What Do Churches Have to Say on 9/11?


Goodwill Baptists in Oklahoma will join Jewish and Muslim leaders to host an interfaith event on Sept. 11. Would that others sought such a proactive approach, Parham writes.

The 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, falls this year on Sunday.

The confluence of a national observance and a day of worship affords churches an opportunity to frame the issue from a faith perspective in a culture that will be saturated with conflicting messages, profiting initiatives, political opportunism and xenophobic nationalism.

Churches have a prophetic and pastoral witness to offer a host of folk.

In the midst of all the expected noise - and it will be deafening - will goodwill churches offer an uncertain sound in worship?

Wanting to advance a positive answer, EthicsDaily.com has updated its free "Worship Resource for Observing September 11." That resource is available here.

The public square is already beginning to fill with competing agendas.

An anti-Islamic online political publication, FrontPageMag.com, warns: "As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the Islamists and their supporters are busy preparing a disinformation campaign to whitewash Sharia law and Islamic ideology under the banner of an operation they call 'Prepare New York.' The intent is to use a front of 'interfaith' alliances with progressive groups to marginalize those who are trying to expose the truth about the Islamist agenda and to exploit the 9/11 anniversary for propaganda purposes."

Prepare New York identifies itself as a coalition of interfaith organizations trying to "create a city-wide climate that promotes healing and reconciliation."

A press release from the organization says the coalition's purpose is "to promote religious pluralism and counter intolerance of religious differences" and "to shift the emphasis from one of fear and mistrust to one that celebrates New York's extraordinary diversity of religious freedom and expression."

Facilitating constructive interfaith engagement is a clear alternative to those who bash Muslims and create fear.

Take Oklahoma, the state of fear, which passed with 70 percent of the vote a referendum to ban Sharia law, as if that were a real threat. But goodwill Baptists there will join Jewish and Muslim leaders to host an interfaith event on Sept. 11.

Watch a Mainstream Oklahoma Baptist video clip here about the gathering.

Would that others sought such a proactive approach.

Of course, Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims is one substantive resource that local churches can use. The documentary challenges the negative narratives about these two faith groups as being extremists.

It offers positive stories about how some American Baptists and Muslims are seeking together common ground around love for neighbor.

Former President Jimmy Carter said the documentary "will enhance our efforts to serve God in a troubled world."

Anticipating that some will increase the volume of their hate speech in a troubled world, the Religion Communicators Council adopted a resolution on civil discourse around the 10th anniversary.

"The rhetoric at such times can become heated and distorted as it intermingles the religious identity of participants in those heinous acts," noted the resolution. It urged religion communicators to hold fast to high ethical standards in order to foster better understanding.

Civility and understanding should never be confused with words that masquerade as care and kindness.

Claiming it's not an evangelism project, the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board has jumped on the 10th anniversary bandwagon with a "loving Muslims" resource.

Buyer beware. The organization's history and a decade of hateful SBC rhetoric about Muslims tell one that the real agenda is deception and conversion, not understanding and engagement.

Others are engaged in another kind of deception. Their agenda is not faith conversion but profiting off patriotism.

A Tea Party organization - Grassfire Nation - is using 9/11 to sell commemorative pins.

While Grassfire Nation doesn't mention that the pins help the organization raise funds, it does claim that the pins will ensure that "Americans never, ever forget those who lost their lives on 9/11 and what this country endured."

The media and entertainment conglomerate Time Warner has big plans. Time magazine has a forthcoming commemorative issue. HBO, CNN and the CW network have programming specials.

On the political front, President Barack Obama will visit each of the terrorist sites on Sept. 11. Former President George W. Bush will join him in New York for a commemoration.

Other politicians will have their own events to build their base and attack their opponents.

The 10th anniversary is a time for goodwill churches to offer a prophetic word about profiteers, ideologues and the politics of destruction.

It's a major cultural event into which churches can speak for meaningful interfaith engagement and seek common ground based on the shared common word to love neighbor.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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