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. MsMHS

    All these New Yorkers complaining about the moron of a man they have for mayor and his policies should remember - they voted for him. They deserve what they got!! He's an atheist, moron, egotistical and a jerk!!

    September 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  2. Mike

    Ah yes, our daily 'bash Christianity' blog. Wouldn't be CNN without it.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Some Guy

      who cares. go to church if you need your dose of the lord. religion is the WHOLE problem behind 9/11.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Nixx

      I think most atheists and deists do not comment to bash Christianity... more like try to wake up people and try to make them realize that them believing fables and fairy tales is childish and rather ignorant... What would you tell a 14 year old child that claimed Thor and Odin were supernatural beigns and believing in them would permit them to go to the eternal warriors banquet in Valhalla... you would surely calmy state to them ...that those are only stories.... well... we're trying to wakr you up...but it's hard so we try to ridicule you in seeing the truth!!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • crownme

      RELIGION is the cause of MOST violence!!!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Nixx

      And the whole idea of a fairy tales blog on a news site to me is ludicrous!!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  3. Kana

    Because of the Bloomberg administration's decision to alienate first responders, clergy, and various other groups from attending the 9\11 based on the "weak" reason of lack of space. I think those groups should show their displeasure with NYC and attend ceremonies in Shanksville, Pa. and in D.C.
    I also think there should be at least a one day protest where tourist do not spend money in NYC to show they disagreement with the Bloomberg administration
    Fortunately this is Bloomberg's last term in office unless of course he has the law changed again so he can stay definitely.

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

    It appears that Mayor Bloomberg is presenting exactly the same type of intolerance that the terrorists did, just in a different way. And not just for religion, but for sensitivity to the needs of Americans in the recognition of tragedy. Only lib could vote for someone like him.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Teresa

      It seems that no matter what Mayor Bloomberg does it will be wrong. You will never please everyone so why even try. To the most ignorant of the comments on here, shame on you. Your total disregard for other peoples religious views shows how truly ignorant you are.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  5. William Demuth

    I like the idea of offering people of faith a moment of silence.

    I would prefer the idea of providing them an eternity of it.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Nixx

      Brilliant comment!!!!!!!! BRAVO!!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Some Guy


      September 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  6. NJBob

    Religions - every single one of them - are fraudulent and their leaders are charlatans. Kudos to Bloomberg for turning them away!!

    September 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  7. joesmith

    let it be said, one more time,"the sqeekie wheel always gets the grease" The mayor has attempted to assauge the minority, but has offended the majority..so what esle is new in America..

    September 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  8. ======Bo: I use the dash to find last post

    @Talluah 13–11:25 Agree 100%. I don't know what Joe may have said to get this response, but there are too many people who are of the oppion that it is no body's businsses if they want to smoke because they don't think it affects anyone else. And there are too many who are damaging their kids lungs because they are so ignorant of the effects of 2nd hand smoke. I can remember just using a public phone which the previous user had breathed smoke into and that would cause me to go into coughing spasms. There was one time that I had my car window down (mistake) and stopped at a singnal light and a lady in the next car was smoking and that sent me into caughing spasms. That hurts. It really iritates me that the government will give billions in subsidies to tobacco industry, then spends millions on antismoking adds. Hypocrites!

    September 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • f

      Dude...second hand smoke? You are on the wrong post.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  9. Jay

    So much hate all to defend each person's right to believe or not to believe in a God. Why don't we try to learn a new word – RESPECT – I'll respect my religion of choice and you respect your religion or lack of one and we will all respect each other's choices.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mik

      Works for me. Bloombergs respect is only for his "god" – money.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  10. atypical

    religion is not a requisite for unity.
    actually, religion has done more to undermine unity than just about any other social mechanism.

    yes, religion is a mechanism invented thousands of years ago that essentially serves to perpetuate ignorance and keep the masses appeased and unaware of their own divinity and personal empowerment.

    religion is obsolete. . . . we just don't realize it. . . .yet.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • f

      So what exactly is making me (a religious person) ignorant? And are you planning on being buried in a box with worms crawling through your eyes for all eternity? Sorry to hear that. Sounds like a crappy retirement plan. I'll pray for you from Heaven.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • crownme

      I forgot that if you believe in " GOD " your body will disappear POOF right out of the casket. Get real!!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  11. ManaliWallah

    America has become hostile to Christianity. What America has rejected is becoming a blessing to other so called "third-world" countries. The fastest growing religion in China, India, South America is Christianity. They are growing economically also.
    The only popular thing that the Mayor can do is to exclude Christian leaders. He will get enough support from Americans. To exclude Christians he had to extend the denial to all religious groups. He will be in deep trouble, if he decides to exclude any Gay activist, Islamic leader etc.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Are you saying growing economies need more slaves for the factories, so the power brokers promote Christianity?

