Retaliation vs. restorative justice: a house divided between two visions

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Peter Gathje

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?

The decade since the 9/11 attacks reveals a continuing erosion in our lives of compassion, justice, and faith in God and a continuing development of a national security or police state, social division, and faith in the violence of war. The violence that was done on 9/11 has resulted in the “Patriot Act” that greatly expanded police powers, led to the creation of a “Department of Homeland Security” that has militarized U.S. borders and trampled on the rights of citizens, and was the pretext for two wars that have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 225,000 people and cost at least $3.7 trillion.

Our opportunity as a people to redemptively and restoratively respond to the horrific attacks of 9/11 has by and large been squandered. If America has a soul it has been stained by mortal sin; sin that deadens our relationship with God and each other. Demagoguery marks much of our political discourse.  Hatred of the poor both here and abroad marks much of our public policy. A dangerous combination of nationalist militarism and denigration of democratic governance marks political movements such as the Tea Party and those who pander to them.

There has been a disconnect between the courageous and compassionate responses from ordinary citizens that followed 9/11 and the actions of the nation-state, meaning Congress along with the administrations of both Presidents Bush and President Obama. The generosity of spirit demonstrated by citizens who reached out to help, who sought to engage in dialogue about Islam and the role of the United States in world politics, and who gave aid after natural disasters both here and abroad, has not been matched by equally creative and compelling actions by our government.

Perhaps we are a house divided between two visions of life. On the one hand, there is a vision of life that responds to 9/11 by urging violent retaliation. Such a vision of violent retaliation simplistically divides the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” with the U.S. always being the good guys.  This vision has given birth to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the suppression of human rights both here and abroad. On the other hand, there is a vision of life that responds to 9/11 by urging a restorative justice. Such a vision of restorative justice sees how we are all in this together, and how “none are righteous no not one” and thus we all need to seek ways to create a more just world in which all persons are respected as created in the image of God.

Imagine if the vision of restorative justice had guided this nation in its response to 9/11. Instead of two wars there would have been a focus on apprehending and bringing to justice those who had planned and supported the horrendous attacks of that day. Instead of a “Homeland Security” that reflects corporate interests and a police state mentality there would have been a renewed focus on creating conditions of economic and political vitality both within and outside of the United States.

It is easy to see which vision more faithfully reflects the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as it is easy to see that the vision of violent retaliation has not worked. As Americans we ought to demand better from ourselves and our government. As Christians we should be aware that if we continue to live by the sword, as Jesus warned, we will die by the sword. And right now that sword is largely self-inflicted.

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Trusting more fully God’s love and care

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Teri-Hayslett

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?

Did God lose some of his beloved children during the attack? Can man ever feel safe? Casualties from the attack were far fewer than originally estimated. Many told stories of last minute changes of plans, so that they were not at work that day. There was the heartwarming account of the men trapped between floors in the elevator, escaping minutes before the building fell by using a window washer’s squeegee to cut an hole in the sheetrock wall of the elevator shaft. These instances suggest that God’s angel messages are ever-present and that every triumph over death is a blessing to all humanity. Let’s hope and pray that remembrance of the attack encourages us all to live more noble lives and to trust more fully God’s ever-present love and care.

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America still needs a great spiritual awakening

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Danny Sinquefield

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?

By mid-morning on September 11th, 2001 our nation was shocked by news coming out of NYC. Images of the 2nd plane flying into the twin towers stunned us with the reality that this was no accident. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, America was under attack – only this time it was closer to home and the targets were our cities and our citizens.

Related stories about the Pentagon, frantic evacuation of the Capitol in DC, and a plane crash in a field in Pennsylvania confirmed our worst fears. We were being targeted by terrorists in an orchestrated effort to shake our nation and steal our security. By mid-afternoon the shock of disbelief was beginning to turn into the sickening feeling of vulnerability and being violated. Images of chaos in NYC, panic in DC, and reported groundings of all commercial airlines stranded our people and rocked our nation to the core. It was an unforgettable day.

By evening, throngs of people were beginning to gather in our churches, temples, and synagogues for prayer – and perhaps for answers. That Tuesday evening found Faith Baptist Church literally filled with members friends from the community. We read Scripture, we prayed together for the victims and their families. We listened to a word from our president. We leaned upon each other and summoned strength from our common faith in God who is never shaken.

