9/11 -- in
A Sermon by Kent Winters-Hazelton
August 29, 2010
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
12, 2001, I paid a visit to the Claremont Islamic Center, in the community
in Southern California where I was then serving as a pastor. I went to
express my concern to the leaders of the Center in the light of the great
anxiety raised by the events the day before, and to let them know of the
service of lament being planned by the local ecumenical group the following
night. As I talked with a group of the leaders, one of the assistants came
up to me and said, “Father Kent, the phone is for you.” That little moment –
being summons to the phone in a Mosque – always struck me as a remarkable
invited me to a planning meeting for a service that the Islamic Center was
preparing for the week following the 9/11 tragedy. At that service, held in
the courtyard of the Islamic Center, I was invited to say a few words. I
mentioned the tradition of town hall meetings in New England where church
bells would ring calling people together to talk about critical issues
facing the community. In my words I said that the Claremont Islamic Center
was a ringing a bell in our community, calling us to walk together through
those troubling and fight-filled days, and to ultimately build toward better
understanding between our faith traditions and toward a stronger, more
It seems to
me that someone should ring the church bells again, so that we might have an
honest national conversation about the proposed Islamic Cultural Center in
New York City.
weeks, opponents of the Center have made the most outrageous and
unsubstantiated claims about the Center, its purpose and its founder. More
recent voices, reflecting a balanced view of the facts, have spoken out in
support of the project and the place of Muslims in American culture.
Nonetheless, it has been reported that 61% of Americans oppose the building
of this project a few blocks away from the site of ground zero.
Over the past
three years, we here at this church have spoken often on the religious
diversity of our world and our nation. Our congregation was one of the first
to support “The Faith Club” initiative. Through this interfaith project we
brought to Lawrence three women – Jewish, Muslin and Christian – who shared
with us how they have wrestled with the insights, common ground and diverse
perspectives of their respective faith traditions. Two years ago, I preached
on a world-wide movement among scholars and preachers of the Islamic and
Christian traditions. The movement is called “A Common Word.”
with the recognition of the common core values of our sacred texts and
teachings, such as centrality of serving God and loving our neighbors. The
Common Word movement is building a foundation for moderate Muslim leaders to
speak up and challenge the violence done to their faith tradition by the
Jihadist movements. And in our preaching, Mary and I (and Phyllis during her
tenure among us) have spoken clearly and frequently of our belief and
understanding that God is God of all the peoples; that each person is loved
equally by God and guided in life in the same way as any other person is;
and that there is only one God, whom we (as Christians) have come to
understand and experience in part in the person, work, sacrifice and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, but toward whom others may find different
pathways and resources of truth.
Islamic Center divides Americans. There are families with loved ones who
perished at the Twin Towers who support the project, and other family
members who oppose it. We have Republicans and Democrats who have spoken
against it and those who have spoken for it. Even the President has
presented mixed messages about the proposal. People are drawing conclusions
based on emotions that have been rushing fast, far ahead of the facts.
Emotions on all side run raw.
suggest, however, that our reading this morning from Colossians 4 may offer
some guidance for us as Christians, as we sort out our feelings about this
momentarily explosive issue. In verses 5 and 6 Paul writes:
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most
of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that
you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
mentions “outsiders” he is talking those who are not part of our faith
tradition. He tells us in rather plain language that we should be gracious
as we live our life and our faith among others. He said, use a little salt.
When the Bible talks about salt it is as a preservative, keeping meats
usable, and a seasoning that brings out some of the flavor of the
But it is the
little phrase at the end of verse five that catches my eye in this context.
Paul says, “Make the most of the time.” At first glance, that phrase might
not mean very much. But this is one of those texts where the King James
Version translates this in a wonderfully descriptive way. Here the KJV says,
“Redeeming the time.”
That is what
I think a Christian community is called to do in this delicate age: we are
called to redeem the time as God’s time among God’s people. When I think of
God’s people in this context it includes us, and it includes our neighbors
and our enemies; it includes those who worship God in ways that are
different from our ways, and who encounter the mystery of the sacred and in
ways that help us comprehend the breadth of the divine in our world.
