September 7, 2011
Evangelicals Left Off 9/11 Memorial Events
Two high-profile memorial services for September 11 have drawn protests from faith leaders and religious organizations who have objected that an event plans de-emphasize the role that Christians played in the aftermath of the attacks. President Obama will attend an event at the Washington National Cathedral on the evening of September 11 where he will deliver remarks at what appears to be a more secular service but is expected to include some form of benediction.
A 9/11 interfaith prayer vigil at the Cathedral earlier in the day will include Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III, Bishop of Washington John Bryson Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche of Tibet, Buddhist nun and incarnate lama, Dr. D.C. Rao, a representative of the Hindu and Jain faiths and Imam Mohamed Magid.
A representative of the Southern Baptist Convention pointed out that the list of prayer participants does not include any evangelicals. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, protested that for a church service, the line-up seemed better suited for a meeting of the United Nations.
President Obama will attend an event at the Washington National Cathedral on the evening of September 11 where he will deliver remarks at what appears to be a more secular service but is expected to include some form of benediction.
According to Richard Weinberg, the National Cathedral’s director of communications, the choice of participants emphasized diversity in order to “appeal to as many in the country as possible.”
“The Cathedral itself is an Episcopal church and it stands to reason that our own clergy serve as Christian representatives,” he told Fox News Radio.
In comparison, on Sept. 14, 2001, evangelist Billy Graham spoke at the National Cathedral, speaking explicitly of Jesus on the cross as the comfort in a time of great need.
New York City’s 9/11 memorial ceremony at Ground Zero, which both Obama and former President George W. Bush plan to attend, does not include any members of the clergy. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) wrote to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to request that prayer be included in the event.
"On September 11, 2001, our nation prayed," wrote Forbes, who is co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. "And on September 11, 2011, our nation will pray once again."
Bloomberg’s office suggested that it wanted to avoid disagreements.
"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,” said Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg, in an e-mail to CNN.
Smaller ceremonies including one hosted by the New York Police Department will include prayers by the NYPD chief of chaplains for and the Archbishop emeritus of New York.
The nation’s response to September 11 included plenty of prayer in 2001, though not without controversy. Media mogul Oprah led the nation in an interfaith rally that included Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu clerics televised from Yankee Stadium just days after the attacks. Following the event, Lutheran pastor David Benke was suspended by his denomination after suggestions that he mixed religion for adding his prayer on stage.
This year’s commemorative events mostly steer clear of overt religious themes. Sarah McLahlan and a wreath ceremony are featured at the dedication of the new National United 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 10, which both Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will attend.
The Obama administration has also promoted 9/11 as a “Day of Service and Remembrance,” urging Americans to perform acts of service in tribute. And members of Congress will participate in a moment of remembrance and a Congressional Remembrance Ceremony on the steps outside the Capitol on September 12, where members of Congress gathered to sing a spontaneous rendition of “God Bless America” in 2001.
The approach of the tenth anniversary has prompted a variety of ceremonies that seek to remember the event—and highlight the fact that 10 years after the fact, Americans remember the terrorist attacks in very different ways.