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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. Chris

    Ridiculous. They're just looking to stir up the "hate Muslims" pot again. They know that if Christian clurgy is invited, Muslim Imams will have to be as well, which will rile up the tea party idiots. How transparent.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  2. thes33k3r

    Stop wasting time with your religious nonsense. Pray on your own time and dime.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • God's advocate on earth

      Misery loves company...have fun in hell!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • William Demuth

      God's advocate on earth

      Allah called, says he needs you and 71 other virgin asses to report right away.

      You are to service OBL for eternity, so scrub your bung until it is pristine

      September 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  3. DC

    So he's excluding groups of people to avoid offending groups of people. Doesn't that offend the excluded groups?

    September 8, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • BRC

      It could, if someone was being excluded, but they're not. they can attend, they're just not part of the main presentation.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  4. SlayFalseGod

    Religion has done enough damage already. Give 'em the boot- permanently.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  5. Leafonthewind

    The victims of the 9/11 events were of many faiths. Why should Christians be singled out to lead prayers? For once, I agree with Bloomberg – keep it secular, have those moments of silence when all are free to pray to whatever deity they desire. This should not be an issue when the idea is to remember the people whose lives were lost that day. Christianns: spend the entire day in church praying, if that's what comforts you, but please do not inflict your particular version of god on the rest of us. It's insulting.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  6. David

    I think religion can be OK but only if it is perceived as little more than "whistling in the dark" – a kind of innocent pretending to keep the specter of death somewhat at bay. Let's engage in it as a dance or as feel-good altruism but scrap the work of theologians. People who take themselves and their product much too serious – a group that includes most clergy – should not be provided a bigger stage to display their arrogant, self-serving words. "By their fruits shall you know them" is a verse that most Bible-believing clergy conveniently choose to ignore. I once heard a great bit of humor. It went, "clergy are like cow manure . . . spread around they do some good . . . but in a big pile they only stink". Clergy should not let their right hand know what the left is doing. Yes . . I am a former clergyman and I cringe now when I recall taking myself too seriously. 9/11 should be reserved for the humble, unknowns who died that day and continue to suffer and not for either religion or clergy to draw attention to themselves.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  7. ======Bo: I use the dash to find last post

    @Joe: 11:23 Get another newspaper, the one you are reading is all screwed up!

    September 8, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  8. Harleyman

    I watched as the planes hit the buildings, as did many Americans. That day, Methodists, Catholic, Baptist, Christian, Church of God, Church of Christ, Pentecostal , Full Gospel and many other denominations were praying for the Fireman, Policemen, Care Givers, the people in the buildings, the people of New York and the Nation as a whole. Even the company, that I worked for, allowed us to gather in groups and have prayer that day.

    We seem to want to call upon God when we are in diverse straits but, place Him back on a shelf when we feel we do not need Him. This nation has strayed from the Godly Principles this nation was founded upon. I am not surprised that Clergy was exempted.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • William Demuth

      Please, you make me laugh.

      When this nation was founded, 80 percent of the rednecks weren't even part of the Union!

      Godly principals like revolution, sedition, and slavery.

      We became a country by KILLING our landlords, and slaughtering the other tenants in our building.

      America is the last great hope for humanity BECAUSE it has secular values, not because of your imaginary sky freinds!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • PopeJon

      Are you talking about the godly principles that justified slavery and the outright genocide of the American Indian?

      September 8, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  9. GS

    Many Christian leaders are mad because this is a time for the nation to come together.
    Well thanks, Christian leaders. I feel like I can be a part of the group, now.
    Sincerely,
    Not Christian, but Hindu.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  10. MaybeAgnosticMaybeNot

    Atleast this will keep the pastor from Westboro Baptist from showing up.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Leafonthewind

      He can still be there, he just won't be provided with a microphone. Thankfully.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  11. JOE

    usma1

    How high should that bridge be? Have any in mind?

    September 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  12. Hypatia

    It's about time someone in charge remembered separation of church and state. Tell all the bilious Xians to go have a prayer meeting on their own and stop inflicting their medieval nonsense on the rest of us.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Bill

      And where would I find this separation of church and stat?

      September 8, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • William Demuth

      Bill

      I sugest you look at the treaty that was signed after the first American Muslim war.

      You remember, the one we one by using a suicide bomber on a ship in Tripoli harbor!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Big Bob

      Agreed!

      I just wish the Mayor would be a little more consistant. Cuz he sure carried the torch for the Ground Zero mosque!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  13. JOE

    Peace 2All

    I got it brother. Peace!

    September 8, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Peace2All

      @JOE

      No problem brother...

      Peace...