So let us
think for a moment about what it means to “redeem the time,” especially as
it relates to the controversy in New York. Let me offer some perspective as
I have thought about this issue as a Christian pastor, and as one who
believes with the psalmist that God’s saving power is with all the nations.
think the hostile reaction to the Islamic Culture Center is driven by a
false understanding as to who our enemy is. President George W. Bush made
that point abundantly clear in the days following 9/11 when he said we are
not in a war with Islam.
in this war is Al Qaida and similar radical extremists. Al Qaida is an
aberration of Islam as it has been practiced for fourteen centuries. To say
that those who perpetrated the tragedy of Pennsylvania, Arlington, VA and
New York City represent Islam is to say that hate-filled activities of Fred
Phelps accurately express your faith in Jesus Christ. Four out of every five
Muslims live in Africa and Asia, and have no connection with the radical
Islamo-fascism of Al-Qaida. Furthermore, President Bush accurately noted
that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims in
the world utterly reject the movement the violence espoused by Bin-Laden and
hostile reaction to the proposed center falsely characterizes the man who is
behind the project. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been a leading Islamic voice
for religious understanding and interfaith dialogue for more than 25 years.
commentator suggested that Imam Rauf is closer to new age guru Deepak Chopra
than any radical Islamic cleric.
Newsweek has reported that Imam Rauf has
“routinely denounced all terrorism,” and calls for Muslims to live
peacefully with all religions. He advocates equal rights for women and
argues against laws that punish non-Muslims.
is such a moderate that the United States State Department (under Presidents
Bush and Obama) regularly sends him as an emissary to Muslim countries to
preach peace, co-existence and dialogue – including such a trip this past
name for the project was the Cordoba House, named for a time of
enlightenment in 9th Century Spain, where the Islamic leader
encouraged perhaps the greatest period of interfaith cooperation the globe
has ever known. And yet even that clear signal of the founder’s intention
has been skewed by opponents to represent some type of Islamic hegemony over
Zakaria, who writes on foreign policy issues for Newsweek, pointed
out that if there is going to be a reformist movement in Islam it is going
to emerge from programs and people like this. He went on to argue that we
should be encouraging the people behind the movement, and not demonizing
we have seen video clips where the Imam and his project were lauded on the
Bill O’Reilly show, and by Glenn Beck, as the type of “good muslim” that our
hostile reaction betrays a sacred value of the American people. Being an
American means holding tight to our values and to our constitutional
freedoms and to the rule of law. The very idea that we are questioning
whether a nation that prides itself on religious tolerance and freedom of
speech might deny its own citizens those very same rights is absurd and
self-defeating. Speaking on this, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said,
We betray our values and play into our enemy’s hands if we
were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else…. To cave to popular
sentiment would be to hand victory to the terrorists.
is one of the Christian theologians behind the Common Word movement. He is
on the faculty of Yale Divinity School. He’s a Croatian, an army veteran,
and he experienced perhaps the most lethal racial and religious hatred in
his native land, a conflict that gave the world “ethnic cleansing,” maybe
the ugliest phrase in our language. In his book, Exclusion and Embrace,
he talks about how racial, national, and religious divisions and hatreds
erupt so easily into lethal violence. But in the midst of that, there is a
powerful message of hope. Volf writes,
We need the grand vision of life filled with the Spirit of
God. We need reminders that the impossible is possible. But along with grand
visions we need stories of small successful steps of learning to live
together. The grand vision and the small stories will keep us on the
Let us hear
again, the words of our Psalm this morning:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make God’s face to
shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power
among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise
you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples
with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise
|As the anniversary of 9/11 draws near, anti-Islamic
rants are growing louder, and in some cases more threatening. We will
be posting a number of comments, and calls for action, on this page.
If you have thoughts to share --
or would like to point us to other readings,
send a note!
Click here for some of our earlier posts on 9/11
NCC's Kinnamon joins with
interfaith summit to address fear and intolerance toward Muslims
See a stream of the September 7 press conference on C-Span at
September 7, 2010 -- A high ranking group of U.S. interfaith
leaders, including the general secretary of the National Council
of Churches, assembled here today to condemn plans in Florida to
burn the Holy Qu'ran on Saturday, and to decry incidents of
violence committed against innocent Muslims.
The leaders noted
the "anti-Muslim frenzy" that has existed in the U.S. since
plans were announced to build an Islamic Community Center at the
Park 51 site in Manhattan two blocks from the site of the terror
attacks of September 11, 2001.
But the uproar over
the Park 51 community center is only one aspect of the overall
problem of anti-Islamic attitudes and actions across the
country, the leaders said.
In a press
conference at the National Press Club, Dr. Ingrid Mattson,
president of the Islamic Society of America (ISNA), said Muslims
in America report the highest degree of anxiety they have felt
since September 11, 2001.
John Shuck recounts "My 9/11 story ... so
John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee,
commented on September
11, 2006 on the discussion then raging on our website (and many others)
about charges that the attack on the World Trade Center and other targets
was actually a "conspiracy" managed out of the Bush White House.
On the morning of
September 11th, my daughter who was in high school at the time called me at
the church office and told me to turn on the television because the World
Trade Center had been hit by airplanes. In the church kitchen the staff and
I and others who happened to be in the church building that morning watched
the television reports and saw both buildings collapse.
