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. Laura

    Religion is what got us into this horrible mess. If they decided to include clergy then others who don't believe in a god would be offended. There is no winning in this case but I think their decision to exclude clergy is a good one. If people want to pray to the air they breathe, then let them.

    September 8, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • William Demuth

      I am digging this girl!

      SIngle and Athiest?

      September 8, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  2. Allen Roundtree

    How about everyone quit pushing your religion on everyone please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 8, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  3. SiriusVH

    Reading the previous comments, you should have no problems understanding why Bloomberg thought that it would be wise to exclude religious-minded people.

    September 8, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  4. BRC

    This article, just like the first on the topic, gives me hope, and at teh same time greatly concerns me. I am hopeful because it is a step in the right direction; it is pulling organized religions out of the public sector, and turning a tribute into a situation that is all inclusive, and where faith and beliefs are handled by every individual on a personal level. that is a great thing, and really to me is a great example of the freedoms that we are supposed to espouse as a nation. What concerns me, is that people who have no business changing this event are rallying hard at their percieved deficiency; and there is a chance they might get what they want.

    There is no ban on religion at the event. Any person, of any faith, is welcome to attend and say to themselves any prayer that that wish. There just won't be any central prayer, or religious speakers, no one religion is going to be sent out across the entire group. This is a good thing. It means EVERYONE is welcome to think on their own faith, noone is excluded from remembering an event that affected the entire nation. But more importantly, what if one of the families of the victims doesn't want to hear about religion? what if some of them just don't want to hear about "God's plan" right now? Maybe there are people who are having crisis of faith, or who relaly just don't want to deal with having the spotlight on something other then the people who were killed, and those who died or risked their lives trying to save them? If making religion an official part of the ceremony would offend, upset, or bother even one of those people, but leaving it up to the individuals in the audience allows everyone to handle this in whatever way they choose, how is this a bad thing? Why is it so important that any religion be officially involved?

    September 8, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • jimtanker

      Because America is a Christian nation. Duh! Dont you know anything? 😉

      September 8, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • William Demuth

      They want to sell their lies.

      They want to bathe themselves in the blood of the dead and wrap themselves in my flag, all for the purpose of lining their pockets under the pretense of exclaiming the greater glory of their non exsistant Gods.

      Dealing in death and stealing in the name of the Lord.

      September 8, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • John Richardson

      You laid it out clearly and fully, BRC! Great post!

      September 8, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • BRC

      @Jim, Knew I was forgetting something, stupid accurate history books not teaching me that.

      @John, Thanks. Unfortunately there were no answers from the other side. Not surprised, just dissapointed.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Peace2All


      Nice post...

      Peace brother...

      September 8, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  5. Reality

    There are some things that need to be repeated 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 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 8, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  6. dad

    What's with all the hate in these comments? We're never going to stop another 9/11 if we don't forgive and learn to live with each other.

    September 8, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • William Demuth


      You have NO idea how ugly things may get.

      We Americans seriously underestimate Islam. If push comes to shove, we could kill a million a day for a year and there would several times more of them than there are of us.

      Plus they have the oil.

      September 8, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  7. Reality

    In case you missed this on p. 3:

    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 8, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  8. Rainer Braendlein

    According to my personal taste, the whole Ground Zero should have been made a big memorial site. They should have built there a big cathedral, in order to designate Ground Zero as a holy place. That had been appropriate to the poor 3000 people, which were killed by exemplary Muslims.

    It is a shame to rebuild office buildings there. Office buildings on this site are de trop. They show no respect for the dead.

    September 8, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • jimtanker

      So who cares about the musIims, budhists, and hindus who were kiIIed there right?

      September 8, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  9. otong indonesia

    The nature of 9/11 is surelly 100% was a problem in Islam Jihadist, not american problem. 9/11 was one of many worst things happen in the world because of Islam Jihadist. So dont blame amercan for being islamopobist and many hyproctrit said!!!!

    September 8, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  10. skavaer

    Who needs the clergy there? Don't religious people already have a place to worship, like mosques, churches, etc? Many people like me are getting so disgusted running into to all of this religious garbage in public all the time. Get a room, wackos!

