Progressive Christians join controversy over excluding clergy at 9/11 event
Progressive Christians are criticizing both New York Michael Bloomberg and his conservative critics.
September 7th, 2011
02:15 PM ET

Progressive Christians join controversy over excluding clergy at 9/11 event

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN

(CNN) - A handful of progressive Christian leaders are joining the mostly conservative chorus of religious leaders who are criticizing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for excluding clergy from this weekend’s 9/11 commemoration event at ground zero.

But there’s a twist.

In addition to criticizing Bloomberg, progressive religious leaders are also taking aim at prominent conservatives who’ve blasted Bloomberg in recent days, alleging that those critics are stoking division at a time that calls for national unity.

The group is planning a press conference near ground zero on Friday to stress that “religion should not be excluded from 9/11 remembrances” but to also “urge unity, not division, on 9/11,” according to a Tuesday press release.

The Friday press conference, which will overlook ground zero, will feature Jim Wallis, who leads the evangelical social justice group Sojourners; the Rev. Floyd Flake, a prominent New York pastor and former Democratic congressman; and Geoff Tunnicliffe, who heads the World Evangelical Alliance.

“Mayor Bloomberg made an understandable but regrettable decision,” said Tim King, communications director for Sojourners, an evangelical Christian social justice group that is helping to plan the press conference.

“Religion, and religious leaders, have caused a lot of unnecessary conflict and controversy,” King wrote in an e-mail message. “But avoiding religion entirely does not get to the root of the problem.”

“The answer is better religion,” King continued. “And to those religious leaders who are stirring up a media controversy about this decision ... you are showing exactly why Mayor Bloomberg didn’t want you there in the first place.”

Since The Wall Street Journal first reported last month that the 10th anniversary September 11 anniversary event – which will be attended by President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush, among other leaders - will exclude clergy and formal prayers, conservative Christians have vented outrage.

“The clergy gag rule is being instituted to avoid ‘disagreements over which religious leaders participate.’ But since when has this been an issue?” wrote Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in recent e-mail message to supporters.

“Plenty of clergy, including an imam, spoke at an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium after the attacks, and they managed to pull it off without a problem,” he wrote. “Why would it be any different this time?”

Bloomberg’s office has defended the mayor's decision on clergy.

"The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature," Evelyn Erskine, a Bloomberg spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to CNN in late August.

"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," she wrote.

There have been 10 ceremonies at ground zero in New York to pause and remember the events of 9/11, one six months after the attack and on September 11 each following year.

Spirituality and religion have been reserved for the moments of silence in those events.

In past ceremonies, four moments of silence were observed to mark when each tower was struck and when each tower fell.

For this year's ceremony, organizers added two additional moments of silence to recognize the strike on the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

"This year's six moments of silence allow every individual a time for personal and religious introspection," Erskine said.

Throughout the city there will be other prayer events leading up to September 11.

–CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 9/11 • Christianity

soundoff (861 Responses)
  1. =============================Bo

    @JW, I won't argue, I have only a guess why the would choose "preogrssive it could have even been the media that taged it with the name "progressive

    September 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  2. =============================Bo

    @Star, hey, dogma is just a word for teaching, it dosen't necessarly have anything to do with religion.

    September 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  3. =============================Bo

    @Conin, I didn't fully answer all your 3:57 question. To begin with, haunted implies fear; I'm not haunted, why should I be? Jesus Christ is my savior, that is someone I love. I live with the hope of going to a glorious place to live and this earth made new will be my home, it will be a place I can not even dream of how glorious it be after this life. Not only that I will be alowed to travel the universe without the need of a spsce ship. And talk about science, there will be more than enough to study. I have a hope after this life, and fortunately that is more than atheisim has to offer. I wish I had the room to tell you why I have faith in God and the Bible, but my cell phone limits me.

    September 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • God

      How... delusional.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Star

      People as delusional as you prove that religion needs to be kept to yourself and not forced down everyone's throat. But then, you are helping more and more sane, rational, freethinkers to choose to be "good without god". Thanks for showing us again how crazy and absurd your religious thoughts and beliefs are.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • A Theist

      My reply to the above commentors: *meow* 😉

      September 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Star

      @ A Theist......ROAR!

      September 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • A Theist

      Haha Star, the irony of your reply did not escape me in the least. Perhaps you should read Bo's comments about cats and then come back to me.

      September 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Sporkify

      "I wish I had the room to tell you why I have faith in God and the Bible"

      Because you're terrified of death and too narcissistic to believe the universe could possibly continue without you in it.

      Basically you're a coward.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Abraxas

      Are you eleven years old?

      September 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  4. God

    Religion caused 9/11 so why do they get to promote themselves at a commemorative event?

    September 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Because even though a White male assasinated Martin Luther King, we did not listen to the ignorant members of the African American community who felt that Whites had no place at MLK's memorial.

