What?! No Prayers at the 9/11 Memorial Observance!?!?

Bronze wall mural dedicated to the fallen fire...Image via Wikipedia

No...the exclamation points just don't do it for me.  Let me try all caps.  Forgive me if it hurts your ears.


Nope.  No matter how hard I try I just can't seem to get all worked up about this.

I don't know whether you've heard or not, but word on the street is that the ceremony of remembrance at the 9/11 memorial site is going to be free of any prayers, whatsoever.  There will be some moments of silence, which is always fitting for an occasion like that, but no prayers.  In fact, no religious leaders have been invited to speak.

This is, apparently, the same way it's worked for the previous nine anniversary observances in New York.  It's been geared to the families who lost loved ones there.

[New York Mayor] Bloomberg's office said the 10th anniversary ceremony would follow the pattern of previous observances on the date of the worst attack ever against Americans on their soil. Earlier anniversary events also have not included clergy, according to the mayor's office. The focus is to be on those who lost family members in the attacks.

"The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature," said Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg, in an email to CNN.

"It has been widely supported for the past 10 years and rather than have disagreements over which religious leaders participate we would like to keep the focus of our commemoration ceremony on the family members of those who died," she said.

There will be moments of silence in the 10th anniversary observance so people can have times of "personal and religious introspection," Erskine told CNN. (The Christian Examiner)
So, Bloomberg says this is how it's been done in the past. He said the planners don't want disagreements over who gets to be there and speak on behalf of this or that religion.  And he says that, everyone will get time for "personal and religious introspection."  OK, I get it.

But there is a point on the other side here that this was a religious attack on the US.  It was an attack by those who considered it a Holy War.  And, religion played a big role in how our country responded to the attack.  I can't deny that it was a different religious environment, even in Girdwood, for a few weeks.  There are others, however, who see this as a case of political correctness or the public square being hospitable to Christianity.

And there are some angry Christians making their responses known:

The Family Research Council has a petition with 55,000 signatures which says: "Your plan to exclude pastors and prayer from the Ground Zero commemoration is not only offensive to the families of victims, but strangely overlooks the role that faith played in bringing healing to countless lives."

Florida Pastor Joel C. Hunter also told The Christian Post in a prior interview that a 9/11 ceremony without church leaders or prayer paints an inaccurate picture of America. "It's going to be exclusionary, secularist only, and we are one of the most religious countries in the world. So, the bottom line is, this is not how we were founded. This is not who we are," Hunter said.

The American Family Association's Tim Wildmon, is encouraging its 2.3 millions subscriber to write to Bloomberg to protest.  He says: "I'm stunned. This event affected the whole psyche and soul of the country, and you are going to have no prayer? What's a memorial service if you are going to leave God out of it completely? It seems kind of hollow."

And, of course, we'd have to expect the Institute on Religion & Democracy.  Their Mark Tooley says:  “In a city where the most residents in recent memory now cite religious faith as strongly important, New York is tone-deaf to exclude all religion when remembering the slaughter of over 3,000 innocents.  To exclude clergy even at a memorial service implies that religion is not welcome in the public square, even in mourning.”

Look, I think I'd like a pastor or two to say some touching, maybe even important words at the service.  It would be cool if a rabbi and an imam were there as well.  No one can deny that the stories, the images, the words of faith took on new meaning to many people after the tragic acts of ten years ago.  Religion was very important...to many persons.

But it wasn't important to all.  And it wasn't my faith, the Christian faith, that was important to all of those for whom religion was important.  It may be political correctness on my part, but I'm not comfortable with lining up religious leaders from every faith under the sun...or at least every faith that responded that day or was represented among the victims.  And I'm not comfortable with having the big three (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) speak and ignore the rest.

But, most important for me, I'm uncomfortable with the kind of Christianity that we normally see in our "public square."  It's a "safe" faith...avoiding the calls to confession for sins, avoiding language that might offend other faiths, prettying up the message of salvation and justice and hope.  It might make people feel better.  The words might be "nice."  But oftentimes we make it safe.

And so, sure, I lament that there won't be a prayer or Scripture read or the message of resurrection (a powerful one in the face of tragedy) proclaimed.  But that's because it would mean a lot to ME.

There will be many other places and times for us Christians to proclaim the good news in response to those attacks ten years ago.  I will do that in Girdwood next week as we, too, remember.

But forgive me if I'm not too angry that they won't be praying at the 9/11 memorial that day.  Well, the people up front may not be praying.  There will be a whole lot of praying from the folks in the crowd.
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