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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. volksmaniac

    @ Lucy ; LMAO . Thanks for the shot of humor . Made a good start for FRIDAY !!!!!!!!!!!

    September 9, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  2. One7777777

    70% of this country believe in God. So yes, God's words should be present.

    September 9, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • One7777777

      Sorry, the last poll said 92%!!!!!

      September 9, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Laughing

      You are absolutely right, I think Zeus needs to have a representative there to apologize for sleeping on the job that day. He meant to toss a bolt down but Hera was actually working with Al Quada and was distracting him by doing it with Saddam. You know how crazy he gets when his sister/wife sleeps with another man, it makes him so mad he just has to go down to earth and sleep with anything that moves.

      September 9, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  3. Pierre - Westmount, Qc

    It's just an excuse to show the perfect example of a hypocritical religious circus – a gathering of "My God is better than your God".

    September 9, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  4. Reality

    There are some things that need to be repeated over and over and over and over again:----

    “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (a radomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today
    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

    September 9, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  5. Bruce

    God is dead.

    September 9, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  6. Don in Ohio

    Religion was responsible for 9/11. Keep it at home where it belongs. Jesus himself said, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." Matthew 6:5

    September 9, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Bill

      That quote refered to religious people calling attention to themselves. Jesus absolutely did NOT call on people to keep their faith private. "Make disciples of all nations." Also, you are factually incorrect to say that religion was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. It was a political attack not a religious attack. It was an attack on the United States government and the US foreign policy and the US economy ... Not on Christianity. And, for the record, the killers were NOT devout muslims, or else they would not have murdered. And hey, not to distract you but here is one more fact. "Infidels" are NOT non-muslims. "Infidels" are muslims who have abandoned Islam. So the call to kill infiels is NOT a call to kill non-muslims, it is a call to kill former muslims. But hey, why look at facts, when ignorance is so much more fun.

      September 9, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Bill, I think you have "infidel" confused with "heretic" or "apostate".

      Infidel means, in any religion, a non-believer. So yes, when Muslims talk about infidels, they are referring to anyone who is not Muslim (and often, any Muslims who don't subscribe to their specific sect's beliefs). And yes, 9/11 was a religious attack. Notice how everyone involved was part of a radical religious group that attacked America because of their religious beliefs?

      September 9, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  7. Gary

    I wasn't invited either and I got over it. I'm sure you will too. Nobody needs to sit through 237 made up religions each speaking so they aren't left out. If you find your comfort only in religion and don't like it then you can stay home. Or host your own event.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  8. DesMoiner

    A national commemoration of these attacks should be free of the incantations of any one group over another. It should focus ONLY on the victims, their surviving families, and should stand as a reminder that men will never be 'godlike'. We live in a dangerous world. This commemoration should be a stark example and reminder of how dangerous religious fanaticism and theocratic ideals are, especially as we approach an election year.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  9. Arrrgh

    So what are they going to do. Sit around an feel sorry for themselves for two hours? Listen to BS speeches? I'll spend this 9/11 with my family and my God as opposed to being at some contrived ceremony with no more meaning that a DMV checklist.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • tallulah13

      What an excellent example of christian compassion.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Javed

      Hey Tallulah13 do you only know how to spell compassion?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • J.W

      Javed what is the point you are trying to make?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  10. Kwabena Nyamekye

    Having a Christian clergy pray should not offend a person who doesn't believe anyway. I've heard Muslims pray, Jews pray, Buddhists pray, but I did not get offended. I don't see the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc get offended at the bank when they are given money stating "IN GOD WE TRUST". I don't see Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc get offended when people say "GOD BLESS AMERICA". So whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or whatever: WE ARE AMERICANS and should act like the country that claims FREEDOM FOR ALL. If it doesn't apply, then it DOESN'T apply. Move on!

    September 9, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Jimbeau

      Well said whoever you are! Children squabble and play; men lead. Those that perished are now gone. Please don't fight over me when I'm gone. Freedom of choice must never be lost. On a side note: Do you think that America will end up practicing religious genocide also? (Words now; sticks and stones later)

      September 9, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • John Richardson

      OK. One prayer, presented by a Scientologist in accordance with the beliefs of Scientology. Yep, I'm sure none of those groups would mind at all! They're all such grown ups about these things!

      September 9, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • Steve O

      The Satanic priest in my neighborhood has volunteered to make a speech. He's going to let Fred Phelps open for him.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  11. Mike

    "The answer is better religion," said the evangelical. How many thousands of years have they had to perfect it? It ain't gonna get better.

