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. Randy

    It's not excluding clergy that got me up in arms – it's him excluding the firefighters and police from the ceremony.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  2. drc

    So as usual, the 'minority' in this country get drown out the majority. The majority of people in this country believe in some higher being and/or God. No one is stating who that 'God' has to be. Right up there with the loons that say everything has to be politically correct.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Huh?

      Every religious person tells you what God has to be. Your "do-it-yourself" higher power notion is actually proof that there is no God – if there actually is a God, the one thing it cannot be is whatever you want it to be.

      September 9, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  3. Bus2

    Why do these religious nutters think they're SO special that they should have a presence in an event that in no way involves them? Should I be allowed to come promote my special interest group too?


    September 8, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • drc

      Funny it said Christian leaders have joined already existing RELIGIOUS leaders in the chorus against this decision. So it includes MORE than just Christians, but clearly you are so filled with hate against Christians that was your take on the story. I believe there is therapy for your hatred.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Ken

    God is not the author of evil.
    I am the author of evil in my heart.
    My unwillingness to follow his way of life is the evil in my heart.

    Only the foolish will say that there is no God.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Where did you read the part about the fool, Ken? Was it in the bible? You know the book that tells you to believe in god? Do you ever suspect that there might be an ulterior motive for the bible to say that?

      September 9, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • fred

      You know that it is man that is filled with motives of all sorts. God as revealed to us in the Bible seems to have spent the majority of His time trying to redeem us and get us back into that perfect place prepared for the ones he loves (he loves us all and we can choose to love Him or ignore .

      September 9, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • tallulah13

      fred, you do realize that I don't believe in any god and nothing you say will make me believe in any god? My atheism is a result of a lot of consideration and a lot of realization about myself. I feel as though I'm being honest with myself, maybe for the first time in my life.

      I am happy for you if you find joy in your faith, but honestly? When you say these things to me, you're just barking at the moon.

      September 9, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  5. dot

    this is why the terrorists have won, they have divided us to the point, no-one can get along-yeeha

    September 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Sounds like they took a page out of the Karl Rove playbook.

      September 9, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  6. Copper's Donut Shoppe

    Let all the religious folks stay home and pray that the fires in Texass go out. Parry can lead them.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  7. Sagebrush Shorty

    Bloomberg sees himself as a God, so religion will be represented.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  8. icy

    God is omnipresent -> foolish people everyone will bow down and every tongue will confess that Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Justice will be served and then it will be to late. those who read this and fail to take heed will remember at the appointed hour.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • JimAR

      I pray to a loving God; apparently, you pray to his evil twin. Good luck with that.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Please this is not the Bronze Age

      Jesus is a washed up Pop Star, whose fifteeen minutes of fame is fading fast.

      He shall go the way of all the other bogus gods who came before.

      Just don't get caught being the last ididot to worship him, or you will look as crazy as a Scientologist.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • BRC

      As a sort of hypothetical; what if I say no. I find out that I am wrong, Jesus/God appear in the world amidst all the chaos the Bible calls for. I can assure you, if their plan is really the wholesale destruction adn punishment of a huge portion of the population for not believing correctly, I will neither bow, nor call anyone king; I would flatly refuse. What happens then? According to free will, "God" can't make me change my mind.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Copper's Donut Shoppe

      icy is a w@ck job. and just what the hel l are progressive christians? people who believe in sponge bob?

      September 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Passo

      WOW... I am always impressed with people who use Lord and He and cr@p wording to give your fairy tales some weight!!

      September 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Gosh, if only there was some proof of the existence of any god. Maybe then you wouldn't sound like just another fanatic.

      September 9, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  9. C Scott


    September 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  10. Ken

    It's not the religion that causes these wars it's the evil in YOUR HEARTS.

    Deal with the evil in your hearts and you will solve most of the world's problems.

    However, without God and follwing his laws, this is impossible.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • William Demuth

      God is the evil in your heart.

      Grow up, and put childish things behind you.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You are right, Ken. None of this is god's fault, because there is no god.

      September 9, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  11. Giselle

    Why does everything have to be about religion? Wasn't religion the root cause of 9/11?