    September 8, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • paul

      The Major could not figure out a way to exclude the Imams so he excluded all religious leaders. I would make it illegal for a muslim to set foot there. It was caused by muslims so full of hatred of Americans that they forfeited all rights of being there. No muslims allowed on Ground Zero. Now DO IT!

      September 8, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • William Demuth


      How about no Germans in Israel?

      How about no Americans anywhere in the western half of the country?

      How about no Jews in any Islamic country?

      Your hatred is palpable. Seek therapy, and I suspect you REALLY hate your parents, and just use the Camel Jockeys as a whipping post.

      September 8, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  11. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Voiceinthedesert)

    The exclusion of religion is evil! I say this again, the exclusion of religion smacks of Satan! No one who is human, can exclude religion from a place, where many religious people died a horrible death! Those who did it lack discernment, compassion ... and soul! They will pay for this in the afterlife and in this life! Religion is to people like life! Mayor Bloomberg attempted to take this life from them! He did it senselessly and mindlessly, probably not knowing what he was doing. he may have done it under pressure from some soulless characters, whom we call atheists! But he will lose! he will go down in history as loser, the greatest loser of all times! You cannot outsmart God, or exclude God callously from peoples' lives! If you do, you lose!

    September 8, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • jimtanker

      Who are you, the Church Lady? Give it a break.

      September 8, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • daisydog

      Guess your god was busy on 9/11....

      September 8, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • Darren

      there is no god. religion should have no place at all this moden world, we no longer live in caves.

      September 8, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • William Demuth

      You sound troubled.

      Did you and the priest breakup?

      September 8, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Teresa

      This is all you got? This does not prove theft. It proves wainlkg .Again, you may or may not have pictures of the thieves. If you do not, you are in for a lawsuit.I'm not a lawyer, nor do I know anyone involved in this incident, but I sure can't stand stupid people. You are declaring these two men to be criminals before they have been found guilty in a court of law or even been charged or arrested. You, Bill, need to rethink what you have posted.

      April 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  12. illuminati

    Clergy must be present

    September 8, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • jimtanker

      I'm sure that some will be present, but they wont be speaking. As it should be.

      September 8, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  13. Rainer Braendlein

    9/11 and the ordinary Muslims

    Fortunately many born Muslims, living in the West, are secular, that means they don't really practice Islam, but just struggle to survive or to generate some material wealth by any business or job.

    In Germany 60% of the Muslims are secular (according to a survey of the German Federal Minister of Interior from 2007, called "Muslime in Deutschland").

    However, 40% of the Muslims in Germany take seriously the Islam and even favour Holy War (that is outrageous). Thank God, they just have that atti-tude, but don't practice it. 6% of the Muslims in Germany are ready to fight with weapons immediately, right now, if a Holy War would be declared in Germany.

    Germany has got 4 Million Muslims. 40% out of 4 Mio makes 1.6 Mio. 6% out of 4 Mio makes 240,000 people.

    That means in Germany lives an Muslim army of 240,000 crypto-jihadists. That is without limit! 1.6 Millon Muslims would at least cheer the jihadist, if they would fight.

    Conclusion: Mr. Aman Ali should not take us for fools! That is a crime. 9/11 was a feast day for many Muslims. That is very sad, but true.

    Note: I am not a Muslim-hater. On the contrary, I try to love them, obeying Christs command. I have just studied a little Islamic history and got shocked to what extent Islam is connected with aggressive war. Islam is a crime in itself.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  14. Charlie

    Maybe god is mad at America for worshipping the wrong god.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:21 am |
    • otong indonesia

      Charlie, u re so sad!!!, Ur judge and though that the attacker was right for bombing america because God mad to ameryca and america do not have God? let us know ur explanation?