      September 8, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  14. d

    where do these people have to be "led" in prayer? Are they incapable of praying on their own, during the moments of silence? I for one would prefer to pray during each moment of silence as I see fit, instead of having some child molesting preacher pray for me.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • William Demuth

      Because sheep must be led before they can be shorne.

      Ripping off the ignorant is HUGE buisness, and the church dosen't need common sense or Mayor Bloomberg keeping them away from the billion or so potential patsies that will be watching.

      Jesus NEEDS the cash, and he needs it NOW!

      September 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • K Powers

      Your reply is about as ignorant as saying all people of color are on welfare... Which we know is NOT true

      September 8, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  15. John _Atlanta GA

    Science flies you to the moon,
    Religion flies you into a building!

    September 8, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  16. JOE

    No republican and teaparty members should be invited to the ceremonies either. I heard some key republicans are still considering calling for the impeachment of president Obama for sending our Navy Seals to kill Osama Bin Laden. But kudos to the most articulate and courageous president in our nation's history, OBL got his demise just in time for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

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

      "articulate and courageous president in our nation's history". Are you kidding me? That hope and change thing he promised, resulted in our company letting go of 20% of our workforce. Articulate and courageous doesn't create jobs

      September 8, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • John

      I'm a moderate on the spectrum. I don't agree with anything the tea party is saying. That being said, calling for republicans and tea partiers to be banned from a 9/11 celebration is a really evil thing to say. People like you put the Democratic party to shame, and should seriously learn how to engage in intelligent political discourse without name-calling and childish insults.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      Actually d, the economy was on the slide during much of the Bush administration. Obama has been trying to stop an economic free-fall with a tea-party rock tied around his waist and a Democratic parachute full of holes. Until all our politicians are interested in saving the economy, we will continue to lose jobs. I laugh when people worry about socialism. We've skipped that right by and are now plummeting towards feudalism.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • usmc1

      Joe, do us a favor and throw yourself off a bridge. Thanks

      September 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • sarahbee

      Articulate is right. He knows how to talk a good game. Unfortunatly, it is all talk. He is clueless on action. Jesse Jackson was good at that too. But when he got done talking a tirade, you had to scratch your head and say "huh".

      September 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @D
      Check the recent economic history of your country.
      During the Clinton era, the US economy enjoyed unprecedented growth!
      Extremely low unemployment, the lowest poverty rates for the eldery, black people, single mothers and other traditionally disadvantaged groups.
      His budget cut a half trillion dollars of deficit by increasing taxes on the wealthiest 1.5% of the US population while cutting unnecessary expenditures elsewhere.
      Then came Dubya. First thing he did was to cut taxes for the rich, which is a typically republican "trickle down" thing to do.
      This lost the U.S. economy some 1.2 trillion dollars over 6 years.
      Bush inherited a surplus of $128 billion dollars and left behind a deficit of $162 billion.
      He inherited an unemployment rate of 4.2% and left behind the highest rate in 15 years at 7.8%

      Bush caused the recession through his reckless fiscal policies and undisguised disdain for the common man.
      Lest you forget, the recession started during his last year in office.
      Obama inherited a mess and seems to have done a pretty good job of putting it all back in order.
      But it takes longer than a couple of years to undo nearly a decade of mismanagement.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Big Bob

      Nice Joe! Idiot!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  17. Vulpes

    What irony. Religion is why 9/11 happened in the first place ... and now the argument is that it should not be "excluded" from the event. .. ho-hum

    September 8, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Leafonthewind

      Good point, Vulpes.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  18. Kathleen Scheidt

    This should be about the victims and their families. These " men of god" are making it about themselves

    September 8, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • martin

      dont they always

      September 8, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  19. J.R.

    Religion is the very reason 9/11 happened in the first place. I don't care if it's Christian, Muslim or Jew, religion is the single biggest cause of all the problems in the world and it's time people woke up to see just how disturbed they all are. Whether it's Muslim plotting against America and it's (so-called) free country or an Anti-gay Republican candidate – they're all terrorists. And all because of the RELIGION they follow.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Bill

      Jr- com out of the closet. Anti gay Rep., your a one issue guy.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  20. Floyd

    If people would spend more time doing things that actually HELP each other instead of going through the "my religion is the one true belief system" schtick, maybe something useful could come out of the 9/11 horror, or storms and tornadoes, etc.

    No more praying. Instead, let's do something that is actually useful like rebuilding a town or city. Prayer doesn't seem to help at all. Various praying people claim to invoke Guys in the Sky, but the magical guys never seem to actually show up for the dance. People with hammers, boards and nails do show up to do useful things, however.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Scott

      You are so right on the money. I couldn't agree more. Let's stop time praying to something that doesn't exist and actually do something useful.

      September 8, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Leafonthewind

      Well said, Floyd. Thank you.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:06 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.