    September 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • ThomasPaine

      No the root cause of 9/11 and almost all wars is Greed and the perception of Power that it brings. These are the causes of most major agendas.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      No. 9/11 was because the United States involves itself in Middle Eastern politics. Religion was a cover to attempt to legitimize the actions of Al-Qaida. This was never about Islam versus the United States.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • jon

      Wrong again. The root cause that Al Qaeda launched the attacks to kill as many American citizens as possible is because of the strong ties between the US and Israel. The US, after all, has some nerve to back the only true democracy throughout the Middle East. We should just stick to backing those honorable nations in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Iraq (who we're still trying to 'liberate'), and Afghanistan.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Israel is a democracy? HAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA

      Dude, even the simplest among us know it is a theocracy.

      If it was a democracy they would let the Palestinians go home and vote.

      Then they would vote to kill all the Jews.

      So the Jews ethnicaly cleanse the land they stole, and try to call it democracy?

      How laughable.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      Of course not, just ask the moderate Muslims.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Copper's Donut Shoppe

      Thomas Paine is a psych0

      September 8, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  12. Chad

    Love most of the comments here. Religion caused 9/11, there's no need to have "clergy" present at a memorial ceremony. As one astute comment put it, they can attend as private citizens if they desire. A person quoted in the article insists, "Well, we just need better religion!" I disagree. We just need LESS religion. Preferably NONE. All human-created gods are equally imaginary.

    Good call, Mayor Bloomberg.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Roger/Kansas

      Thank you .......

      September 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  13. dcl

    The decision to not allow religion to interfere with the memorial is an understandable and courageous decision. Right now the U.S. is full of false religious figures who use faith as a wedge between people instead of a bridge. Most of the "evangelicals" are simply corrupt individuals that want to use religion to gain political power and it's sick. However, with the power the evangelicals have of politics this might of been a decision that allows them to deny Muslims to participate. Muslims were hurt by 9/11 like everyone else, but the lunatic fringe would cry bloody murder if they were included in any 9/11 event.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  14. CWM

    Good. Religion was the cause of 9/11, I see no reason why members of the clergy should be present. They should be present as individuals remembering the loss of so many innocents, not using a national day of tragedy to recruit and indoctrinate more sheep to their cult.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Lin

      No, ABUSE of religion was behind it. You ignore the majority of people for whom religion brings comfort and peace and a desire to help others, because face it, those people don't make the news. Instead, you focus on the minority who twist and pervert the teachings of those same belief systems into tools they can use to hurt others and gain power and prestige for themselves. You then label, and stereotype the good people in with the creeps. And since abuse of religion was behind 9/11, the voices of honorable religious leaders should be heard, speaking out against the abusers.

      September 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      If you want the comfort of religion, you are welcome to go to your church. But there is no reason to bring your church to a place where people were murdered because of religion.

      September 9, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  15. klarg

    God will be there. That is much, much better than having so-called religious leaders in attendance.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Which ones?

      Allah might want to sit this one out, but Odin is always welcome.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You know what, if there is indeed a god, he/she would be more welcome than people who pretend to speak for a god.

      September 9, 2011 at 1:50 am |
  16. Marc

    Religion is a farce. A lie that has been perpetrated for over 2000 yrs. Clergy and prayer do not belong in a place where your so called "God" apparently abandoned the people who tragically lost their lives in this event.

    How many wars have to be fought, and how many people have to die "in God's name?" Forget about religion and just be good people with a kind heart and a kind soul. Respect others. Enjoy your life.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"Religion is a farce..... Respect others. Enjoy your life."

      Isn't respecting others include even those of Faith?

      September 8, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • BRC

      Respect the believer, not the belief. (seeing how it sounds on the other side)

      September 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Mark from Middle River

      Are you of the opinion that no belief warrants rejection?

      Obviously one must use acceptance and rejection as means of steering behavior.

      Many athiests would be far more tolerant of thiests if they simply kept it to themselves.

      I have NEVER seen an Athiest try to pull my son aside and preach nonesense to him, but I find Christians doing it all the time!

      They even knock on my door, and speak directly to a child

      I then threaten to berat them to death if they come back.

