What? No Prayer at the Memorial?

Posted on September 7, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

I was shocked and incredulous, as were others, when Mayor Bloomberg announced there would be no prayers or religious representation at the tenth anniversary memorial of 9/11 being planned in New York City. After all, if this is a memorial to those who lost their lives, including many heroic policemen and firefighters, it is hard to imagine the spiritual link between life and death being ignored.

There was a short-lived resurgence of public interest in the worship of God and spiritual things in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks ten years ago. There was something about our vulnerability that drove us to a higher power. We recognized the insecurity of man-made institutions and the hallowed sanctuary of our own soil. But the insidious secularization of American society prevailed as if God has nothing to do with our protection and prosperity.

It is ironic that Christians would expect secular government entities and our culture to be characterized by Christian principles. Our country may have been founded on Judeo-Christian values more than two centuries ago, but we have long-since departed from from such guidance in public policy and judicial decisions. Mayor Bloomberg simply reflects the secularism that dominates the public arena and is being imposed on education, media and even family structures today.

Perhaps the honorable mayor found this decision the easiest course to take in avoiding the dilemma of appeasing the interests of pluralistic religious elements. Should the memorial service be tainted by an overt Christian component when so many of the 9/11 victims and citizens of New York were not Christians? Should Jews also have a part? Would the likelihood of fundamentalist Christian or Jewish comments and prayers serve to make the occasion an anti-Muslim event, intensifying the resentment and adversarial relationship between global populations representing these diverse faiths?

Appeals and expressions of offense are likely to have little effect in changing the program. It would be wonderful if there could be a public acknowledgement of God as our ultimate protector, some recognition made of His providence in human events, and an appeal made for His blessings in a public ceremony. While that probably won’t happen, will it characterize our churches as God’s people gather to worship on September 11? Neither Mayor Bloomberg nor any other government official can prohibit churches praying for our nation and that this tragic event, even ten years later, will be used to remind us of our need for God.

However, will we be sensitive to pray for Muslims and those following a religious conviction that was used to justify perpetrating the tragedy of 9/11? I am grieved to hear many express an attitude that we should not pray for Muslims to be saved; they are seen today much like the pagan tribal enemies of God’s people in the Old Testament, deserving of His judgment and destruction. To the contrary, Muslims, like all the nations and peoples of the world, are people whom God loves and desires to save. They are people for whom Christ died, whether the moderate majority or a fringe radical element. But how will they know Jesus unless we are willing to love them and pray for them? How will they be open to hearing the truth if they do not find in us respect and understanding? How will they ever receive a witness if we allow relationships to be inhibited by our fear and paranoia rather than faith that the power of the gospel can reach them?

Several prominent pastors and mission leaders have prepared a prayer appeal for churches to use on September 11. I will be hosting this five-minute podcast, entitled “Moving from Fear to Faith” which was produced by the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University. It can be accessed at www.prayon911.com. There are also prayer materials and resources produced by the Southern Baptist International Mission board available at www.lovingmuslims.com.

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