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. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    If there were no such thing as religion, those towers would still be standing.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • jimtanker

      True dat!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  2. JOE

    I got it. This is not a ceremony of spiritual healing to the families of the victims but rather a commemorative occasion to remember the victims and the momentous day in our history.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Peace2All


      " This is not a ceremony of spiritual healing to the families of the victims but rather a commemorative occasion to remember the victims and the momentous day in our history. "

      What makes you think it can't be 'both'...?


      September 8, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  3. Feast of Beast

    It the families of the victims are happy with the planned proceedings, I don't see how anyone else is in a position to argue with their wishes. As stated, the multiple moments of silence will offer each person opportunities to pray according to their beliefs. I wouldn't think (some) members of the clergy would be so desperate for the spotlight, but obviously they are.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • d

      These religious leaders feel like it will make religion look irrelevant if they are not included in the ceremony and it goes off perfectly. They care more about self exposure than they do about the wishes of those present at the event.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  4. Steve

    So, here's whats going to happen...

    Everyone is fighting Christian vs. Muslim, ranting and raving about which is better/worse, bringing in Obama and 9/11
    and then,
    MORMONS take over!

    September 8, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • William Demuth

      Mormons like Alien Gods, so will they support the Space Program?

      September 8, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Holden

      Mormons are taking over? Where is the foundation for this statement? Or are you just ranting like everyone else does with unintelligent comments?

      September 8, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Osama

      LLOL! All hail Utah!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Steve

      @ Holden, it's mainly a silly rant, but with 10million strong, who says they can't?

      September 8, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Kimball

      The Raëlians will take over!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • d

      Does this mean 5 wives for everyone? If so, count me out, 1 is enough

      September 8, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  5. killallthewhiteman

    “religion should not be excluded from 9/11 remembrances”
    I for one am sick of religion. It is religion that killed the people in the first place.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • db

      mtv as much as religion....bin laden didn't like it either

      September 8, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  6. JOE

    Well if all religions are excluded, who's going to open the ceremonies in prayer? So there will be no praying at the ceremonies at all? Someone please explain.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • jimtanker

      Who says that anyone HAS to open this with a prayer?

      September 8, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Steve

      god doesn't exist, so we dont need to pray. Its very simple

      September 8, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • William Demuth

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster shall serve Ziti to All.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Peace2All


      -William Demuth has offered one opinion.

      Also, maybe they 'open' the ceremonies with a moment of silence... and everyone gets to pray, meditate, center themselves, etc... in whatever way they see fit...?


      September 8, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Peace2All


      *apologies*- @jimtanker has offered an opinion.

      @Big Willy D.

      R'amen !


      September 8, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Kimball

      Steve, try to keep an open mind. It's a sign of intelligence. Try not to be so closed minded about things.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Steve

      @ Kimball, seriously?

      "try to keep an open mind. It's a sign of intelligence. Try not to be so closed minded about things."

      "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." — Edward Gibbon

      Let me know when people start quoting YOU for your intelligence level, until then – go back to the common people's belief system. "Heaven forbid" you think outside of your childhood fairytales

      September 8, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  7. Bloomin-Idiot

    While clergy won't be available for the planned ceremonies Bloomberg has offered free civil unions will be available at a special kiosk set up nearby

    September 8, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • William Demuth


      Then your prists can finally make honest men out of your altar boys.

      Now they can ask for a ring after they get buggered at age eight!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  8. ======Bo: I use the dash to find last post

    I hate to disagree with my Christin brothers/sister, but thiis is not a religous cerimony, it's a civial cerimony. I don't really know how a celibration can be made to a vicious attack by a bunch of crazies, it may be a dedcation service to the hundreds of heros and a memorial to the thousands that died, but it can not be twisted into a religious cerimony. The dedcation might be opened with some sort of gernaric, if that is a proper word to use, invocation, although in my opnion, a prayer of that kind is void. I feel that the religious community that have been offended are more full of self rigiouness than the Holy Spirit. They dishonor God. (A little off the subject, I feel to display any kind of religious symbol on a memorial of this type is unwarranted. This vicious attack was not made on a religion, but on a country's ecconmical status of mixed beliefs.)

    September 8, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • This is God posting from Heaven

      Please...no pandering or silly displays of faith at 9/11. Keep it secular.

      Your God.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  9. Jim

    Religious difference causes most of the problems in the world. 9/11 being one example. A bunch of fanatics of various degrees all killing each other over why we exist. No one can prove or disprove, so its a vicious circle. The clergy can have their own thing at their churches, temples, mosques etc. I think political leaders should not be included as well.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Feast of Beast

      Good point.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  10. Steve the Goat

    I swear to the FSM, these religious nutjubs need to be sterilized immediately. Religion is a bigger threat to humanity than cancer, aids, nuclear war, and pee wee herman.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • jimtanker


      September 8, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  11. mark

    I don't think all people in new york are aetheistic but the mayor sure is.
    but then again the bible talks about folks who actually say there is no God for me

    September 8, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Leo

      Atheistic and secular are different. I may have a spiritual belief, but I think that public events, public schools, the government, and so on should be SECULAR. Pray in your own church, your own home, on a street corner, in a park, or anywhere... but not from a public podium at an event meant for EVERYONE, regardless of their religion.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Roger in Florida

      aetheistic ????? What an illiterate nub.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Peace2All


      Is it just possible that there are many other factors that went into this decision for the benefit of all, other than... the Mayor of NY is and "atheist"...?

