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. bard999

    keep em out...and if they complain too loudly take away their tax exempt status...

    September 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • J.W

      Churches make most of their money off of donations. I am not aware that any organization that relies on donations is taxed. I may be wrong about that.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Exotic dancers are taxes on their donations, as should the church be!

      September 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • J.W

      Exotic dancers receive tips in addition to the money they get for the service that they provide. And it is unlikely that many of them pay taxes, although according to the tax law they should.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Just a question...are tips paid to exotic dancers considered "donations" or "payment for services rendered."

      I think most people have to pay taxes on tips. I know a buddy of mine in the restaurant industry does...

      September 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • J.W

      Atheist organizations are not taxed either. That is just the way that the tax law works. If you donate money to an organization, you would not want the government taking the money that you donated for the good of that specific organization. The money that a church makes goes to fund church activities and maintain the building, not to line the pockets of the employees. And the employees do pay taxes on what they make.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Real Deal


      Churches and religious buildings are given automatic exemptions from Property Taxes (they are county assessed and collected, not Federal, however). Secular non-profits must submit applications, provide proof and are monitored by The Board of Equalization. Religious inst.itutions face no such procedures, unless extreme violations come to light.

      Here is an interesting article regarding the issue in California: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/business/california-scrutinizes-property-tax-exemption-of-nonprofits.html?pagewanted=all

      September 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • J.W

      To be honest Real Deal, if these organizations are taxed I think that all of them should be taxed equally. Is it just California and Hawaii that were considering doing this? I think those states and locality should tax all donations equally or not at all. I have not heard of anything like this on the federal level.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Real Deal


      To be honest back at you, I am not an expert on this subject. Maybe one will show up here and help us out? Until then, here is a wikipedia definition of property tax:

      "In the United States, property tax on real estate is usually levied by local government, at the municipal or county level. Rates vary across the states, between about 0.2% and 4% of the home value.[7] The assessment is made up of two components—the improvement or building value, and the land or site value. In some states, personal property is also taxed. The property tax is the main tax supporting local education, police/fire protection, local governments, some free medical services, and most of other local infrastructure."

      As far as I know, all of the states (counties, municipalities, etc) have this system.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah Real Deal I believe that all counties across the country assess property taxes. I did not realize there was any difference between religious and secular non profits though. I always argue as far as taxing churches because I have been involved in church administration and see where the money goes. The churches have money on hand that has been donated, but that money essentially still belongs to all the members of the church. It is used in the activities that church members participate in as well as paying church expenses. The members know how much money the church has and has meetings to vote on how it is spent.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  2. J.W

    God loves Italian food. He will eat the flying spaghetti monster alive.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Laughing

      GAME ON, The FSM will wrap his noodly appendages around gods throat and strangle him to death. Or better yet, since the FSM is eternal, like a never ending pasta bar, god will get too full and explode with his noodley goodness.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Christian cannibalisim rituals!

      Just like you eat the flesh of his dead son?

      And drink his blood?

      September 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Laughing

      I didn't realize Jesus was Italian

      September 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • J.W

      Actually the blood of Jesus would go well with spaghetti.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • William Demuth

      He who eats of the FSM's flesh shall be damned to eternal ajida!

      The Pepto shall be just beyond their reach as the flames of blasphemy consume them from within.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  3. Rick

    Enough already! "Schmaltz Sunday" will serve only the right wing ideologues who seek out every opportunity for breat-beating drama as they link their "true religion" with patriotism – a volatile combination that always ends in the death of innocents and the perpetuation of a perverse cycle that glorifies death.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  4. wade

    ok in my oppinion clergy should not be admited, i mean if the men and women who risked their lifes to help the victims were not allowed in then neither should the clergy. i say support the firemen and women and policemen and women not the clergy

    September 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  5. IrishYank

    “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.” – I agree, we should just completely ignore religion and it's efforts as they usually ARE the root of the problem. How they don't see that religion, not Islam, is directly related to this tragedy is beyond me.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  6. Babs

    The admixture of politics and religion is always a bad thing.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  7. CSX

    Progressive Christians? That is a contradiction in terms. An oxy-moran.
    Sounds like the UCC church and other counterfeit churhes.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  8. ART

    Conservitive christians can all go jump off a building for all I care, they are right up there with the people who demolished the buildings.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • CSX

      the hate......ooo.....BTW, we love you and love are enemies.

      So there. Still feel threatened?

      September 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • William Demuth


      I have seen how you Christians love each other, in the eyes of a dead boy in Belfast.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  9. Denise

    Why not have flash mob ~ Hallelujiah Moment'

    September 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • CSX

      because real Christians have a job and can't make it.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Christians are the majority of the unemployed, as well as the bulk of those on food stamps and welfare.

      So if you just turn off Bowling for Jesus, you might just find they have PLENTY of time.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Myself

    “But avoiding religion entirely does not get to the root of the problem.”
    “The answer is better religion,”

    no...the answer is avoiding religion entirely. Better religion is no religion at all.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Fawn

      Myself.... you need to keep those types of opinions to "Yourself"!