As the day progressed I realized that the church community
would need to have some kind of gathering for reflection and prayer. We
contacted all of our members and invited the community through the media. We
put together a service for the next day, September 12th.
By that time the spin had already begun. I didn't know it was spin at the
time. The spin was that we were attacked by Muslim terrorists. Even then,
one of my largest concerns was that this attack could start a desire for
rage and revenge against Muslim people.
In the service I
included a reading from the Qur'an and in my homily,
This is a day of mourning for the victims of
the unspeakable violence yesterday in New York City and at our nation's
capitol. We stand with those who have lost loved ones with deep sorrow.
Our sorrow will never reach the depths as that which has been
experienced by those who have lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,
wives, husbands, life partners, children, loved ones.
The act of terror and violence against innocent people is inexcusable.
There is no reason under heaven for an act so cowardly and so despicable
as violence against innocent men, women, and children. Violence at this
magnitude is beyond horror. It is not justified now, nor ever. The scars
will remain with us for as long as any of us here will live as well as
with the lives of our children and our children's children.
We must pray for [a] miracle. Else I fear for the survival of the human
species. I do not think that I overstate that concern. Our technology
and our weapons of destruction and our vulnerability to misuse them is
so great that we human beings could make for our own destruction unless
we learn the difficult, the courageous, the humble, the Christ-like way
To love our enemies does not mean that we do not do everything in our
power to end violence and to bring the doers of violence to justice, and
sometimes that requires force. Force blessed and enacted by the
agreement of nations united for peace. To love our enemy means that we
recognize that we become the enemy we despise when we let that hatred
and rage consume us. We are to love our enemy for ourselves as much as
I read passages from the Hebrew Psalter, the Muslim Qu'ran, and the
Christian Gospel to demonstrate that these three great and peaceful
religions are just that--great and peaceful. The people who faithfully
pray and practice their beliefs around the world all want the same thing
we do--to live in peace with neighbor, to seek happiness, to enjoy life,
to live freely. We must not let those few who insist on violence to
destroy that hope of peace and freedom that God has planted within our
In these critical days and weeks to come, the leaders of our nation and
of the world need our prayers to work a miracle. May we pray for that
miracle each day. As followers of Jesus we can do no less.
And now he writes:
We did a lot less.
What I preached against is exactly what has happened. Two wars, the
trashing of civil liberties, media paranoia regarding "terrorism",
demonization of Muslims, and the refusal to look for truth.
For all of his thoughtful reflection on
9/11, and the continuing significance of the growing energy crisis,
Muslim groups denounce ‘burn Quran’ initiative
Ecumenical News International, by Chris Herlinger
NEW YORK, AUGUST 19, 2010
Christian and Muslim groups have condemned a planned
public burning of the Quran by a Florida church on the 9th anniversary of
the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
A statement released by the Protestant Churches of Egypt
through the United Church of Christ last week said it “regrets this
destructive thought and declares total rejection of any attack against
others’ religions and beliefs.”
It said Christian teaching encourages cooperation and
“respect for others regardless [of] their affiliation or religion, and every
person of all mankind is seen as a brother.”
The statement was in reference to a planned action by the
Dove World Outreach Center, a Florida-based institution that calls itself a
“New Testament Church.”
The center plans to publicly burn copies of the Quran on
Sept. 11 in a protest against Islam, which it says “is of the devil.” The
church also refers to the Quran as “a lie.”
It says “Christians are called to live and speak the
truth, and to tear down the strongholds of the kingdom of darkness.” The
protest has spawned an “International Burn a Koran Day” page on the social
networking site Facebook.
The Egyptian church said in response it would work with
other religious bodies to denounce the planned action.
In a statement to mark the Islamic holy month of Ramadan,
the U.S. National Council of Churches and other bodies decried “anti-Muslim
actions and plans” such as those of the Dove center and the “International
Burn a Koran Day” initiative.
“Such open acts of hatred are not a witness to Christian
faith, but a grave trespass against the ninth commandment, a bearing of
false witness against our neighbor,” the statement said. “They contradict
the ministry of Christ and the witness of the church in the world.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a
Washington-based group, has said it is responding to the Florida church’s
planned action by distributing copies of the Quran to journalists, public
officials, law enforcement authorities and others during Ramadan.
“Islamophobia is being promoted by a vocal minority of
individuals and groups that seek to marginalize American Muslims and
demonize Islam,” CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper recently told the
Cairo-based Daily News Egypt. “CAIR believes it is important to challenge
the rising level of anti-Islam sentiment in American society.”
CAIR has said it is increasingly concerned about protests
and public sentiments against the construction of mosques and Islamic
cultural centers in the United States.
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!