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. CK

    It's a civil, secular event, not a religious one. Not having preachers there makes sense, just as it makes sense not having a comedian, a juggling troupe, or a break-dancing contest. If people want to hear religious speakers, they should go to religious venues. It's irritating to me that religious people want their beliefs broadcast at secular events, but I, as a non-believer would never dream of demanding that a religious service include atheism or agnosticism in their speeches.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • sleepytime

      Well put! I completely agree.

      September 8, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  2. JLS639

    Tim King: “...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.”

    Bravo, Mr. King, well said. If more religious leaders showed your understanding and maturity, a lot of religion-based acrimony would disappear.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  3. naturechaplain

    Mixing more preaching with politics wouldn't be helpful. There are plenty of other times and places for the people of all faiths to do what they need to do. As a former clergyman I agree with those who say religion is a big part of the problem, the world's problem, our problem. Only by having more rational, common sense discussions and collaborative educational programs will we (hopefully) stop more towers. . .even those in our minds. . . from falling.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  4. Leeanne

    It's funny that when 9/11 happened everyone was calling for a priest, rabbi or preacher now 10 years later you want to exclude them? The first recorded casualty on 9/11 was a priest who was hit in the head giving some one there last rights. Everyone was effected by 9/11 including Christians. You want the chuch to be there when tragedy strikes and then exclude them when everything is going well. SMH! What a shame. 9/11 everyone wanted to be in church and act all unified but when the smoke clears and everything is "back to normal" then you want Christians to shut up. Don't wait till tragedy strikes to get peace with God and to start befriending Christians.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      No I didn't want to be anywhere near a church as the events of the day were just a shocking glimpse in the war of "My God is better than your God."

      September 8, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • USmellLikePee

      "It's funny that when 9/11 happened everyone was calling for a priest, rabbi or preacher"

      Please provide proof of this.
      Common Sense

      September 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  5. KC Jack

    a little more*. Feel free to rip me apart for one grammatical error

    September 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  6. KC Jack

    Don't you think it's a little contradictory to call for promoting unity, when in the same sentence you call for a clergy that represents very few religious groups represented in this country. There are over 300 religious denominations practicing faith in the US. Putting christian denominations on a pedestal seems more little more likely to promote division than unity. Not to mention the fact that it would glorify religion on a day that represents it's greatest evils. It seems inappropriate to me.

    September 8, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • JamesX

      I think the main decision was to avoid the firestorm that the Christian Right will have when Islamic Clerics are included – since many Muslims who works in the tower also perished.

      September 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  7. scott

    And hey. What about those firemen with those rubber coats and funny hats? They don't need to be there either If you ask me.

    September 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • JamesX

      Wasn't there a story while back that First Responders are not going to be there due to lack of seating space?

      September 8, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  8. Mary Smith

    ... so if this 'event' recalls the nation's unity, what the heck are we diving people up because of religion? Another case of outright prejudice!

    September 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      @Mary Smith
      Look to the scripture of the main religions. You can readily find and numerate passages that call for the destruction of heretics and non-believers. The main reason why people can co-exist is that they choose to ignore their holy books and writings and look to others simply as fellow humans. If only we could divorce ourselves from the indoctrination of our parents, grandparents and forefathers.

      September 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  9. Ashley

    I could care less about the clergy.... but the first responders not being invited? This is a joke. I will not be observing ANY moment of silence or doing ANYTHING on 9/11 to mark the day. If America wants to snub the men and women who showed up that day to save lives, I can snub America. This is pathetic and completely typical. 9/11/11.... just another day for me now.

    September 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • MDC

      You have an idea where to put an additional 90,000 people? Because that's the issue.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • MsThang

      Ashley, there is that Even invite that went viral on FaceBook, as a reaction to the decision of not having first responders invited, which is for everyone to bring them something, cupcakes, cakes whatever, to your local first responders station. And that's what my family will do.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  10. Khal82

    They are upset because it isn't all about THEM, greedy fame-seekers fomenting the idea of poor, persecuted xtians. Decent pastors are caring for their flocks IN THEIR CHURCHES, not fighting for the camera. The families decided how they wanted it, xtianity is not the center of the universe (neither is the Earth by the way), so get over it.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Bus2

      I think you nailed it:
      It drives xtians NUTS to not be the center of attention.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      @Khal – but it does provide plenty of fodder for them to rail against our apparently "foreign born closeted-islamo-socialist job destroy health care for all" president (or whatever it is Fox is calling him this week). Politics and religion make for "must see" TV "news."

      September 8, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  11. Ken

    Why should the clergy be present at the ceremony? Wasn't it the clergy who stated that 9/11 was god's punishment to those who are not fundamentalist christians? If they were present at the ceremony their only purpose would be to proslytize and say how sinful everyone is but them and afterwards head off to their mistress's place.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • scott

      Sure. You have the right idea. Why bother to remember anybody anyway if they are dead? Lets just watch us some football..

      September 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  12. Christian Only Way

    When you take out Christianity from ANYTHING you have destroyed what GOD's INTENTION was for humanity! Bloomberg is a CLUELESS BUFFOON! Money doesn't shows intelligence just greed. Denying Jesus CHrist God Almighty shows GROSS IGNORANCE putting it lightly!!!

    September 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Bus2

      Sorry, but most people dont give two craps about your bronze-age mythology. Your beliefs aren't special, and christians deserve no speacial treatment.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Dave

      When it comes to religions and their observance in a multicultural city like New York, Bloomberg has made the right decision. So Christians, take a number and get in line with the Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists, Pagans, and any others.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Andrew

      Keep it to yourself

      September 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      pray in private, keep your light under the bushel basket – like it says in your Bible.

