The 11th anniversary of 9-11 has passed and there’s little evidence that pacifist inclined churches and religious activists are able to grapple with the wickedness of terrorism and the state’s vocation to protect its people.
Just a few days after 9-11 I attended a responsive symposium at the Church Center at the United Nations, hosted by the United Methodist Women’s Division. The speakers were far more distressed by the possible U.S. military response, and by potential anti-Islamic sentiment, than by the murderous attacks that had just occurred a few miles away.
Weeks later I attended the directors meeting of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, and then shortly later the United Methodist Council of Bishops. Neither gathering was able even to acknowledge United Methodism’s official stance at that time, just ratified at the 2000 General Conference, that most Christians believe armed force is justified in response to aggression, tyranny and genocide. Instead, the church’s lobby arm and bishops approved statements that pretended their denomination was pacifist. And neither was able specifically to condemn al Qaeda, the Taliban, or radical Islam. Instead, they abstractly condemned “violence,” without distinction between terrorist and defender. Other Mainline church responses were little better.
Yesterday, Jim Wallis’ Sojourners website included a 9-11 remembrance prayer by a Presbyterian Church (USA) clergy and “self-described progressive.” It mourns both the terror attacks and the U.S. military response, while also celebrating diversity. It reads in part:
“Remind us of the response of the American people
and not the response of the government
and its war machine.
Remind us of
the way the true heart of this nation’s people was revealed
in open doors, open arms and open hearts.
May we never forget that on that day
we did not focus on nationality, wealth, education, sex or sexuality.
We focused on need.
And it concludes:
“We lift up to you all those who, even today,
11 years later, suffer from the loss.
From NYC to Iraq the tragedy
has deeply and profoundly affected millions.
May we continue to heal
and help each other
just as we did
The prayer embodies the Religious Left/Evangelical Left response to aggression: mournful self-reflection, celebrating communal sympathy, but not naming the evil or suggesting any meaningful response to it, much less how to deter its recurrence.
A more comprehensive prayer would thank the thousands of U.S. service personnel, plus British and other Allied personnel, who fought al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist insurgents. At the top of that list would be the U.S. Navy Seal team who liquidated Osama bin Laden. Some of those heroes were later killed by a Taliban rocket. It would also thank the security services in our country and elsewhere who have helped to prevent the widely anticipated recurrence of massive terror attacks on America.
More provocatively, how about prayers of thanks for guards and interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere who gleaned invaluable intelligence, saved countless innocent lives, and in thanks were widely smeared as torturers and fiends?
The late Methodist Bishop Nolan Harmon, who persuaded his church’s 1944 General Conference to back the U.S. role in World War II, wrote in his 1983 memoir: “If we do want to stop crime, or on the world stage, to stop a Hitler or evil dictator, it will take force to do it.” A simple truth, rooted deeply in Christian teaching, yet widely ignored by too many in our churches.
Later this week Evangelicals for Peace will host here in Washington, D.C. an event called “Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility.” I strongly suspect they will tout the pacifist outlook.
But the rest of us can offer prayers of thanks that armed military and police stand guard, prepared to exert lethal force, as legitimate agents of divinely ordained government, to keep us safe.