      The same goes for folks like you. 🙂

      September 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • God

      Aww shucks son, thanks for being so inclusive, everything religion is NOT.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Star


      September 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      If the white people were wearing white hoods and had big crosses they should have.

      September 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • harmonynoyes

      murderous cowardly psychopaths who hijacked a religion, amomg other things caused the 9/11 tragedy

      September 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • John Richardson

      False analogy, Mark. Religious people are not barred from the ceremony. The clergy just haven't been invited to help lead it. Big difference. Barring white people from a ceremony honoring MLK because a white person shot him would be only slightly less absurd than barring black people from a ceremony commemorating Malcolm X because a couple of black guys shot HIM. Not the same thing at all as deciding that this particular memorial service would be best served without the overt, on stage participation of clergy from ANY denomination. (Nor, btw, should the president of the local atheist society be invited to give a harangue. It's the perfect moment the STFU about religion altogether.)

      September 7, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  5. =============================Bo

    @Colin 3:57 When Atheist start useing abusive language (the noisy cat) they aren't going to help or convince anyone of their dogma–of course I feel the same about the Christians that do the same. Nobody likes to be insulted, it only infuriates a person, and its not going to help in persuading anyone to change.

    September 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Star

      Atheism is not a religion, it is the absence of a belief in a deity. What dogma? You should be insulted for your absurd beliefs.

      September 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  6. =============================Bo

    @J W 3:59 If the Progressives are what I think the may be, they are the ones who would like to get someone like Perry in as POUS. Of course, I don't know if Perry is as religious as he would like the people to think he is. I just know I don't whant him in.

    September 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • A Theist

      Perry sure is a mystery, and that bothers me more than his blatant faux- Tea Party strangeness...

      September 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • OrkneySam

      I agree that Perry is PUS

      September 7, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • J.W

      I do not think so I think that progressives are more so the people trying to change the way that Christianity is now. Perry is more conservative. I do not think progressive Christians would be in favor of him. Unless they are using a different definition of progressive.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Bo No one who is even sort of progressive in any meaningful sense could possibly be in favor of Perry. Maybe you should actually start knowing a thing or two about the things you choose to pontificate about. Just a suggestion.

      September 7, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • John Richardson

      What progressive Christians think of Gov Perry: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=180×69816

      September 7, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Northwoods

      Don't worry about Perry he intends to be 'raptured" this October.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  7. Frogist

    I'm of two minds about the inclusion of religious speakers. On the one hand, it was without religion for the ten years since the attack. Why not keep it that way? But I'm also thinking there could be a benefit from having religion introduced this time on the 10th anniversary. Have a muslim and an evangelical get up there and make a speech together about the importance of freedom of religion, maybe the separation of church and state, and the need for mutual respect, unity and care. Show us what religion could be about. And show us that one of the defining characteristics of this country isn't going anywhere.

    September 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah I think that too Frogist. Actually if there was an Atheist speaker at the same event it would be good too. Otherwise there way still be a divide between religious vs. non-religious. I bet you could get Dawkins to speak and then every major religion could be represented, and each could talk about how great America and the freedoms here. We could show people here and overseas that there is no hate in America.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • A Theist

      The thing that weirds me out about that is, somebody will be speaking there, right? And that person will have some set of beliefs, whether religious or atheistic. The fact is we can't remove religion from the ceremony, because it is the people that have religion–not the clergy or what have you. I think the move to not include clergy was to prevent a particular slant supported–in the moments of silence, each person will be given an opportunity to console themselves in their own way.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah religion seems to be a sensitive issue, but at some point I think it would be good to do what Frogist proposed. People seem to think this year that we shouldnt do it, but maybe next year they could do something like that. People from all walks of life could show their unity.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  8. A.W. as in root-beer

    Oh goodie, two kiddies on the block, and they're both on this thread!

    September 7, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  9. SeanNJ

    “Religion, and religious leaders, have caused a lot of unnecessary conflict and controversy,” King wrote in an e-mail message. “But avoiding religion entirely does not get to the root of the problem.”

    Yes. Yes it does.

    September 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Indeed. This is a remarkable moment, the moment that the someone of significance US finally leaves the knuckle dragging droolers of Bibleland outside the gate during a public ceremony.

      September 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  10. WIlliam Demuth

    Progressive Christian?


    September 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Star

      Oxymoron isn't it??!! A progressive christian would be an Atheist for sure!

      September 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  11. =============================Bo

    Progressive Christian? What does that mean? If it means anything of what I think it means, they are to be feared more the atheist, of course, I don't think atheist are anything to be feared at all. Atheist seem to believe that there will be no Christians in the future, but that is a laugh. I have obseved cats a great deal and one of the things that I noticed was that when two cats (toms) were faceing off, the one that made the most noise was the intimidated cat. In fact the dominate cat usually just sat there without making any noise. That is the way I see atheist, they make a lot of noise, but they are not to be feared.