America changed that day and continues to be shaped in ways that are mostly positive. We learned (at least for a brief season) that life is fragile and every day is a gift from God. Anything can happen at any time. James 4:14 has taken on a whole new reality: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

The courage and selfless commitment of the police and firefighter communities has been rightly affirmed and celebrated. Our families have become more precious and dear; there is a new appreciation and respect for our men and women in the military. Airport security now takes forever.

In the end, our lessons from 9/11 have not all been lasting. Churches that were filled for a brief time soon returned to business as usual. America has been wounded, but she has healed stronger and with more resolve in some areas, but not in her soul. America remains largely a nation in great need of a spiritual awakening. We were close, but we would not turn to God with all our hearts.

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We need to reclaim the spirit of caring

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Harry K. Danziger

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11attacks. 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?

After 9/11, we paid enormous and heartfelt honor to public employees who were first responders. They were national heroes, living and dead.

Ten years later, public employees have become easy targets for political posturing. They are disparaged as a waste of taxpayers’
money, and there are moves to strip them of their benefits as though they are the cause of our economic woes. Yet we rely on them as much now as then.

After 9/11, we were a nation united. The president of one party, the Congress of another made no difference. Today poisonous partisanship trumps the need to find solutions to problems that cause daily pain for so many. We had a spirit of taking care of one another after 9/11 that needs to be reclaimed.

I pray that the unity of spirit and the appreciation of those who serve us will be recaptured. Otherwise, we are in danger of being as Pogo put it during the Vietnam War, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

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9/11 dyed the fabric of our lives in significant ways

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Cole Huffman

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?

There are changes and then what could be called “deep changes.” The 9/11 event brought changes to our lives as Americans, certainly. But how do you gauge the depth of those changes in a land of such diverse sensibilities and sensitivities as ours—beyond the obvious TSA falderal at airports, protracted wars on terror, and new strains in relations with Muslims?

I am one opinion among many. But I try to pay attention to cultural currents, and it seems to me ten years after the event that the changes 9/11 wrought are more akin to how fabric is changed by dyeing. Dye doesn’t change how a garment was woven or its shape or seams or stitching. But dye does permanently change the color of the threads and fibers that make the garment.

And so I submit that 9/11 changed how we “wear ourselves” as a constituted people. It changed our cultural color scheme, and I don’t mean the shaded bars of Homeland Security’s Terror Alert System. I mean in the last ten years I’ve found more walking-around anger in average Americans. Maybe it was there pre-9/11 and I wasn’t paying close enough attention to notice it. But post-9/11 it seems more citizens “wear themselves” a seething shade of red. In the post-9/11 closet also hangs the pale yellows of suspiciousness toward all Arab Americans, and the green assumptions of conservatives and liberals alike—of conservatives, that America is always right in the world; of liberals, that America is what ails the world.

But there are brighter, nobler colors too. The first-rate heroism in the actions of men and women in blue renewed our respect for police and firemen and medics in that first-responders face real peril in doing their jobs for us. Same goes for those who wear camouflage under 100-pound packs in brutal desert heat or thin mountain air: their long tours of duty are no longer thankless as in the Vietnam era but esteemed. And whatever color you want to make empathy, 9/11 made us more empathetic toward our neighbors who suffer cataclysmic loss. A popular line repeated throughout the country ten years ago was—and I think I saw this on a white T-shirt—“We’re all New Yorkers now.” For Bubba to slap that on the bumper of his F-250—that’s change in America, people!

A final word on 9/11 and faith in America, and this will be from my decidedly evangelical perspective. I don’t know about mainline churches, but I do know for a fact that evangelical churches in New York City grew significantly post-9/11 as many New Yorkers pondered their lives and what they were living for. Church planting in the Bronx, for instance—once considered an evangelical graveyard—has flourished in the last ten years. Literally thousands of New Yorkers found in evangelical churches they once considered irrelevant substantial perspective, graciously delivered, for why God allows horrors like 9/11 in our world, and in their backyard. They also found in those churches people serving their city because they loved their city. As a result, many New Yorkers came to faith in Jesus after 9/11 and have remained in the church.

