September 9, 2011
New York City - In a press conference today, top national and global Evangelicals urged that religion should be used to heal and unite, not divide. Last year, protests by extremists marred the commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ignited international violence. This year, the controversy surrounds the inclusion of national religious leaders in the 10th anniversary ceremonies. In response, global Evangelical leaders, respected theologians, and community pastors are calling for peace and unity during this year's remembrances. These leaders believe that while religion has historically been the cause of conflict, it can also serve as a solution.
"The terrorist attacks on 9/11 may have hit the United States but they shook the whole world,” said Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance. "What can we do to create a better world that is more hopeful and seeks to end these cycles of violence? There is a growing acknowledgement within our global evangelical community that we must build bridges of friendship and trust across ethnic, cultural, and religious divides. This is not based upon sociological or political reasons but rather on the example of Christ who broke down barriers and commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Video and written statements were submitted from international Christians with hopeful messages of unity and reconciliation. "We as Arab Christians looked carefully at this situation (9/11),” said Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki Stephanous of Cairo, Egypt, in a written statement. "We hoped that the outcomes of it would not be more hatred or rejection but the outcome would be a new understanding of co-existence, a new understanding of peace and a new understanding of how we accept each other as we are. It is important for all of us one decade after this act of September 11th that we look to the future as people created in the image of God, so that we can live together and we can work together."
Last year, Christians living in predominantly Muslim countries were threatened and rendered defenseless when they heard about the planned Quran burning and other acts of discrimination against Muslims in America. Acts of hatred and intolerance against Muslims in America makes Christians less safe in other countries.
"Ten years ago the terrorists offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is violence and oppression,” said Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis. "America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. When we protect and respect those who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with those who attacked us, we model for the world the best America has to offer.”
"A lot of people are used to seeing bad religion,” added Wallis, "but the answer to bad religion is not to have no religion or exclude religion entirely, as some have done, but to practice and preach better religion.” Leaders responded to the controversy surrounding the decision to exclude religious leaders from some 9/11 remembrances. While understandable, the decision avoids the problem and misses an opportunity to address larger societal concerns.
During the press conference, the speakers took time to pray for the continued healing of the survivors and peace for families of the victims, saying that each life lost in the attacks and the wars since was of unique and sacred value to God.
"New York is a diverse city and that is a strength, not a weakness,” said Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, the Senior Pastor of Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral. "This city came together in an unprecedented way after the attacks. It's time for our country to live up to our motto, 'Out of Many, One.' We are at our best as a country when people who are different can live together in peace.”
The speakers emphasized that there is indeed evil in this world that must be stopped, but that the scriptures teach that we should overcome evil with good. History has shown, they argued, that evil in the form of terrorism is not overcome solely by military might, but through diplomacy, dialogue, and community development.
"Jesus didn't teach his followers that they had to always agree their neighbor, he commanded us to love them,” said Dr. David Gushee, chair of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. "As Christians and Americans we need to apply the 'golden rule' and treat others how we would want to be treated.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, the President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and Lead Pastor of the Lamb's Church in New York City, addressed the controversy over the role of clergy from the 9/11 remembrance at Ground Zero. He said, "The exclusion of faith leaders is symptomatic of our inability to navigate difference in our national conversations and life. Civility is in high demand and low supply.” He also remarked, "Still, there are enough faith leaders with good discernment and love for mercy and justice that the folly of a few should not disqualify the whole. Clergy were a healing presence for thousands during 9/11 and remain a healing presence in times of grief and remembrance.”
While anti-Muslim sentiment has been obvious in some areas of the country, other Christians have been leading the way in how Christians can be good neighbors to the Muslim community. Rev. Steve Stone of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, spoke about his experience welcoming a Muslim Community into his church. "They are very clear that they are Muslims and we are very clear that we are Christians,” said Stone. "But we are trying to do something together for the good of the community. We are in the 'do the right thing' business, and if you can't do the right thing, you are in the wrong church.”