Lesson 12: A Christian Response to 9-11

The World Trade Center under attack on 9-11-01As we ponder actions appropriate for responding to the current pandemic, it might be helpful to think of what might have been a Christian response to the 9-11 terrorism. The Company at Kirkridge gathered after that life-changing event to discuss elements of an authentic faith after that tragedy.

We had all read some Huston Smith in preparation, so readily agreed if we were to retain our humanity, we had to ask questions for which there are no final answers. We assumed no one person, group, or discipline has all the answers, but recognized we can work together to continue the search for truth.

That conversation was especially important after 9-11 as that day became a dividing line in history. We suddenly, unexpectedly found ourselves in a new place. Problems thoughtful people had discussed for decades now exploded in our midst.

Our company agreed that an authentic faith response had to be built on experience more than doctrine, example more than preaching, empowerment more than enlightenment, and mentoring more than teaching. It also would:

  • Help us acknowledge and live with our vulnerability.
  • Overcome the division between cultures, especially by confronting poverty.
  • Deal with evil.
  • Renounce violence.
  • Place justice over security.
  • Make people bodily present to one another.
  • Offer safe places where people can be honest.
  • Enable people to live in uncertainty.

1. Our community will have to help us acknowledge and live with our vulnerability. When our own planes were highjacked and used as weapons against us, we saw how vulnerable our society, based so completely on technology, is. Suddenly our false sense of security was yanked from under us. An authentic contemporary faith has to offer encouragement and support by promising God’s grace.

2. Our community must overcome the division between cultures, especially by confronting poverty. The tragedy exposed the animosity between two cultures in our world, leaving Americans to wonder how so many could hate us. Previously, we had been able to deny our inability or unwillingness to solve the basic problems of hunger, nakedness, and housing by simply ignoring people who are not like us, such as inner-city dwellers. An authentic faith espouses catholic community, calls for solidarity, and champions giving according to ability and receiving according to need.

3. Our community will have to deal with evil. After 9-11, our society proceeded to demonize scapegoats she designated as the enemy responsible for all her problems. She retreated into a position of isolation directed by self-interest alone. An authentic faith must always confess our own part in evil and call on people to love their enemies.

4. Our community must renounce violence. Having defined the enemy, our society assumed we could use violence to overcome violence. We embarked on a battle that would supposedly overcome evil. We ended “destroying the village in order to save it.” An authentic faith regards violence as the epitome of evil and identifies love, compassion, self-denial, and sacrifice as the creative, healing response.

5. Our community must place justice over security. After 9-11, our society seems ready to sacrifice freedom and justice for security. An authentic faith regards both society and the individual as equally important. One cannot be sacrificed for the other.

6.  Our community must make people bodily present to one another. Our reaction to 9-11 has been a continual retreat from face-to-face community. An authentic faith regards embodied presence where people can speak with one another, share meals, and touch one another as essential. Embodied presence is necessary for compassion that is willing to suffer for another.

7. Our community must offer safe places where people can be honest. And,

8. Live with uncertainty. People report they no longer know what is real in the aftermath of 9-11. This uncertainty unnerves and frightens. Authentic faith provides the courage to live in the midst of ambiguity and controversy. It depends upon regular observance of the Sabbath so we can maintain an appropriate perspective on the everyday.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    As I read this I am struck by the changes we have witnessed in our society since 911. For example, in #6 I wholeheartedly agree in bodily present witness. Yet, there was no smartphone in 2001 – and our world has changed since. The generation raised with smartphones has embraced them as central to their lives in terms of communicating. What I perceive as troubling is those who do so tend to withdraw from bodily present communicating, which significantly reduces communication modes to just one – visual. No amount of gif’s, emoticons, or character combos will replace voice, facial expression, touch, and many others in deep communication. It has also bred fear and anxiety when anticipating a requirement to communicate this way. I see them pulling away from society and leading lonely lives.

    A second issue with this group is trust. #7 states we must offer safe places where honesty prevails. I agree. However, when trust in a google result is the high standard – and do not trust other people, it becomes a challenge to convey trust in a book or a person’s testimony.

    I think this is a bigger problem than many may expect. I see these elements being played out in our response to the pandemic, both public response and response from the church. At a time when we need spiritual guidance most, we are pulling away from providing it…..in fear.

  2. Fritz Foltz says:

    Thanks, John. Your comment has forced me to rethink my thoughts. I’ll address it in the next two lessons.

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