      September 8, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • These Boots

      Wow, your god must be a weak piece of trash indeed if he can be gotten rid of so easily.
      You can't have it both ways. Either your god is too strong to be denied or he is nothing.

      Nothing is what he does. You have a nothing god who does nothing but you all pretend he does stuff so you can have fun pretending like small children who never really learned how to walk.

      September 9, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  13. WhoDaThought

    Here's why people of faith (to be absolutely sterile) need to be included:

    "Robert Emmett Judge was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. The son of Irish Catholic immigrants, Judge was one of a pair of fraternal twins. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the great depression and developed, at an early age, a love for the poor, often giving his last quarter to beggars on the street.

    When Islamic terrorists struck the Twin Towers on 9/11, Judge, in his role as a fire chaplain, rushed to the scene where he administered Last Rites to the dead lying on the streets. Witnesses said that, as firefighters rushed into the inferno, Father Judge was pronouncing absolution, knowing that many would not return.

    Three firefighters, assisted by two civilian bystanders, gently carried Father Judge’s body through the dust and smoke to nearby St. Peter’s Church and lovingly laid it on the altar. Judge’s body bag was labeled “Victim #0001,” officially making him the first victim of 9/11."


    September 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • WhoDaThought

      I left out a line, possibly the most important one:

      "When the South Tower collapsed, a chunk of concrete hit the priest on the head as he was praying. He was killed immediately."

      September 8, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Bus2

      Comment Summary:
      Robert Judge needlessly put his life and the lives of others in danger by insisting on peforming some nonsense ritual on people, half of which probably didn't want it in the first place. This guy sounds like a moron; why exactly should we honor his actions?

      September 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • MDC

      Bless you, Bus2.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      Does the NYFD have muslim clerics, rabbis, and the like on payroll as well? If I was a taxpayer or fireman in NY, I'd rather have the money that goes to a staff chaplain (cleric, rabbi) go to better gear, more men or training.The payoff would then be real.

      As far as being #1, that is laughable. I'm sure the folks on the planes killed in the hijacking and those killed on impact deserve those sacred Victim 1, 2, 3, ...... 200..... 300 designation spots more than the chaplain. But to argue that would be crass – almost as crass as those that hold Victim #1 somehow above all others.

      September 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Texyq

      He went there in his role as a fire chaplain.....a first responder, and that's the way he should be honored. Right along with all the other first responders who showed up that day, and who show up every day. They weren't invited then, either, but they didn't hesitate, and now Bloomberg wants to keep them out. It's disgraceful.

      September 8, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  14. euh....

    why doesn't my comments appear???????

    September 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • MDC

      Same here... Wait.. Oh!

      September 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  15. Passo

    Why does the majority of mt comments never appear! censorship???

    September 8, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  16. Eeper

    It's about time. I hate having religion shoved down my throat at every public event.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • AgrippaMT

      I full agree. Mayor Bloomberg is to be congratulated for excluding all Bible thumpers from Sunday's memorial.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  17. Dave

    It's good that they blocked all religious leaders from being included. Just look at what's going on with the cathedral ceremony in DC. Evangelical christians are boohoo-ing at not being able to be in the ceremony. One religious leader from christianity, islam, even hindu will be there. Even though christianity is already being represented by the catholics, the evangelicals are still upset that they don't get to be there. This is exactly why no one will be representing a religion in NYC.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  18. S.S.

    The main thing that jumps out at me is that no one (not even my very politically correct friends) uses the term "Progressive Christians." If you mean Liberal, say so. If the editor's agenda is to make liberal religion more acceptable, then I can see why you chose these words, just be honest about it...

    September 8, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • MDC

      Actually, the post seems to be pointing out their hypocrisy.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • John Richardson

      There are people who self-identify as progressive Christians, even organizations that use the term in their names.

      September 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      Progressive. Liberal. Either way they are heretics right? Your reading of the holy book is the best and anyone who doesn't follow it word for word would be considered Liberal. So, dash the children of your enemies on the rocks, murder your bride on her parents' doorstep if you find her not a virgin on your wedding night, and the other countless "moral" horrors and instructions found in your scripture. Bless you!

      September 8, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  19. Happy

    I just wonder how much longer folks are going to ride the coat-tails of this one date in history. 9/11 this, 9/11 that. "My feelings are hurt." "I'm pi$$ed." "I can't fly like a free man anymore." "Hey, I know how to make some money off this thing."
    "My 3rd. cousin was killed, I want some money." The list goes on.

    I just wish we could "remember" with a little more couth.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  20. brandon

    why should bloomberg be able to decide who should and shouldn't go? he shouldn't be there because he wasn't mayor when 9/11.. whatever happened to religious freedom? the root of the problem is the overly sensitive americans who can't stand opinions and beliefs other than their own

    September 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Sally

      I don't think anyone is saying religious leaders can't go to the ceremony. They are just not being asked to participate. And why should they? If there will be a moment of silence, each person in attendence can use that time to pray, reflect or however they choose. There is no need to have leaders there from several different religions, each given their own time to preach. That takes the focus away from the families and puts it right on religion.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • thinker

      The religious leaders can attend, they just won't be part of the program. Religion caused the buildings to fall on 9/11, so why invite religious leaders to practice their hokum at the site? You can rightly say the 9/11 hijackers' beliefs were a corruption of Islam, but from their perspective, they did what they did because they believed god wanted them to. Religion is the problem.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • gager

      This is a perfect example of religious freedom. The government is not endorcing any particular religion.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
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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.