      September 8, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  15. Buzzing

    On Nov.5, 08, the Occupant of the Oval Office mirrored his intentions when he stated, "Change has come to America."
    And boy was he right. No longer can military chaplains pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The removing of crosses in some military cemeteries. The removal of Christian symbols from George Town University just before the arrival of the Occupant of the Oval Office...on the day he was going to give a speech. Invites Muslims to the White House and holds a Muslim prayer service with them, while canceling the National Day of Prayer because he claims it would be offensive to atheists. He had an ornament of Mao hanging on the Christmas tree in the White House. If that isn’t deplorable I don’t know what is. Sent money to Kenya to assist in aiding Shariah Law across that country. Stands behind the ushering in of Shariah Law and to make it a blasphemy to speak out against it at the UN. Barack Hussein Obama is aiding in the drive to slip it into our country. Never has this country been so bombard with so many states calling for the approval of Shariah Law. The Muslim Barack Hussein Obama has rolled the golden carpet out for the Muslims, appearing as if they were the victims. I don't want anyone to be deceived...the new blindfold now is ChrisLam.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • dg

      Oh bo.y do these discussions bring out the wi.ng.nu.ts.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • jimtanker

      You really dont have any idea what you're talking about do you? They can pray any way that they want when they are leading christian congegations. When they are in a group of soldiers they have to give a secular prayer. As it should be. I always used to just stand there and look at all the fools with their heads bowed.

      September 8, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  16. Buzzing

    Atheists don't send money to their home country, Kenya millions of taxpayers to help usher in Shariah Law.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  17. Unbelievable


    Thumbs Up 🙂

    September 8, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  18. Buzzing

    Innocent men, women and children were killed on 9/11 by Muslims who hate the Americans and the Jews. Yet the Muslims are being treated as victims. Maybe because the one who Occupies the Oval Office is a secret Muslim.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Maybe because the one who Occupies the Oval Office is a secret Muslim."
      Considering his considerable intelligence, odds are that if he's secretly anything, other than the christian he professes to be, he's an atheist.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep he was so smart he went on a vacation in Martha's Vineyard when so many of the other world leaders didn't go on vacation or cut their vacations short to deal with their countries budget issues.

      It took a Earthquake and then a Hurricane to get him to come back to Washington.

      ...its ok, he flew over a lot of jobless and homeless American's on his way too and from his vacation.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:05 am |
    • dg

      Buzzing and mark are one of many reasons this country is having the trouble it is having.

      Obama a secret muslim... give me a break. I suppose you think pi.gs can fly too.

      Heh, you scream about Obama taking a vacation but you had no problems with bush taking many many more days of vacation than Obama and then lied to us about. Wmds to start a war that is bankrupting the country.

      Sometimes I wish there were a god, as he/she would surely strike this mo.rons down.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>”Heh, you scream about Obama taking a vacation but you had no problems with bush taking many many more days of vacation than Obama and then lied to us about.”

      Well, here is the thing. First, I do not think that he is closet Muslim I have relatives that went to Rev Wright's church at the same time. Second, Obama tells us one week we are in the biggest crisis since before World War 2 … then goes on vacation to Martha's Vineyard? If you were the President would you have the “stones” to tell the American public that ship is in danger of going down and then say you were going on vacation. Heck, I put this to all of Congress as well, how dare they scare the crap out of the American … and to the extent the global marketplace and then go on Vacation.

      DG, we just lost our triple A bond rating … and you want God to strike me down because I dare to criticize my elected officials for going on vacation when the rest of us are getting laid-off and many are losing their homes?

      Also, didn't Bush, when he went on vacation, just went home to Texas and sat on the tailgate of his pickup?

      >>>“ Wmds to start a war that is bankrupting the country.”

      ….and three years later....

      we are still in Iraq... a battalion from our national guard just left for Iraq...

      we are still in Afghanistan.... one of the worst months for troop death was last month

      Gitmo... still open with prisoners still not getting a trial.

      ...and oh yeah …. we have American resources in Libya...

      So, tell me GW Bush was in there ….. Now Obama has us still in the same places and added a fourth.

      So, how is Obama different from G.W. Bush... I guess he is different because he got a peace prize and added another theater of war 🙂

      >>>”Sometimes I wish there were a god, as he/she would surely strike this mo.rons down.”

      Ahh... that peaceful Atheist type militancy.

      Tally, are you hearing this 😀

      September 8, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • Clarify


      The president never really goes on vacation. Yeah, maybe they let him sleep until 7:30, or something, before the phone calls and video conferences begin... maybe he doesn't have to dress up in a suit and tie... and maybe he gets to swim with his kids or play a round of golf. He is always on duty, though.

