by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
It’s difficult to believe nearly ten years have passed since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the tragic events that followed. It’s been a long time since the President could get applause simply by saying the words “nine eleven.” But as tragic as that time was, I have to confess that I miss the sense of unity—however short-lived—that permeated our country in the days immediately following 9/11. I can remember joining in candlelight vigils with neighbors we hardly knew. We still had our differences but we were all Americans. We had a common purpose, common pain, and a common “enemy”.
Today, though, it seems as though our greatest “enemy” is each other. If you listen to current political rhetoric, it seems that our ideological opponents—on both sides—are out to destroy the country. We no longer have the ability to “disagree without being disagreeable,” as radio personality Bernard Meltzer once said.
There was a brief resurgence of unity and national pride earlier this year when US forces killed Osama bin Laden, “the mastermind of 9/11” and “the most prominent face of terror in America and beyond,” but it was short lived. And then we went back to bickering. Six years ago (September, 2005), I wrote that a senior government official had said that, in the wake of 9/11, there were those who wanted justice and others who wanted revenge. The voices for justice are now sadly muted while the calls for vengeance are as strident as ever. Our last President referred to himself as “a uniter, not a divider” but that promise was never fulfilled.
We’ve decided that every Muslim is a potential terrorist. And we’re not any more secure than we were the day of the attacks. We’ve sent tens of thousands of troops into the Middle East. And we’re not any more secure than we were the day of the attacks. We found someone we could blame and we killed him. And we’re not any more secure than we were the day of the attacks. The reasons are many but the primary reason is that real security and real unity come from God. Nothing has changed and without God nothing will change. We cannot find unity while we spend our energy hating each other. Yet we are encouraged to hate and fear those who are different or who believe differently. And some of the most strident calls for hate come from people who identify themselves as Christians.
Earlier this Summer, Pastor Kim preached a series of sermons on “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). But what we see in our country today are “the works of the flesh” (5:19). These, Paul says, include “. . . enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, . . .” (5:20b NRSV). There isn’t a song titled “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Hate,” and for good reason. Before he was arrested, Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11b NRSV). And later, Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Rom. 14:19 NRSV).
Many people died in the aftermath of 9/11, heroically, selflessly, for what they believed; for duty and principle. I find it difficult to imagine that any of them died in the hope that it would bring about the conditions we see today. Far from being united against a common “enemy,” many of us have decided that the real enemy is each other. The people who struggled and frequently died bravely in the wake of 9/11 did so in a spirit of shared humanity; differences of religion, ethnicity or politics were set aside, however temporarily. We as Americans were temporarily united by something greater than our differences. But the only thing truly great enough to unite us in a lasting way is God. As people of God, we are called to be voices for justice, voices for peace, and voices for change.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. . . . The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Eph. 4:4-7; 11-14 NRSV.)