      Wow !!


      September 8, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  12. Fair Play

    I believe that any faith (or lack of faith) group should be represented there as it affected us all. Unity among people as people, not because of religion but because we are all in this together. Christians, Atheists, Pagans, Muslims, and more should all have the chance to represent. This is not a state issue, but a civilian issue.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • William Demuth

      Over 5000 religions.

      Who speaks for the Wiccans, the Zoroastrians and Shntoists?

      September 8, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Fair Play

      Whoever wishes should show up and represent. Of course not everyone could speak, so the message that is given by any at the event should be about unity, and not religion.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  13. gliese42

    Remember to vote the mayor out

    September 8, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • William Demuth

      Obviously clueless.

      He is limited to two terms, and has already served three.

      He is Ultra Bajillionaire, and has Wall Street in his pocket.

      He shall be mayor as long as he likes.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  14. JOE

    I used to respect Mayor Michael Bloomberg but somehow I'm a bit confused. He's excluding religion from the ground zero ceremony to avoid conflict over which religions should participate but he has supported and approved the building of an Islamic Mosque near ground zero. So is there a difference? Any how you look at it, religion is alread in the mix. Therefor all religions should be invited to participate because all faith lost people during the attacks and we are not only a nation of different racial and ethnic groups but we're also a diversity of religions. So invite them all Mayor Bloomberg and ease the controversy.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  15. bailoutsos

    Every year? When will it be time to stop?

    September 8, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • William Demuth

      When someone gets nuked we forget the Towers.

      Bigger Boom means a bigger legacy

      September 8, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  16. martin

    The issue isn't religion, it's who made Mayor Bloomberg god. Why is he allowed to decide who can speak and who can't.
    The Ground Zero site is a national monument and he is not in charge.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • William Demuth

      Well, actually, he is.

      As well it should be.

      Some right wing party nuts would turn it into a "Jesus loves Americathon" that would enbarrass New York to its core.

      We REALLY want you Jesus freaks, and your Muslim and Jewish equivalents to stay away.

      We are the most advanced and important city in the world, and we don't need Osama or any other religious nuts dragging us back into the Bronze age.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • BRC

      Noone made him god, but obviously the majority of voters in NY City made him mayor... so yeah, he actually is in charge of this. For what it's worth I commend his decision, and I hope he sticks to it.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • tallulah13

      I commend Bloomberg's decision. It is indeed a national ceremony, not a religious one.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  17. GodIsImaginary Dot Com

    god is imaginary so all religion is a waste of time and only losers follow it

    may all churchers burn

    September 8, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • mdiddy1974

      Yeah moron. Eradicate the notion of faith, and the world will be one big Leninist utopia. Real intelligent argument.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Joepub

      ...Along with all the Atheist book stores. After all, if I can't have my freedom of religion ; you can't have your freedom from religion.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  18. Ed

    Lest we forget obsession with religion caused the attacks in the first place.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • mdiddy

      Wrong. ISLAMIC obsession with world domination caused this in the first place. Call a spade a spade.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  19. Phil in Oregon

    "Religion" isn't the problem, FALSE religion is. There is one God, and lots and lots of counterfeits. So many that people like Laura think He doesn't exist at all. That said, the attack wasn't on the Church, it was on ALL Americans. so the theme of the ceremony isn't about Christianity, it's about America as a whole.

    September 8, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Austin

      Of course, Phil knows the "true" God... hey pal, Muslims believe your god is false and their's is the right one. Maybe your's is the counterfeit? For someone like Laura, there is no reason to believe you over a Muslim when it comes to determining which imaginary friend is 'real'.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • jimtanker

      You have absolutely NO evidence to show that your god even exists let alone it is THE ONE TRUE GOD. Give it a rest.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • William Demuth

      Stick it Phil.

      Your God is a LIE, and alot of East Coast people do NOT want someone from Oregon speaking for us as a whole.

      Religion caused the problem, and has NO PART in solving it.

      How is your imaginary sky freind any better than theirs? Frankly, to many of us, it is the SAME God.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • J.W

      But Phil why is it that we are blaming Islam then when they worship the same God as Christians? And William I have to thank you and all the atheists. Now I know as a religious person I can make a mess of everything and you all will come and clean it up.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Erky

      So false religion is the problem eh, go figure. Since there are 6,000 religions on earth, and probably tens of thousands of religions that have come and gone (or inspired other religions, like Roman paganism and Christianity), the odds of picking the 'correct' one is pretty slim wouldn't you say? Something like verifiable evidence would greatly increase ones chances of picking the right one, instead of just following one in which you were born. Considering that the consequences of picking the wrong one is everlasting torture, you would think that this deity who loves to be worshiped, would just go ahead and give us some evidence. I mean why bother going to the trouble of having your son ritualistically murdered for us, to absolve us of 'sin', if you're not going to provide solid evidence. Instead he leaves it to a bunch of self serving w**kers to spread his message, which generally works out pretty profitable for them – but not so much for the masses of imbeciles that are set against competing groups of imbeciles – all claiming to be right.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • tallulah13

      False religion is indeed the problem, and until someone comes up with actual proof of any god, all religions must be considered false. However, I agree with your reasoning about the ceremony.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  20. jimtanker

    MusIims believe in their god more than christians do.

    September 8, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • William Demuth

      Same God, different idiots.

      September 8, 2011 at 10:16 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.