Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why I didn't go to Church today

My church was having a 9/11 tribute & remembrance this morning. Being a choir member, I got a copy of the service bulletin last Thursday and read through it. I was by turns angry and appalled when I read the "Litany of Remembrance, Penitence, and Hope", written by The Reverend Eileen W. Lindner and Reverend Marcel A. Welty, National Council of Churches, in 2002.

This post is adapted from a letter I just sent my pastor explaining my absence.

Dear Pastor,

You might have noticed that I was absent from church on Sunday and the 9/11 remembrance. It was a deliberate choice on my part, and you deserve to know why.

I picked up a bulletin on Thursday night before choir practice, and read through the NCC litany. I was absent from church because I could not, in good conscience, participate in that litany. Let me share some of my observations:
We light a candle in penitence, recognizing that we have not done enough to address the sources of anger, hate, dehumanization, rage, and indignation that lead to acts of violence.
This is a noble sentiment if we're talking about the slums of Camden. It has nothing to do with the motivation of jihadists who want to kill us to cleanse the planet for Allah (although it could be argued that the US government has turned a blind eye to Saudi support for the Wahhabbis and their murderous teachings, which are a root cause of today's terrorism). It has nothing to do with official policies in Zimbabwe or Sudan that sanction state-sponsored violence against their own citizens. Go read Victor Davis Hanson, "Keep Quiet And Listen!"
In our sadness, horror and shock we acknowledge that our own fears turned murderous and we have sought revenge, sometimes against even the innocent.
This one I'll grant you since I do remember some incidents against Sikhs, for example. I suspect, however, that the authors of this litany are also casting stones at the military response set in motion to root out the terrorists, their training camps, and the organizations and regimes that supported them. What is easy to forget is that Osama bin Laden and his ideological allies have been active terrorists for decades, even before the first Gulf War brought US troops to Saudi soil. We have finally acknowledged that jihadists are waging war against our civilization (again!), and it's time to fight back (again!). The Army has a comprehensive timeline at http://www.army.mil/terrorism/.
We confess and regret our own anger and recognize its dangers to our spirits, our health, our community, and others.
Anger is a problem only when it festers and has no constructive outlet. I'm angry at the social pathology that was on display in New Orleans after the hurricane, but there's not much I can do about it. I can, however, channel that anger and frustration into positive action locally by participating in our Habitat for Humanity work team, which will help alleviate similar problems that exist in Camden. Rather than induce guilt that we have human emotions, I would much rather you preach anger as a prelude to action. Think about Jesus's anger while overturning the moneychangers' tables in the Temple.
In the midst of the aftermath of the events of September 11th, 2001 we have been tempted to seek only our own good, hear only our own truth, acknowledge only our own suffering.
Even in 2002, this was no longer true. Since then coalition forces have liberated more than 25 million people from the yoke of tyranny in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most recently there were huge outpourings of government and private aid after the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Personally, I think the self-centered keening of Cindy Sheehan and her ilk represents a tiny minority of Americans.
We know that peace will come to us and to our children only when the concerns of justice anywhere become the subject of political and social will everywhere, and that no justice leads to no peace.
Western "justice" isn't what the jihadists are aiming for. "Justice" is a loaded term, and the rights we expect as citizens of a modern democracy are quite at odds with the "justice" under Sharia that the Taliban practiced. Are the authors willing to live as Christians under Sharia?
In striving for national security and domestic peace we run the risk of confusing might for right and participating in the very behaviors we condemn.
Which behaviors are those, exactly? Beheading our enemies and broadcasting the video on the Internet? I'm afraid we're more at risk of confusing political correctness with right action. Michelle Malkin pointed out recently how absurd it is for the government to avoid "profiling" in law enforcement while insisting on it for government contracting.
Guard and guide our country that in our search for security we may not trample the rights of the innocent nor disregard the rule of law. Let us not confuse leadership within the global community as the voice for the whole community.
Not a chance of the latter while the Main-stream media is so antagonistic to the Bush Administration.
Repentance means to turn away from wrong deeds. Repentance means choosing instead deeds which require moral restraint, and are more beneficial to all persons who suffer.
Huh? This definition of repentance doesn't match John Wesley's. Even if you go with Webster's first definition of repent, "to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life," the authors are still stretching the meaning to relate it to benefiting "all persons who suffer".
We light a candle to light the way to a better world for our children and our children's children, and all the children of God.
Gee, that accomplishes so much.
We recall with joy the unity we felt in the outpouring of help, kindness, thoughtful words and deeds from at home and around the world. We must hold firmly to our unity, borne forward now not of tragedy but of loving kindness. We place fresh confidence in international organizations and conversations that bring the diverse gifts of the world to the problems of poverty, injustice, terror and strife.
Do they remember the celebrations in the streets of Palestine over the fall of the Twin Towers? Unity is over-rated. To wait for total unity is to wait forever. International organizations are only as effective as the people who lead them, and even then, good intentions don't necessarily equate to good results. Since 2002, we've learned a lot about the scandalous Oil-for-Food program at the United Nations, and the evidence that nations on the Security Council itself were profiting from the "sanctions". See Claudia Rosett's latest article.
We long for wise policies that forego short term gain for long term stability, justice and peace.
Sounds like realpolitik. However, realpolitik also means tolerating bad situations in the name of "stability" and "peace", as was done during the Cold War. Stability and lack of armed conflict do not guarantee "justice" nor prosperity nor freedom.
In a time marked by tragedy and war we can hope for an era yet to come in which the slaughter of innocents, greed, the ambitions of power, and cultural and religious bigotries are but memories of a dim and unenlightened past.
The Second Coming of Christ? Somehow, I don't think that's what they mean.
God of the ages, before your eyes all empires rise and fall yet you are changeless. Be near us in this age of terror and these moments of remembrance. Uphold those who work and watch and wait and weep and love. By your Holy Spirit give rise in us to broad sympathy for all the peoples of Your earth. Strengthen us to comfort those who mourn and work in large ways and small for those things that make for peace. Bless the people and leaders of this nation and all nations so that warfare, like slavery before it, may become only a historic memory.
Sympathy is a nice sentiment, but changes little. War is ugly, messy, and destructive, which is why we would rather avoid it. (Consider the Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon"). But there are times when the "peace" of inaction is a worse choice. We ignored the terrorists for decades, which only emboldened them because they perceived us as weak and weak-willed.