    September 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Making a lot of noise there, Bo!

      September 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Colin

      Of course we are not to be feared, Bo. That would be like fearing high school. All we can do is try and help elevate you poor theists out of your dark supersti.itions. Some have the brains and just need a leg up. Others lack the education and/or intellectual wherewithall to get past Sunday school and are destined to live their entire lives haunted by sky-gods and ground devils.

      So, which are you, Bo?

      September 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • J.W

      Why should progressive Christians be feared?

      September 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • God


      Seriously (though slightly joking), Progessives are the most feared for two reasons. 1) They are changing the foundation and meaning of the original message. This is bad news for christianity that is pretty rigid and can't really change because the whole point is that the word of god is true and doesn't need to be updated. If it gets changed, its not gods word and so its fallible.

      For atheists, progressive christians mean that they can propagate the religion easier and in a more modern form which will let the religion gain staying power, which for me personally I'm more about trying to get over religion in general and focus on more important things

      Needless to say, progessive christians sort of fall into the category of "jew for Jesus"

      September 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • A Theist

      Yes, I have that question too. What exactly is a "Progressive Christian"? How did you define one, since you said later that they should be feared? I'm asking inquisitively, not sarcastically. I find your point about Atheists interesting, and must also project it onto "Babble thumpers." The more intelligent Atheists I have met in my life stick to argument and discussion, and avoid the childish antics. They are, as you may say, more silent–in the sense that they do not cry out in emotional anguish, but pursue knowledge with rigor.

      September 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • J.W

      I am fairly liberal and am also a Christian. I do not think we need to change anything in the Bible we just need to change how we look at it. It depends what you focus on. I do not take a modern view of the Bible to make my religion more powerful. But there are issues today that the Bible did not talk about. The world as changed since then, and we as Christians seem to disagree on how to apply the Bible to the world today.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • A Theist

      I agree JW, I do not change what the Bible means. In fact, my philosophy is, go to the Greek and Hebrew! Read things in context of that time, look for the evidence that supports the most logical meaning. It makes me rather...independent at times in my faith, but there's actually quite a few out there who share my approach.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • *frank*

      Wouldn't "Somewhat-Less-Regressive Christians" be a more accurate name?

      September 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Ahnu

      *frank* wins this round with win.

      September 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  12. Anton LaVey

    "Blessed are the destroyers of false hope, for they are the true Messiahs – Cursed are the god-adorers, for they shall be shorn sheep!"— Anton Szandor LaVey

    September 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • harmonynoyes


      September 7, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  13. Reality

    To start the solemn occasion, they should project the following statement on the overhead screens for all the global citizens who are watching:




    Added details upon request.

    September 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  14. Anton LaVey

    What next, the Christian Taliban will demand we have sermons read before we get our drivers license or registration on our vehicles? What else can they insert their religion into?

    September 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Luke


      September 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • BRC

      "What else can they insert their religion into?"

      It is taking great personal restraint to not use this rather obvious set up for a joke. Though I do agree, this ceremony should not endorse or discuss any religion, it should be about the families, and the responders.

      September 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • harmonynoyes

      every inch of your tiny little brain- and then all we can do is hope for the best and pray to the God of Faith Hope, and Love

      September 7, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  15. Don

    All of this, whether religious or non-religious, seems bent on canonizing warfare.

    "Naturally, the common people don't want war ... but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country." [Hermann Goering]

    September 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  16. Anton LaVey

    Is it about gods or victims of an attack? Why must we allow the religious nuts to hijack it? In the moment of silence they can dance around in their heads with their gods.

    September 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • harmonynoyes

      in this"+event" there were villains, victims and heroes
      Thank God for Heroes' who do more than sit around philosophising and complaining, and whining

      September 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  17. J.W

    LOL BRC we should all threaten never to read these articles if they do not do it and then maybe they will lol.

    September 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  18. Colin

    Progressive Christians? They still believe in a Bronze Age sky-god from the Middle East. Their beliefs have not changed in 2,000 years!

    Call any Christian progressive is like calling an abacus cutting edge technology.

    PS: Laughing, JW. – now that's more like it. -:)

    September 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • J.W

      They still believe in God, but that does not mean that the views are completely the same. They do not cling to the rules set forth in the old testament like many conservatives do. Many are trying to fight against those people and trying to change their way of thinking.

      September 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      So,you see no difference in ones such as Westburo Baptist church and churches such as the United Methodist and other churches that have Gay and Lesbian clergy and members?