      They NEVER do, but another wacko seems to be right behind them.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Nathan_Brazil

      It is a common fallacy that most wars are fought "in God's name". Aside from the Crusades, how much of this is really true? WW2, WW1, US Civil War, Mexican American War, Vietnam, Gaul Wars, Hun invasions, Nepolianic Wars, on and on and on. NONE of these is religion based. War is almost ALWAYS over resources, power, and expansion. Even when religion is invoked it is often a false front for something more basic. Look at history.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Because preaching violence against someone who says or believes something you don't like is a wonderful message to teach your child.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • BRC

      Your information isn't wrong, but it doesn't fully support your position. Yes, wars are not always over religiong, there are many many reasons for war. BUT, many of those ancient wars, even the ones that were not between to religious opponents, were facilitated by religious leaders (vatican in medieval times was shoulder deep in many conflicts thorughout Europe). SO, some of us would liek to see the massive organized bodies of religion removed from existence, so that those kinds of influences couldn't be exerted. I don't have a rpoblem with people believing in gods, and people will ALWAYS fight, but wouldn't things be better if there were fewer leaders who had sway over thousands or even millions of people because they had they keys to a happy afterlife? Faith can stay, religion should go.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Minister of Mow

      I'd have to say that the godless revisionists of history have done a pretty good job of bamboozlement considering how many people on this board believe that religious wars have killed more people than socialist and communist regimes have killed in order to perpetuate a failed ideology. Isn't Jim Wallis a socialist? Yep, someone needs a better religion alright!

      September 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Lets see the source of your information, Mow. Please keep in mind that when you say all religion, you are speaking of conflicts that took place long before history was written down. Communism and socialism haven't been around very long, compared to that.

      We'll be watching for your own historic revisions.

      September 9, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  17. Kilometer77

    One of the ministers says: “But avoiding religion entirely does not get to the root of the problem.”

    Actually, it does just that, since religion is the root of most of our social problems. Nothing has stood in the way of scientific, social or political progress more than religion. As Margaret Thatcher once said about the Soviet Union, I hope to see it "on the ashheap of history".

    September 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • thinking

      How funny, what are the odds, the Bible does predict that will happen.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Kilometer77

      @thinking: it predicts alot of things. So what?

      September 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Bill

      Religion is at the root of most of our social problems? I think not. While their are always extremist nutters in any religion at least any given religion provides a framework for living one's life and how to treat other people. Having a lack of those very tenants is what has led to the majority of our problems.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • thinking

      @Kilometer, yes it does, but what is different with this is that men will think it is their thought to destroy religion when it will actually be an arrangement and precursor to something on a grander scale.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Brent Slensker

      @ Bill
      We ALL ARE BORN with the tools to be good, moral people without the need to invoke religion. All people want to be treated as well as they treat others. It is a simple fact that that is all that's needed. To say "God" gave us laws is SILLY!... BUT if you need God to keep you from killing people willy-nilly, then please worship away!!

      September 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"Nothing has stood in the way of scientific, social or political progress more than religion."

      Yeah we see how much the Nazis were exterminating on the Jews for science.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • thinking

      Besides @Kilo you should be happy the Bible agrees with you.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  18. thinking

    I'm a Christian and I don't want the religious leaders there READING their prayers like they always do. Or repeating something in a monotone voice that has been repeated 1,000,000,000 times plus..........that has no meaning.
    They have to be the center of attention in their fine garb and jewelry. If you want to know what false religion is.....that is it!
    Religious leaders today are more interested in themselves and not in lovingly caring for their flock.
    As the Bible says there is only ONE true religion and it is evident by unity and love.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  19. KeithTexas

    We don't need the Jesus guys there. What possible good could it do to have preachers there?

    God didn’t cause it and he couldn’t stop it, so leave him at home when we create a solemn ceremony to commemorate it.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  20. Dangman

    The flying spaghetti monster will be there in spirit, infidels.

    September 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • J.W

      No while we are eating him we will devour his spirit too.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I had the blood and flesh of Christ when I was a kid. I think that the spaghetti will probably taste better. Maybe with an nice red wine (The blood of the Spaghetti Monster).

      September 9, 2011 at 2:20 am |
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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.