I suggest an alternate "Litany for Liberal Christians", something along these lines:
We have focused on our own short-comings as individuals and as a nation with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but failed to move forward and seek constructive ways to build a better world.

We have been fearful of change, clinging to failed policies and ideologies, unwilling to face realities that don't fit neatly into how we understand the world works.

We have learned the wrong lessons from history, focused on our mistakes and ignored our victories.

We have cheered when cartoon heroes fight evil doers, but declined to call evil by name in the real world. We have apologized to our enemies for our very existence while rebuking our leaders for fighting that evil.

We have been hypocrites, piously intoning our commitment to freedom and self-determination for all people, freedom of religion, economic justice, and women's rights, while castigating those who are working to achieve those lofty ideals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere.

We have been timid in our Christianity, instead making sacrifices at the altars of "multi-culturalism" and "political correctness" that have sapped our strength and undermined the Great Commission to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Great God, forgive us.
Update: Welcome readers from The Anchoress and Desperate Preacher. Thanks for stopping by. You might also be interested in my Labor Day reflections.

Update II: Welcome Brutally Honest readers! And check out the lovely poem Presbypoet left in the comments.

Update III (9/14/05): Welcome Photon Courier readers!

Update IV: See my follow-on post "Overcoming Evil with Good"

Update V (9/20/05): See a related post "Stuck on Stupid"