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Guide For Reflection: Beyond 11 September: Implications for US Churches and the World

05 August 2002

Draft Guide for Reflection from the Consultation with US church leaders, Washington, D.C., 5-6 August 2002.

Beyond 11 September: Implications for US Churches and the World
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6 August 2002

The Prophetic Voice of the Churches

For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. Jeremiah: 6: 13-15.

Across the ages, the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures warned their people to turn from their wicked ways, to speak out against injustice and to put their faith in God. Sometimes, prophets, such as Ezekiel, resist delivering God's message to their errant people. But God tells Ezekiel that he will be held responsible if the message is not delivered and if people perish because they did not hear the prophecy (Ezekiel 3:17-24). Speaking out against the prevailing powers is often uncomfortable. But the experience of the prophets compels us to speak even when it is uncomfortable to do so.


A group of Christians from various churches gathered in Washington, D.C. from 5-6 August 2002 at the invitation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in consultation with the National Council of Churches of Christ USA (NCCCUSA) and Church World Service (CWS) to discern together the implications of the 11 September attacks for the US churches and the world. Participants at the two-day meeting included representatives of churches in the United States and from churches located in other parts of the world, as well as staff from the WCC, NCCCUSA and CWS. It was an intense meeting as participants struggled to understand what is happening in our world and to discern God's will for themselves and for their churches. With the approach of the anniversary of the 11 September attacks, participants expressed their continuing grief and solidarity with those who lost family members and friends in the attacks. At the same time, participants felt called to extend their solidarity to the many who are suffering from the consequences of US policies in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks.*

There have been many efforts by ecumenical organizations to express solidarity and to discern the meaning of these events and this meeting sought to build on these previous efforts.

There was a sense among those gathered at the meeting that immediately following the attack, a window of time opened during which people from every corner of the world stood with the people of the United States, sharing their horror, outrage and grief. And there was a moment in time when the people of the United States stood with the rest of the world with a new understanding of the horrors of vulnerability many others had been experiencing long before September 11. The sense of global community deepened. The window seemed to provide an opportunity for people to listen to one another and for Americans to recognize US interdependence with the rest of the world. The sense of global community deepened with the possibility that a US response to these horrific attacks could lead to a more just world where all would be more secure. Now this window seems to have closed.

US policy internationally - particularly in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Iraq - and also domestically has eroded the goodwill born of the tragedy of September 11 and has alienated many who were predisposed to stand in solidarity with the United States. In considering military response, many in the United States feel so violated by the events of 11 September that no response by the United States would have seemed too severe. Others are horrified by the intensity of the response and a perception that undisclosed motives underlie both the choice of aggressive action abroad and the undermining of constitutional principles at home. The United States government is seen as embracing a policy of "America first and foremost" and pursuing unilateral policies based on its own self-interest rather than working to support multilateral efforts to promote the common good.

US churches are still responding to grief, to broken communities and to the shock of unfamiliar vulnerability, but some are also beginning to raise larger questions about the meaning of these events and about US policies in the world. They are grappling with these many issues without clear consensus within their own countries or among their leadership. There is also a sense that the influence of US church leaders has not been felt or, in some cases, sufficiently exercised.

At the meeting, the international participants expressed their solidarity and support for the pastoral responsibility of the US churches. However, they also expressed their concern that US policies intended to respond to terrorism may undermine fundamental responsibilities in the global system, such as commitment to multilateral actions, respect for human rights, acceptance of cultural diversity, national sovereignty and social justice.

Those gathered at this meeting have chosen to offer the following questions for further reflection by the churches of the United States and by churches throughout the world through the ecumenical fellowship of churches. They do so in the conviction that all people of faith are called to live their lives in a manner consistent with that faith.

Reflections on the situation of the churches of the United States

Many people in the United States continue to grieve, both for those lost directly in the attacks and for the loss of their sense of security.

  • How do churches help people to heal from grief, hurt and trauma so that they can move towards reconciliation and forgiveness?
  • Can individual experience of fear and vulnerability move us to greater compassion towards all those whose lives have long been characterized by fear and vulnerability?
  • How can the churches help define the difference between justice and vengeance?
  • What is the responsibility of Christians in the United States to learn about US policies abroad and their consequences?
  • In thinking about forgiveness, whom should we forgive and from whom should we seek forgiveness?

The people killed on September 11, 2001 included citizens of nations from every corner of the globe and adherents of many different faiths. The US population includes people from nearly every religion, and race. As the people of the world gathered in prayer, faith communities were challenged to recognize in one another a common humanity and kindred spiritual quest. The search for restoration of a sense of security challenges assumptions about "we" and "they." God's love extends to the whole world.

