politically and religiously. Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love neighbor. Psalm 67 points us toward a future promise when all nations gather under the banner of God’s justice and saving power. Perhaps on this ninth anniversary we, as people of faith, have the opportunity to live the words we claim, and to practice what we preach. We must faithfully celebrate our connection with our Muslim sisters and brothers, and with all God’s children. May it be so.

— Send e-mail to Mary Newberg Gale at

Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave:

The horrific devastation that shattered many Americans’ sense of security nine years ago raised emotions and politically motivated responses often so non-rational that discussions of the event and its symbolism ever since have become more emotional than rational.

Add to that the fact that religion has been used throughout these discussions, and we can get into a dangerous national argument. Politicians who can make political hay by invoking the tragedy still do.

The furor over an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan blocks from the site of those iconic towers finally getting tenants as an Islamic Community Center is evidence that nine years later, the invoking of religion around the symbol that is 9/11 is alive and well.

In the mix that involves religion, emotion, politics, a nation’s pride and the loss of human lives, careful thought remains drowned out. Yet, that careful thought begins with the recognition that religion in itself never does anything.

We might like to claim that Islam teaches such and such or Christianity brought the medieval crusades to the Middle East, but in the case of any large category, it’s not the category that is the real issue. We might like to invoke passages from the Quran or the Bible to show that these religions are violent, but we’ve gotten nowhere.

The real issue is how and why people who profess one of these “isms” use their religion, for good or for evil. The real issue is why people focus on the portions of the scriptures, doctrines, religious leaders and traditions they select while ignoring others.

Unless we make the distinction between religion and religious people, we’ll be stuck with false generalizations and accusations, we’ll fight over the wrong things, we’ll never get down to the real reasons events like 9/11 happen.

There is no religion, if we think in terms of the so-called great world religions, that has not had its share of horror as well as its exalted moments. Of course, members of each of those religions will tell us that those who used their own religion negatively aren’t the real believers.

But one would think that that claim would caution any religious person to think similarly about a person who identifies with a different “ism.” Religion has been and continues to be used by people for their own needs, purposes, and fears, and never more so than when invoked concerning 9/11.

— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at


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