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. BarbT

    It's sad to see many references here to "religion" while avoiding the mention of God Himself.

    No matter how offensive it is to secular eyes and ears the name of Christ will always be lifted up and exalted by those of us who love Him. Christ's death on the cross had a purpose - our sins were nailed to that tree. He is the ONLY one with the power to save a person or to HEAL A NATION that has strayed far from Him with unbelief and rebellion. If you're ready to start a new life with a clean heart it's not too late to call on Him. Religion is man's invention and won't do a thing for you.

    September 11, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • The Doctor

      So if I am understanding you right, you are suggesting that our nation is in ill health? If you view our nation as sick and needing healing that only a higher power can bring I have a few questions for you to consider: If the United States is sick (presumably your criteria is morality based) how do you view the other nations of the world... do we have a cold say compared to china or thailand who most likely have more serious illnesses? If you believe we are now sick then at some point we must have been in better health. Can you give me an example of a healthy nation at any point in world history. I believe that every nation has always been an easy target to question the public morality. It is all a matter of reference frames and in this case I do not believe that the United States is any more or less "sick and in need of healing from God" than it ever has been in the past. IF you disagree please give me your example decade and country and I am sure it will take me no less than 5 minutes to find that era's questionable moral choices.

      Remember dont throw the first stone... we have always been sinners. Today is no different than when those words were first said and Jesus walked the Earth.

      September 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  2. LarryLinn

    The innocent 9/11 victims whom were killed, their families and loved ones, all have suffered because centuries old conflicts between the leaders of the various leaders of the Abrahamic religious sects. Perhaps the self-proclaimed religious leaders whom were offended because they were not invited to use the bully-pulpit can instead use the time to contemplate, meditate, or pray seeking solutions to religious warfare.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  3. Bill

    Sadly you all think its all about you. Well its not!!! Its about those who died those who helped and died trying to save lives. This should not be about that idiot mayor or any one politician, this is for the hero's of 911. If the families would like prayer that is their business none of ours. This is about honoring those who have fallen and supporting those left behind. And those who are left behind. The families should have the final say not some clown who thinks he is above everyone else.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • J.W

      So you would agree that we should have all religions represented? Would you be willing to join in a ceremony with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.?

      September 11, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • John Richardson

      It's not the families clamoring for clergy involvement. It's the clergy themselves looking out for #1 as usual.

      September 11, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Real Deal

      Here is a complete list of the victims of the 9/11 attacks:

      and here is a list, broken down by country of origin of the victims:

      There is no list broken down by religion, but you can certainly extrapolate that from the variety and diversity of these people that several religions, and even atheists were victims of this attack.

      Sadness all around...

      September 11, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  4. bbg372

    No, Tim King, the answer is NOT better religion. The answer is NO religion.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  5. John

    "'Progressive' Christians"?

    No one that believes in elves and fairies is progressive

    September 10, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  6. John Kindle

    I believe the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 should have made the decision as to having religion at the event tomorrow. Even though all Americans suffered, they lost the most. Bloomberg had no right to make this decision. Is he anti-Christian?

    September 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  7. kimsland

    Only FOOLS choose religion

    September 10, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Redneck louie

      kims land oughtn to produce some odd crop bein fertilized with bull s**t and hate.

      September 10, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • kimsland

      Not exactly redneck.

      I just feel that religious people should wear red noses, they are just that funny and pathetic. I love it when they fall over themselves all the time.
      Religious people are mentally challenged, at one stage they thought the world was flat. And get this, now they think that jesus (just some liar) is their savior. I mean how pathetic is that? Oh and rednecks are funny too.

      September 10, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Redneck louie

      wes funny but wes got an ought six

      September 10, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • kimsland


      I'll try to speak your language then, Hic we won al jibs bak, aint no hill billy goin git me baptized.

      Rednecks are inbreeds, they know nothing, just like religious fools, wait a minute, maybe they're the same.