But in the rest of the country, especially in the South, I think the evangelical church largely failed in the Sundays immediately following 9/11. The spike in church attendance was a Luke 13 moment for the rest of the country. But what many found in our stained-glass confines instead was, in Will Willimon’s words (in the September 2011 issue of Christianity Today, p. 31), “that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God…. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.”

In other words, in the emotion of 9/11 even the church wanted blood, not the Blood. We preached sermons on Islam, Babylon, biblical prophecy, Just War Theory, American exceptionalism (you’ll find that text in the Book of Reagan)—everything but the message needed most: the gospel of a God who personally enters human pain and misery, suffered an unjust attack Himself in Jesus’ crucifixion, but triumphs over every form of evil by dropping evil on its own sword. We have not allowed this gospel to deeply change us enough. Convincing ourselves that sensitivity demanded it, we gave in to the American impulse to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, to reassure ourselves that everything would be okay. In trying to avoid the blowhardiness of our erstwhile evangelical prophets blaming gays and the ACLU for 9/11, too many of us “dressed the wound lightly,” in the words of Jeremiah (6:14; 8:11). That’s never a good color on us.

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Security has become our organizing principle

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Warner Davis

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?

As the most powerful country in the world, we believed we were invulnerable. The 9/11 attacks, however, smashed that delusion to smithereens, driving us to our knees in earnest prayer — for a while. The organizing principle of our national life ever since has been to secure ourselves.

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Killing in the name of justice is oxymoronic

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Earle J. Fisher

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 Labor Day, (where we ironically celebrate the laborers of this great country by NOT working – or even creating jobs for that matter) my wife and I went to see the movie “Columbiana“. I won’t spoil the movie for any of my readers. I will say that “Columbiana” is arguably a mixture between Man on Fire (with Denzel Washington) and The Bourne Series (with Matt Damon – The Bourne Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum). My wife and I both loved the movie. The premise of the movie is that a girl has been scarred as a child because she witnessed the execution of both of her parents. As a result she is seeking to avenge their death by becoming a trained assassin. And she is good at what she does. The subversive element of movies where the protagonist is a cold-blooded killer leads us to become a lot less critical of the character because in many ways we support the notion of revenge killings. However, by the end of the movie I came to the conclusion that revenge killings only lead to…more killing!

In my reflection of the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, I can recall vividly where I was when I heard the news as well as the terror, angst, heaviness and perplexity I felt as I watched the footage. The devastation of that moment has never left this country. My heart continuously goes out to the victims and their families. Nevertheless, our response to it, for the most part, has been vengeful. We haven’t sought to reconcile with those who committed such heinous acts, we have sought to return eviler eyes for an evil eye. In fact, today, we still remain in the territory we (re)invaded in the name of bringing these terrorist to “justice.” We have killed several people (many of them innocent and unaffiliated with Al Qaeda or any terrorist network) in the areas we have occupied abroad in the name of Weapons of Mass Destruction. We recently (10 years later) killed Osama Bin Laden in the name of revenge. And what has all this accomplished? More killing (sigh). This seemingly irrevocable cycle of violence is a Weapon of Mass Destruction in and of itself!

In our effort to pay back those we’ve deemed irrational and irreverent for killing in the name of their God — we have, in many ways, been killing in the name of the God that blesses America (only). Too many of us still see our Islamic brothers and sisters as “others” somehow out of the reach and scope of the love of God we so deeply desire and so often hoard. The killing has also trickled down to character assassination in regards to where, when and how those of Islamic affiliation can assemble and construct houses of worship in this great country. We now have a national INSECURITY problem that we can find in airports, street corners and the shopping malls we were instructed by then President Bush to frequent as our response to this calamity over a decade ago.

We spent the initial days following September 11th in an attitude of prayer (many of those prayers were focused on God avenging “us” by killing “them”) but shortly after the feeling passed and the “mission” was “accomplished” we went back to our insensitive business as usual.