      September 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I see a BIG difference, Mark! I was brought up in a United Methodist church and I still have some sentimental feelings for that group, which even way back when I was active were notably non-yahooish in their faith. I have been quite pleased to see that they have been at the forefront of change for the better within the world of Christianity w/r/t issues such as gay/lesbian clergy. I even recently visited their website as a kind of personal "reunion" ceremony. But when I read their statement of beliefs, I was quickly reminded why no real world reunion with this group is possible for me.

      September 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • J.W

      Can I ask what it said John? I am not particularly familiar with Methodism.

      September 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Frank Mondana

      Don't forget, most Christians believe that JC was a 6-foot, blonde guy born in the Middle East.

      September 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @J.W and anyone else interested: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1707359/

      That's the UMC's brief statement of beliefs.

      What I like about the UMC is the emphasis on faith in action and relative (in my home church's case, near total) lack of fire and brimstone "if you aren't with us, you will BURN!!!" BS. But as you can see from the statement of beliefs, all the old Christology and trinitarian stuff and so on is there, and I just can't imagine even pretending to believe that crap anymore. It just seems so, so puerile.

      What I remember most about Methodist Sunday school was all the old bible stories and how the teachers all thought they had serious and significant messages and how idiotically boring and pointless most seemed, while some seemed downright nasty and appalling. I guess the seeds of doubt sprouted pretty early in me. But I was the last in my family to leave the church. Indeed, I remained a nominal member till grad school, though I hadn't been there since ninth grade or so.

      On the plus, I recall there being a lot of nice people there who really did endeavor to make the whole thing happy and uplifting, not brooding and judgmental. Having attended some Baptist and Evangelical services, that strikes me as a big plus in UMC's favor.

      September 7, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • J.W

      I see John,
      I used to be part of one of the Hellfire and Brimstone denominations. Luckily I am not a part of that anymore. The denomination I am in now is not like that. People are allowed to have different views on how literal to take the Bible. I do not think I could go back to where I was before now.

      September 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Good luck in your journey, J.W!

      September 7, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • J.W

      Thanks John. It was good to find a group like that. Too bad they are the minority among Christians.

      September 7, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  19. J.W

    There should be a commemoration without religion involved. Religious leaders can have separate ceremonies. I think there should be a joint religious ceremony to help promote peace among the various religions. But people want to have a memorial without religion involved as well.

    September 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • John Richardson

      99.999999% of the country have not been invited to NYC's official 9/11 ceremony, but only certain segments of the clergy are whining about it. Here's a clue, people: ANYONE can hold ANY sort of commemoration they please, but NO ONE has any inalienable right to barge to the front of the line to attend, let alone have a speaking role at anyone else's commemoration. Those who DO think they have such a right are a big part of what is still wrong with this country.

      September 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  20. J.W

    Yes I got the first comment.

    September 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Laughing


      When I did this I was singled out as childish......some people have all the luck

      September 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      J.W., you're childish.

      Feel better, Laughing? 🙂

      September 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • J.W

      I cheated though I did not read the article first

      September 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • BRC

      Dear God (that I don't technically believe in),
      Please let CNN use J.W.s "first" comment in a Your Take article. For the Lols.

      September 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Laughing


      Yes, yes I do

      September 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Laughing


      I guess not, take a gander at the crane collapse board

      September 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Laughing

      Sorry bud, I've had my coffee this morning so you aren't exactly going to see a rematch, though I am interested to know. Do you enjoy coming to this blog to try and pick fights with the usual posters or do you just hate fun?

      September 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Laughing

      I think my jokes are funnier.

      Also the coffee thing, probably should have explained. I'm sort of a grumpy zombie without it, but I become a real human being once I get my caffeine fix.

      I think you are a bigot, look at your wording. "firsters"? What a terrible slur. We like to be called the First American People, or fap's for short.

      I think I'm also missing something. How does it make anyone smarter or more stupid to write first on a comment board? You are just a racist and a bigot, will you please let my people practice their beliefs and rituals in peace?

      September 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • J.W

      That guy making fun of me?

      September 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Laughing


      I think so, since your name is JW his name is now AW, get it?

      September 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • J.W

      I used to just be JW , but there were imitatators who wanted to be me so I put the . in the middle.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Laughing

      You have offended the FAP's for the last time! Imperialists? As an internet native, being first on everything, I am offended that you would even dare say something like that to me.

      Here's my general reaction to you:

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWBUl7oT9sA&w=420&h=345%5D

      September 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • A.W as in the root-beer

      Well, Laughing, looking rather schizophrenic now, aren't we? Apparently too many people thought I was hurting your feelings.

      Typical Imperialist response. The natives are here reading the article, and while we are engaging in our culture, you come in and claim that the land is yours simply because you thought that claiming it first made it so. Meanwhile the natives were silently being oppressed, as you have clearly silenced again. I guess nobody learns from the attrocities of the past...

      September 8, 2011 at 11:19 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.