      This has been done in all presidencies, clear back to George Washington. Look here at the list of "Summer White Houses": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_White_House

      Congress is in recess for the whole month of August too, you know.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>”Congress is in recess for the whole month of August too, you know.”

      When the Congress and the President declare that we as a nation are in the worst crisis since the last depression. When you have the leaders of England, Germany, and France rushing home to handle their money issues.

      This is not the time for a RECESS/ Vacation.

      When Washington was president he had already won the war. Congress, both Dems and Repubs, and the President have not won the war, have they? You have military shipping off to fight battles in foreign lands because you say it is necessary, but they can not be bothered to pass on their vacations to stay in Washington?

      Also, a working vacation is the same for many of us. The cell phones and emails still fly but, I do not think a boss would send his employees on even a working vacation when things at the shop are supposed to be in total shambles.

      All I am saying is, if they are telling us that the country is in trouble, the worst for generations, then that is raising very high concerns. If they then say that they are going on Vacation two seconds later, are we as Americans suppose to still be at a high level of concern?

      September 8, 2011 at 5:14 am |
    • dg

      If you knew what an atheist actually is mark, the rest of your rant and assertions based on your prejudiced speculation may have come across as reasonable but alas you failed.

      Obamas vacation is no different than what every other president has done and congress was out, which points to a govt problem as a whole and not something that can be put squarely on the presidents shoulders. Same as the triple A bond rating which sure appears it was congress who should be blamed for that fiasco as they are putting party before country.

      As far as what bush did on his vacation I recall the news reports of him chopping down trees in his huge yard paid for by manipulating the bankruptcy system to make his millions.

      I have no great love for Obama but he defintely is the lesser of two evils... mcCain/palin would have been worse and the current repubs are no better. Perry being very frightening and wanting everyone to have a minimum wage job with no health insurance while corporations stock holders make millions and Perry continues getting a overpaid salary and health insurance at the general populaces expense.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:45 am |
    • John Richardson

      You can make the case that for the good of the country, Congress and the the President should take more and longer vacations! The Supremes take the whole summer off and somehow our justice system, for all its flaws, hasn't ground to a halt. Governmental action is often the LAST thing we need. But politicians are always eager to be seen as "doing something", regardless of whether the something they are doing is truly helpful, simply irrelevant or possibly even harmful. Many very bad laws have been passed in the name of "doing something" when people start panicking over relatively minor things or arguably major but badly misunderstood things.

      September 8, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  19. Alex

    I completely agree with the Mayor. Neither he, his office, nor anyone else is saying those who lost their lives may or may not be of a certain faith. This, however, has nothing to do with faith. It is about the needless loss of life; the tragedy brought home. For a time that should be spent in understanding, reflecting, mourning, bringing people together, and in some ways perhaps forgiving for the betterment of humankind as a whole, these conservative Christians have found a way to make it all about themselves. To me, this quote captures everything I feel about religion and this ceremony about the lives lost...not about who from what religion should or should not be present: ‎"Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don't tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children. Don't preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give."

    September 8, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • Buzzing

      One Horrific day murderous day that has been branded into the minds of many. And you say it isn't about ones faith? Well let my remind you, that many who died were also Chrisitans. If it isn't also about religion, why have one of every personal faith attend but not the Christian.
      This is about the Occupant of the Oval Office who is a secret Muslim, slipping Shariah law into our country while trying to surpress Christianity.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  20. SpiderCNN

    It is quite sad that such secondary issues are given so much importance, while ignoring the main
    issue which is the truth about 911. Who really was responsible for 911? There are many
    credible unanswered questions surrounding 911 event that we owe it to ourselves specially to
    the victims of 911 and their families to get resolved.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • Peace2All

      O.K... I'll bite. Who are the 'real' one's behind 9/11...?


      September 8, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • dg

      Bert and Ernie because they are g.ay.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      No .... It was Peppermint Patty and Marcy 🙂

      September 8, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • dg

      I think the republicons are going to agree with me Mark.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • NOVIAN

      Looked like one of those guys swiped a card acsors a card scanner (or some similar action) to unlock the door. If so, Workspace needs to get the door codes swapped out, if they haven't already, and put together a list of who has a card/whatever in their possession.

      April 3, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
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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.