Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. How has America changed since then? How did 9/11 change faith in America? What impact did 9/11 have on the soul of America?
On September 11, 2001, vicious attacks were made on America and even though the twin towers fell, we as a nation of millions rose up as one. A decade later, the remembrance of that atrocity continues to haunt the very core of our national soul.
I remember all too well the feelings of absolute shock as I witnessed the events of that day. I also remember, as I, along with millions of Latter-day Saints from around the world, joined together to attend or view the 171st Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on October 7, 2001, as the then President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, addressed the world wide audience, he said: “I have just been handed a note that says that a U.S. missile attack is under way. I need not remind you that we live in perilous times. I desire to speak concerning these times and our circumstances…”
He went on to say: “You are acutely aware of the events of September 11, less than a month ago. Out of that vicious and ugly attack we are plunged into a state of war. It is the first war of the 21st century. The last century has been described as the most war-torn in human history. Now we are off on another dangerous undertaking, the unfolding of which and the end thereof we do not know. For the first time since we became a nation, the United States has been seriously attacked on its mainland soil. But this was not an attack on the United States alone. It was an attack on men and nations of goodwill everywhere. It was well planned, boldly executed, and the results were disastrous. It is estimated that more than 5,000 innocent people died. Among these were many from other nations. It was cruel and cunning, an act of consummate evil. Recently, in company with a few national religious leaders, I was invited to the White House to meet with the president. In talking to us he was frank and straightforward.”
President Hinckley then stated: “Those of us who are American citizens stand solidly with the president of our nation. The terrible forces of evil must be confronted and held accountable for their actions. This is not a matter of Christian against Muslim. I am pleased that food is being dropped to the hungry people of a targeted nation. We value our Muslim neighbors across the world and hope that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer. I ask particularly that our own people do not become a party in any way to the persecution of the innocent. Rather, let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive. It is the terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down.”
Recognized as the Prophet of God, by Latter-day Saints, President Hinckley concluded his address with these words:
“Now, brothers and sisters, we must do our duty, whatever that duty might be. Peace may be denied for a season. Some of our liberties may be curtailed. We may be inconvenienced. We may even be called on to suffer in one way or another. But God our Eternal Father will watch over this nation and all of the civilized world who look to Him. He has declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12). Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God.
“Let us be prayerful. Let us pray for righteousness. Let us pray for the forces of good. Let us reach out to help men and women of goodwill, whatever their religious persuasion and wherever they live. Let us stand firm against evil, both at home and abroad. Let us live worthy of the blessings of heaven, reforming our lives where necessary and looking to Him, the Father of us all. He has said, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
“Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us.
“May the God of heaven, the Almighty, bless us, help us, as we walk our various ways in the uncertain days that lie ahead. May we look to Him with unfailing faith. May we worthily place our reliance on His Beloved Son who is our great Redeemer, whether it be in life or in death, is my prayer in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
As I have pondered his words over the last ten years I have found that promised peace, despite the great turmoil we have experienced. I also found his words “that we must do our duty, whatever that duty might be” of significance as well. Two days before 9/11, I was ordained as the Bishop of the Memphis First Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The evening of 9/11 was to be the first night that we were to have a Church activity for the youth. As the spiritual leader of our congregation, I felt impressed to pray as to what would be best for all concerned. It was decided to cancel the youth activity so that families could be together that evening. We did however, initiate a massive calling campaign to every member of the congregation (through the Home & Visiting Teachers) to: 1.) Inquire as to the welfare of each member and whether they had loved ones affected by the events of that day; 2.) Encourage them to gather their families together and pray on behalf of those affected, our nation, and its leaders; and 3.) Consider donating blood to the local blood bank or perform some other act of service. The response was amazing and provided a continuing guide for duty and service.
As we have all witnessed the great sacrifice, especially that of the first responders on 9/11, and by our military in the years since, we have been inspired by their devotion to duty and service. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:3)
The “soul” of our nation is exemplified by that spirit of sacrifice and service. A wonderful volunteer movement has been initiated with the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. Their mission is “by annually organizing the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance (“9/11 Day”), is to provide a positive and forward-looking way for Americans and others to forever honor and remember the 9/11 victims, survivors, and the many that rose in service in response to the 9/11 tragedy, including first responders, recovery workers, volunteers, public safety officers and members of our military.” Consider going to their web site and join the 9/11 Tribute Movement by briefly describing what you will do this year, a good deed, charitable activity, or other plans, to honor the 9/11 victims, survivors and those that rose in service in response to the attacks” – http://www.911day.org/