I may be a fan of cinematography style revenge killings and this may contribute, in some ways, to the deeply militaristic state we find ourselves in. But, I am clear that killing in the name of justice or peace is not only oxymoronic, but impossible. We have to seize the shadow of September 11th in a way that redeems the compassion of our country. We have to critique the elements of unbridled capitalism and extreme militarism that leads to the negative sentiment some foreigners feel towards our land of opportunity and freedom causing escalations in violent expressions both near and far.

The church MUST become the vehicle that fosters this climate. We must be careful not to endorse exclusivity and extermination in the name of the ecclesia. Too many churches are merely masked banners for racism, classism, sexism and several other negative tenets prevalent in the American ethos. Our religious response to ANY tragedy should be ministerial, seeking to find God’s love in the midst of awkward circumstance, not malevolent (saturated with hatred and vengeance). The Church should stand in solidarity with ANY oppressed peoples irrespective of religious affiliation, social standing or ethnic background. If the church is going to be the moral compass of our culture we need to be more like thermostats than thermometers. We need to set the climate instead of merely reflecting the climate and stamping divine endorsement upon it.

Even in searching for a hopeful conclusion to this matter (or this reflection essay) I’m at a loss for words. Maybe the only hope we have is that we will learn that vengeance belongs to the LORD; because our violence only begets violence.

Frank Thomas and Martha Simmons edited a volume of sermons and essays in the aftermath of that sad day entitled, 9.11.01 African American Leaders Respond to an American Tragedy (a must have in times like these). Within those pages is the responsive and responsible attitude the Church OUGHT to work towards moving forward. One of the contributors, Walter Scott Thomas, exegeses and expounds upon the passage in Luke where the disciples inform Jesus, in the wake of an impending battle with authorities, that there are “two swords” at their disposal. He surmises that Jesus’ response suggests what I’m attempting to project in this reflection… THAT’S ENOUGH [sword talk]!

Luke 22:38 (NRSV) “[The disciples] said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” [Jesus] replied, “[That] is enough.

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Divided, but with glimpse of what could be

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Scott Morris

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?

Despite the horror of 9/11 it gave us the chance to become a kinder, gentler country. For a moment it happened but then we became consumed with revenge. That has left us divided. There remains glimpses of what can be, but we now seem to work more against God than with God. Still, America does seem to continue to have a soul that under it’s exterior wants to find its way to God. At least I chose to believe we do.

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Tragedy struck all on 9/11

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Nicholas Vieron

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?

The tragic 9/11 event changed aspects of life for the entire world. We should always mourn those who suffered on that dreadful day and never forget that a crosscut of people from all walks of life, from different races, creeds and social status, suffered on that day.

The civilized world stood united immediately after the tragic 9/11 event.

However, it is sad that 9/11 caused the “invasion” of Iraq which for ten years has literally “bled” our Nation, especially in more human suffering and sparked the beginning of economic problems which linger to this day, causing more hardships, not only among our people but apparently in the entire world.

Yes, an eye for an eye leaves all of us blind; broke, too!

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No longer complacent about understanding the ‘other’

September 10, 2011 in How has America changed since 9/11?, Question of the Week by Carol Richardson

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?

What happened on 9/11 was horrifying and heart wrenching. A disbelieving America stood in shocked silence, the very fabric of our complacent society torn in shreds. Since that fateful day, how did this event change the faith of America? For hundreds of us, Christian, Jews and Muslims, there was an awareness that no longer could we be complacent in our quest for understanding the “other” or continuing to submit to our own stereotypes. There must be a determined willingness to interfaith dialogue with honesty and integrity.

At the time, I knew few Muslims. I now claim friendship with many. At the time, I knew very little of the Quran. Because of my friend, Nabil Bayakly, I now have a great understanding of this Holy Book which contains the same message as the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, “Love God and Love neighbor,” different books but a common word.

At the time there were few “faith clubs,” groups engaged in honest dialogue among Christian, Jews and Muslims. Now many have sprung up all across the nations as well as interfaith groups, forums and synagogues, mosques and churches who are opened to hospitality to the one other.

We still have a long journey ahead as we wrestle with our fears and uncertainties in search of a greater understanding of one another, but for many of us, our faith has been enriched and deepened as we have listened and learned and spoken up and out against all forms of hate while continuing to hold fast to our beliefs and convictions with kindness and compassion.

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