    September 9, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  12. Ondine

    Jehovah's help would have been appreciated on 09/11/01 but Allah kicked his ass that day and sent him packing. The entire world saw it and knows the truth now. The last thing we need is a bunch of ministers and priests talking about "God" and how great he is on the terrible anniversary of the carnage. Let the Christian God and his minions go help someone else on the annivery date, we surely don't need more of the same, we need less of it. Don't people know religeon was behind the events of 09/11/01? That's when Jehovah could have been of use to the USA, not now 10 years after. He was useless then and he is useless now.

    September 9, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  13. Liz1388

    If the families of the victims agreed not to have religious leaders there, or designated prayers, then that's it. We don't need parades of guys from every faith showing off. Why do Christians (and it is always them,isn't it any more?) have to be represented or require prayer everywhere? If you believe god is everywhere, then some preacher isn't required. Certainly words are not always required. Is your god so insecure he needs constant, out loud reassurance? Or just maybe, it's Christians (and other Religionists), who really need their beliefs affirmed at every event and twice on Sundays? Kind of ironic since your own god said prayer should take place in private.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:51 am |
  14. ID

    I agree with Bloomberg's decision. Individuals who need to pray can do so on their own time, there is no need to bring clergy in. It would be nearly impossible for Bloomberg to bring in representatives of every existing major US religion (not to mention those with fewer followers) to the event. The 9/11 event is a government-related event for all Americans. Church and State are meant to be kept separately, pray on your own time not at the Government event.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  15. ScottDahl

    I guess all the prayers which were said on 9-11 were wrong then too. How sad for this nation. To think I spent 10 of my last 22 years in the military having swore an oath which ended with so help me God. Did our president not also state those words. How wonderful it would be to actually seethe president lead us in prayer.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • lizziet

      You could have "affirmed" your military oath, had you chosen to. And, it's not the President's job to "lead us in prayer." If you need someone to lead you in prayer, find a rabbi, priest, imman or whatever.

      September 9, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • tallulah13

      You have every right to attend the church service of your choice. No one is stopping you. However, there is no law in this country that says that religion MUST be foisted upon any event.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  16. Carla

    USA will be another prototype of Babylon if she keeps idolatry instead of worshiping the one true God.

    September 9, 2011 at 2:32 am |
    • gondo

      hard to believe there wont be even a single prayer. really? cmon people, get real. this pc crap is gonna destroy this country.

      September 9, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • gager

      Are you one of those muslim extremists? We don't need prayer in public.

      September 9, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • Jorge

      Religion and your threats. Pray, if not,your going to hell!!! geez! so negative keep it away from me

      September 9, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  17. Chad

    Isn't "progressive Christians" a bit of an oxymoron? Nothing about any religion is particularly progressive. It's all quite the opposite... regressive.

    September 9, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Think of churches that are open to Gays and Lesbians in the congregation and as clergy. Then compare that too 700 club type of churches.

      September 9, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Bill

      Rather than talking out of your butt, take 15 minutes adn learn a little bit about Jim Wallis and the Sojournors and you will realize how silly that statement was .... and by the way, what parts of love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, helping the poor, comforting the oppressed (you know, the fundamental teachings of Jesus and, thus, of Christianity) do you have a problem with?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • tallulah13

      Bill, don't you find your angry retort to be even slightly ironic?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Javed

      Hey Tallulah13 it is you...how is hubby Muneef doing?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  18. No Dogma

    "The answer is better religion." Better religion my eye! No my friend, trying a different kind of gasoline will not quench the fire of hate and exclusivity that is innate to almost all religious texts

    September 9, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  19. joe poca

    An average of 16,000 americans get murdered by their own citizenry every year... 16,000 X 10 years = 160,000 since 9/11. who be the terrorists... truly? what a pitiful people

    September 9, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  20. ANDREW

    Seems like babaloyn the great is about to fall

    September 9, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • Peikovian

      Babaloyn the Great was a wrestler in the WWF?

      September 9, 2011 at 1:37 am |
    • Lucy

      Wasn't "Babaloyn" a song that Ricky Ricardo always sang down at the Tropicana Club?

      September 9, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think someone's got some 'splaining to do!

      September 9, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Dee

      Yes you are so correct Babylon is soon to com to Her destruction yes the time is soon to arrive and people are so clueless
      as to what is taking place all around us on a daily basis how sad babylon has already Fallen now its time is soon to arrive
      will it will no longer exist.

      September 9, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Ever notice that religious nuts can't spell?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
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About this blog

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.