      September 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Paul@Kato

    Do you want civic leaders meddling in your religious ceremonies, demanding time to speak, to interpret, to instruct and direct your religious adherents? If not (and I don't want it in my church), then so also should religious leaders stay out of civil ceremonies! The only ones who are complaining about this are the religious leaders who want to show influence over civic matters. Sounds like the Roman Church wanting control over the Roman Empire. People are capable of being both civic-minded and religion-minded if they want to. We don't need a sermon of any sort from Ground Zero. Neither do we need politics preached from our pulpits.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  12. Mark from Middle River

    >>>”Mark, I have no idea what you mean about first responders.”

    Sigh Tally ….. again, try to not focus on what's most important to you and your hate. From CNN.

    “The first responders are not invited to this year's September 11 memorial ceremony at ground zero, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office confirmed Monday.”


    No Debimik, you are not the only person who noticed. With no first Responders and no Clergy..... I guess it will be the politicians that will lead us.

    And Tally, to answer your question from last night. Right after the attacks Imans representing the Muslim faith stood and spoke side by side with Christian, Jewish and I do believe Buddhist leaders and it was beautiful. So I do not think America would have a problem with a Iman coming to such a event.


    September 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  13. John Blackadder

    I know it was traumatic, but perhaps the 10th Anniversary gathering should be the last. We've had enough public closure. Let the victim's families move on!

    September 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Donna

      I agree!

      September 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Otherwise it will be like the Pearl Harbor memorial.

      Like a game to see which old coot lasts the longest!

      September 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Jim Seeley

      I agree.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  14. ======Bo: I use the dash to find last post

    I wonder how atheist think they could solve the worlds problems if they could eliminate religion (I'm not going to say religion hasn't caused problems, it has) but, with over 80% of the people in prison being ahteists, that means a lot of atheists are bad people. Of course they could go back to the archaic justice that they abhore, like, if a person steals something–wack–wack, there goes a couple hands and you won't steal any more, or if someone kills another–bang, bang– you are dead, you won't kill again. And if a guy r*ps a woman wack-wack there goes your ____ you've got the idea. I don't know what they will do with delinquent kids, because it might take more than sitting them in a corner with a dunce cap.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • zooompilot

      *sigh* you are 100% WRONG. The actual figure is that less than 2% of the prison population claim to the atheists. That means 98% of the prison population claim a religion in one way or another. Sorry bub, but as much as you don't like to hear it, its religion that has all the bad people. From Catholic priests to FLDS maniacs, Christians blowing up abortion clinics or Muslims killing innocent people for Allah. Its YOU people that need help.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • zooompilot

      Oh...and here are the stats.

      Catholic 29267 39.164%
      Protestant 26162 35.008%
      Muslim 5435 7.273%
      American Indian 2408 3.222%
      Nation 1734 2.320%
      Rasta 1485 1.987%
      Jewish 1325 1.773%
      Church of Christ 1303 1.744%
      Pentecostal 1093 1.463%
      Moorish 1066 1.426%
      Buddhist 882 1.180%
      Jehovah Witness 665 0.890%
      Adventist 621 0.831%
      Orthodox 375 0.502%
      Mormon 298 0.399%
      Scientology 190 0.254%
      Atheist 156 0.209% ,<-–whoops make that .2% of the prison population!
      Hindu 119 0.159%
      Santeria 117 0.157%
      Sikh 14 0.019%
      Bahai 9 0.012%
      Krishna 7 0.009%

      September 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Your an idiot, whack whack

      September 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Ross

      I think we need a fact check on your claim about the atheist population. Every study I've ever seen has the atheist prison population closer to 2%.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • IrishYank

      Wow. You make absolutely no sense. You get my vote for least comprehensible comment of the day. Congrats!

      September 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  15. svann

    Insistence that government include religion is anti-American. You have the right to attend the church of your choice but you dont have the right to make everyone else listen to it.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  16. SlayFalseGod

    Well at least it will be safe to bring children

    September 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  17. ChicagoRob

    my view is religion is what caused this mess in the first place...people can pray and mourn and remember and don't need to be led with it. i think the mayor actually made a smart deciscion for a change

    September 8, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  18. Pan3

    Religion is what caused 9/11 and most wars, so I agree keep them out!

    September 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  19. Debimik

    Am I the only one who was unaware until last night that there will be NO NYC Police or Fire-Rescue personel involved or present at this memorial? It is my understanding from a NYC fire-recue officer that they were excluded to make room for the politicians. Further the fire-rescue staff had organized a memorial mass at St. Patrick's on Sept. 10th, that they are now also excluded from because of, you guessed, no room, because of the politicians now attending. If this is factual, then this country is in more trouble than we can handle morally. What exactly does this teach our children? And how about the children who are now aged 9 who were born post 9-11 to moms that had fathers die on 9-11. What does this say to those kids about their dead fathers contribution? Are we truly a nation that cares more about how the look of a service is that the humane aspect of it? I hope not, for all our sakes.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Jeff

    The mayor was left with a no win situation. If he had clergy present there would be some religious group complaining about being left out. As has become apparent, if he said no clergy, there would be those complaining about that. The best option is no clergy, and let everyone pray/mediate/contemplate as they see fit whatever their relgious views. The thing that makes this country what it is, is that we are free to believe or not. A religion free ceremony becomes a ceremony about the lives lost, lives hurt, and the strength of this country to live on after 9/11. Forgot religion, remember the people lost and hurt.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:48 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.