      September 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  8. tina

    true christian lead by example we pray testify 2 people about his good works and HATE no one there is a lot of hate in these comments..i am a Pentecostal and very proud 2 b born of his name healed by his stripes and born again of his love....I do speak in tongues and have been baptized in Jesus name...therefore i will not speak against anyone that is his job when u meet him. When did people lose there compassion and love for 1 another we r all brothers and sisters in christ NO ONE is better then anyone if we get angry we should pray....i will leave u with a verse LUKE 23: 34 THEN JESUS SAID fATHER FORGIVE FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO... this as after he is crucified he is praying for the people who hurt him. JOHN 14:18 I WILL NOT LEAVE U COMFORTLESS I WILL COME TO YOU. PETER2:9 YE ARE A CHOSEN GENERATION A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD A HOLY NATION A PECULAR PEOPLE. this verse is about people who believe in him we r chosen by him, we r rich in his love,holy in his name,and strange 2 others who dont believe. As his people they will prosecute us like they did Jesus soon we will not b able 2 worship at all but that will not stop me i will still sing 4 my Jesus, Cry out his name pray, read his word and Fell his presents

    September 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      I'm assuming this is written in tongues, because it sure isn't written in English...

      September 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • The Whizzo Chocolate Company

      Do all Pentecostals have that much trouble with capitalization?

      September 10, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  9. Carmen

    Not only religious leaders are banned, but also police and fireman.
    But they are planning to have an Iman and a Budist nun.
    Here they are trying with the left media,including cnn to makes us belive that we are the terroristas, that the people that died were agnostics,or better would have refused a Rabbi , priest or Minister in their last moment.
    This reminds me of the Vichy Goverment that were more nazi than the germans.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • John

      Total absolute lie Carmen

      September 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • The Doctor

      Haters Hate....thy name be Carmen

      September 11, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  10. Carla

    America will face a forever-grievance as long as they refuse to listen to their Christian leaders. Self-smartness and self-reliance of Americans only brought only broken societies and a polluted planet upon them.

    September 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Epidi

      Uh, hello! I 'm not Christian, so I don't have any Crhistian leaders! I have American ones!

      September 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • The Whizzo Chocolate Company

      Americans are supposed to have representatives, not leaders.

      September 10, 2011 at 11:41 am |

    Once again, christians leaders want to insert their fairy tale religion into the public spotlight. Religous extremism caused the events of 9/11. Please go away you charlatans and pedophiles!!! Let us remember and grieve in peace.

    September 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Carmen

      A Roman Catholic priest died helping at the Towers, I hope that when your time comes you are as rude and insulting to others Faiths.
      The victims were in their mayority jews and members of Christian Faiths, to deny their presence is an insult to them and their families.

      September 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Epidi

      What I don't get is they squawked about a building a mosque but they still want their own religions represented. Puleeze!

      September 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  12. Ben

    "Progressive Christians" is a contradiction in terms.

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

      "Conservative Christian" is an oxy-moron and heretical to the central Christian doctrine of "love they neighbor."

      September 9, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Brian

      As is freedom of expression. I've replied to your post, and it appears it's been evidently censored. No idea why CNN posts such provocative news, yet refuses to permit provocative debate.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • myweightinwords


      The site uses a word filter, which also filters those words when they appear as part of other words. For example, the word "consti.tuition" contains the word "t.it" and is therefore censored. Scan your post for these things, insert a period or hyphen, and viola...you can post.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Dick

      Uh, Brian, CNN has a word filter that everyone in the world except you knows about...

      Look around and you'll find the naughty word list or maybe some nice smart person, likely an atheist :-), will be nice enough to post it for you.

      September 9, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Brian

      No, didn't realise CNN was so discriminatory .

      September 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  13. TIM

    Of course religious leaders shouldn't be invited. The NYC Police and Firemen, however, should be! How are you not going to invite the heros of 9/11 to the 9/11 event?! I agree with Jack, this event is just a publicity stunt for politicians and the christian leaders want in on it. I think the event should happen but only if they do it right. Make it about the people who lost their lives and the people that saved as many as they could. Only the victims (still living) and the heros should be at ground zero. I'll never get how people can be so ignorant to look up to politicians and religious leaders when all they see us as is pawns to be used.

    September 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  14. Brian

    How utterly ridiculous. When did our country become so utterly evangelical? Forbidding clergy members is a good thing in my opinion. Too much destruction in the world now (and in the past 100 years) due to religious ignorance and intolerance. I only wish it were permissable to forbid 'overtly-evangelical' zealots from using religion to garner votes amongst the larger mass of fools in the country.

    September 9, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • dabble53

      Make that 2000+ years, and you've got it right.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Brian

      Good call. Happily stand corrected.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  15. Paula Samms

    When the Trade Centers were being attacked, it was okay for the "Religious" leaders to pray and be a part of the healing process after that tragic event. But now when it's time to acknowledge what happened, they are not welcomed? People want God when it's Convenient to their situation. What a bunch of Hypocrites! Either you want God in everything or you dont want him at all!!!

