As I write this I am watching the live coverage of the 911 memorial at ground zero in New York City and reliving some of the emotions of that day. My heart goes out to the families who continue to suffer from those events and I still flinch a little bit every time I see the planes and fireballs. I don’t know what the future holds but certainly that date represents one of the significant events of my life.
A decade ago I was driving toward our church when the sports radio station I often listen to first broke the news that a plane of some sort had crashed into the World Trade Center. I immediately turned around and drove back home to watch the television coverage although I had already missed the tower impacts. As the days unfolded we began to hear stories, not just of horror, but of bravery and survival. Someone later would say, “These were not lives that were taken, they were lives that were given.”
I have roots and friends from the U.S. and am accepting of the fundamental goodness of the people and foundational values of the nation, though I sometimes disagree with their world view. The larger response of the United States to this attack on their home soil was predictable and understandable.
That said, there is a bigger picture that the people of God need to see. I have never heard it said as well as in this piece from the current issue of Christianity Today and it expresses my beliefs and feelings perfectly. This was written by Will Willimon, presiding bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church:
On 9/11 I thought, For the most powerful, militarized nation in the world also to think of itself as an innocent victim is deadly. It was a rare prophetic moment for me, considering Presidents Bush and Obama have spent billions asking the military to rectify the crime of a small band of lawless individuals, destroying a couple of nations who had little to do with it, in the costliest, longest series of wars in the history of the United States.
The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back upon our response to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.
September 11 has changed me. I’m going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what’s wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God’s own Son.