      You might have a point.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • NJBob

      @ManaliWallah - Oh boo-hoo, you poor oppressed Christian!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  12. Bill in VA

    While it is a shame that clergy will not be invited, I find it unconscionable to not include NYFD.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • f

      If the 343 and currently sick FDNY are not represented, why are they even having this ceremony?

      September 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  13. Will Duffield

    Another way to crowbar their believes on other people. I F'n hate religion so bad it make me sick.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Will Duffield

      makes* me sick

      September 8, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  14. Maria

    Let's talk about the fact that there is not enough room for all the firefighters, policemen, and families of victims to attend this weekend's event. Yes, they are actually being turned away to make room for the likes of politicians. Those who risked their lives and saw their friends and colleagues die in front of them by running into ground zero to help others are being told they cannot attend, while the politicians who did nothing but stare at their tvs in their comfy offices that day get to go. What is wrong with this picture?

    September 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • buschwc

      Everything, but that doesn't make people rise up against it. We're lazy, so we just pontificate at home on our computers. If I lived in NY (I'm in CA, tho) I'd totally go out there with them and show my support, but most people would rather rant and rave and throw tantrums about not having prayers than about honoring those who stood up to the terror that day.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  15. Just Not Seeing It

    My Invisible Man In The Sky says your Invisible Man In The Sky can't come to the event caused by those of that other Invisible Man In The Sky. That should solve it.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  16. Reality

    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 12:12 pm |
    • Brad

      So your random birth, and the fact that you are an atheist, means that your view of religion is correct, eh?

      September 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • William Demuth


      No, his common sense, education, and rationality do.

      The other stuff is just gravy!

      September 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Reality


      Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

      Then, apply the Five F rule: "First Find the Flaws, then Fix the Foundations". And finally there will be religious peace and religious awareness in the world!!!!!

      September 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  17. buschwc

    It makes a better statement to throw all the religions out the door. We are all Americans and I don't need a priest or rabbi or imam to tell 'pray' on this tragedy, only to go back and start slinging fire and brimstone that the others are all going to hell. Religion is the reason why this happened, let's have some decency and leave it out for once.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • f

      Only ONE religion made this happen. Islam. Christianity and Judaism helped re-build the City of NY and it's people.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  18. I'm Offended

    If the event does not include recognition of and participation by atheists, Muslims, Wiccans, ... then I am offended.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  19. WVLady63

    ANOTHER VICTORY FOR THE HEINOUS ACLU! At least when these people bite the dust, they will NOT get into Heaven!!!! Wonder if they have ordered their asbestos suits yet?????

    September 8, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • William Demuth

      If your family is in heaven I would rather burn.

      Otherwise I would be forced to endure the stench of your ignorance for eternity.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • I'm Offended

      Your comments demonstrate good christian values. (sarcasm)

      How do you know some ACLU members are not christians? I bet they have done more good for people in one year than you will in your entire life.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Kana

      @I'm Offended – The ACLU has an agenda that is why they pick and chose who to get in bed with.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • f

      WVLady63 – I agree. At least we won't have to spend eternity next them. The ACLU are all going to Hell and they deserve it. To answer the next post...ACLU and true religion/Christianity do not mix.

      September 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Mik

      ACLU – American Criminal Lovers Union

      September 8, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • BRC

      WVLady63 or f,
      Okay, I have to follow up on this one. I'll make it a 2 part question-

      1) How is an organization whose sole purpose is to ensure that all people experience equal rights not in line with "true" Christiantiy?

      2) How is an organization whose sole purpose is to ensure that all people experience equal rights not in line with the attributes and messages that most people attribute to Christ?

      I am not always a fan of the ACLU, they cause bureaucratic back ups, they endorse people I don't always care for, and they have been known to start what I would would consider frivolous law suits. But they do it so that at the end of the day ALL rights of ALL people, at least in this nation, will continue to be respected. And while I can question their methods I cannot fault their intent.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  20. The_Mick

    It would have made a great statement to have Christian, Muslim, and Jewish clergy there, with each saying a portion of the same prayer.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I am sure the Mormons, the Wiccans, the Shintoist, the Scientologists and all the rest of the wacko brigade that is American religion might feel left out.

      Hows about ALL the bogus Gods get checked at the door!

      Seeing as how all these omnipotent pinheads failed to intercede

      September 8, 2011 at 12:13 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.