    September 9, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • NoReligion

      I choose the latter, and I stand with Bloomberg on this decision. Religious extremists were responsible for the attacks; having another group of religious extremists memorialize the event would be ludicrous.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • tallulah13

      Just because you were comforted by public prayers doesn't mean everyone was. People of many faiths were murdered that day, including several innocent muslims, because fanatics held their personal faith to be of more value than the lives of strangers. Every person murdered deserves to be represented. Do you honestly think that having a muslim cleric speaking at this event would be greeted with respect?

      How about you take this event and use it to consider what it means, not to be a member of your own faith, but what it means to belong to that larger group, humanity.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • edCP

      Absolutely Paula!

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

      No. I don't want your god at all. I didn't want him when it was convenient, and I sure don't want him now. Posts like yours are exactly the reason religious leaders were not invited to take part.

      There are atheists in foxholes.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Javed

      Tallulah13...finally decided to come out of that burqa ugh?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • tina

      that is so true. these actions r in the bible, rejecting God will lead 2 no good..people pray when there sick but dont want 2 when there well..if u refuse him he will refuse u that is also stated in the Bible. This makes me very sad i love my Jesus and i will pray 4 everyone even the people who dont believe they need all the pray they can get what a bleak future u will have if u dont believe in Jesus he believed in u when he died 4 your sins over 2000 years ago...and as my preacher tells us he devil is quick 2 remind u of ur past and when he does remind him of his future because hes isnt good

      September 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious


      Is it a requirement of your faith that you not be able to write a coherent sentence in English? Or is that why you're a fundamentalist?

      September 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Javed, I am an atheist and an American. I believe in fairness. I think that a religious presence at the 9/11 ceremony is a terrible idea, but if one religion is represented, then all the religions of all the dead should be represented. Among the dead are at least 30 muslims. As stated before, do you honestly think that there would not be anger if a muslim cleric spoke before the crowd? This is an event that should be about unity as humans, not division by religion.

      September 10, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  16. Willie 12345

    The fear of acknowledging religion in every day life is driving the decisions we make ? What a cowardly thing to do.

    September 9, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      It's not about ignoring the fact that many US citizens are religious. It's about acknowledging that there are so many faiths, and so many of the religious leaders are so divisive, that it would be a bad idea to let any specific group have a presence.

      September 9, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • myweightinwords

      It has nothing to do with fear nor ignoring that anyone is religious, it's about 1) logistics: if we allow one faith to be represented, they should all be and that could take hours, 2) more logistics, who picks which leaders get the nod, who decides what order they go in, who protects the unpopular ones (because you know it would have to include a Muslim), 3) Fairness, since letting all of them in is a non-starter, deciding to include none of them is the only logical, fair choice.

      September 9, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  17. iamdeadlyserious

    I had no idea that Bloomberg was doing that, and my hat's off to him. That memorial is not about religious leaders getting a soapbox for a day, and their antics after Bloomberg didn't invite them prove the point.

    Religious leaders on all sides have been far too divisive whenever anything comes up that's related to 9/11. From the rhetoric about the event and the subsequent wars, to the vitriolic hate spewed over the construction of mosques around the country. These people have shown that they can't behave, so it makes perfect sense to keep them out of something that should be as solemn and understated as humanly possible.

    September 9, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  18. NoReligion

    I applaud Mayor Bloomberg (something I don't often do) for making this a secular event. It was a religious group that perpetrated the events of 9/11; the last thing that needs to be represented at this memorial is a group of intolerant religious leaders. Have a service in your house of worship with your own flock of sheep in attendance,if you so desire. If people choose to follow arcane belief systems - all of which espouse evil in one form or another - let them do it in private, away from public events.

    September 9, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  19. Jack

    There should be NO event to begin with. Let those who died rest in peace. DO any of you have an event for people you have lost? Family members friends? NO. This stupid event is nothing more than fueling the fire for terrorist to start there trouble again by scaring people. To me this is nothing more than a political event for votes.

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

      It is quite common to have memorials for departed loved ones. I think it is quite the opposite: it shows that we will never forget the victims or the event.

      September 9, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  20. wilbur

    Suppose Jesus were to float down on a Cloud to New York that day:
    1. F-22 fighter bombers scrambled, dozens of missiles are fired and hit the crowd.
    2. Jesus makes it down to earth and is immediately sent to Gitmo.

    IRAN. Then I took a bullet in the leg. Now...IHOP

    September 9, 2011 at 9:34 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.