  • How do US churches witness to the Christian understanding that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God?
  • How do Christian churches maintain the full integrity of faith in Jesus Christ while embracing people of other faith traditions?
  • What can the churches do to promote inter-religious dialogue as a vehicle to protect and promote human rights of all people?
  • How can churches work together to overcome the fear of the "other"?
  • How should the churches of the United States engage in dialogue on these issues with other Christian churches and ecumenical partners?

What can churches contribute to the public debate about the use of political discourse to classify some nations or peoples as "evil" and to classify ourselves as "good"?

  • What does the response of the United States to September 11 show us about racism, both domestically and in US foreign policy?

Soon after September 11, the genuine sense of national unity experienced by many Americans was directed into the expectation that patriotic citizens would acquiesce to all decisions by the country's political leaders. Criticism of the government, its actions, direction or motivation, whether by elected officials, public figures, church leaders or anyone else, was portrayed as disloyal and unpatriotic.

"Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise." Psalm 51:15.

  • How can churches find their prophetic voice in critiquing policies of the US government during times of uncertainty and fear?
  • Is there danger that "worship of nation" has replaced worship of God?
  • Has use of the language of religion and moral authority been manipulated by governmental officials? Does this affect the authentic voice and moral authority of the churches?
  • How can Christians honestly confront the causes of terrorism without justifying its use?
  • What should be the role of the church when statutory violence is used by government to counter "terrorism" that may have political, social, religious or economic roots?

The United States embarked on a war against Afghanistan described as a justified response to the September 11 attacks and is threatening unilateral war against Iraq without consultation with other countries through the UN Security Council. The United States spends more on its military than do all of the other nations of the world combined. Many Americans are questioning the influence of economic and corporate interests in their political system and their military policies. The international community fears the unilateral exercise of military power by the world's most powerful country.

  • Do Christians need to re-examine the long-standing debates on "pacifism" and "just war" in light of the continuing development of new weapons of mass destruction and the preponderance of bombing campaigns from the air in recent US military attacks?
  • What does "just war" mean in the context of the present situation? Do US military actions fulfill the criteria of just war theory? For example, was the military campaign in Afghanistan a proportionate and just response to the attacks of September 11?
  • What is the role of the churches in responding to current discussions about increasing US security? What are the tradeoffs for Americans of trying to enhance security?
  • What are the consequences for other countries of US efforts to achieve greater security? What has it meant in places like the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Middle East?
  • What is the role of US churches in speaking to military engagement and intervention by the US government?
  • To what extent is US foreign policy driven by the desire to preserve the wealth of its citizens? What is the relationship between policies to assure the comfort and well being of US citizens and poverty elsewhere?
  • Are Christians called to be peacemakers? What does Christian peace-making mean in today's world? How can churches do more to lift up peacemaking as an alternative to military action?

The United States sees itself as having been uniquely injured by "terrorism" on September 11 and thus as uniquely entitled to retaliate globally and preemptively against terrorism. Many countries have lived for decades with uncertainty in an atmosphere constantly at risk from terror. In the United States, September 11, 2001 is seen as a turning point in international affairs; but in other countries, there are other turning points, e.g. HIV/AIDS, poverty. The terms "terrorism" and "war on terrorism" have often been used in other countries and contexts to justify heightened military activities, violations of human rights and repression of political dissent.

  • How can churches contribute to the effort to counter terrorism without condoning the brutalization of civil societies?
  • What are the similarities between the actions of 11 September 1973 - when the CIA supported a military coup in Chile - and the attacks of 11 September 2001? Are there other dates which mark turning points in our understandings of international events and the exercise of power?
  • How can churches provide a historical memory of events which have marked turning points in regions without the massive media coverage which marked the events of 11 September 2001?
  • How do churches in areas of the world that have endured violence and terrorism for decades or generations support the churches of the United States in their pastoral work with Americans?
  • How can churches help to ensure that all victims of violence are given a voice?
  • How should the churches support and protect non-violent movements for justice and freedom?

The United States is the richest nation in the world, although there are significant inequalities in the distribution of that wealth. The ethical and moral justification for policies of the United States that place the United States and its citizens first as an individual nation rather than as part of the global community have been called into question by the international community.

"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Matthew 25:40.

  • What is the relationship of the US churches to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? Is it wealth or the indifference to the suffering of poverty that condemns the rich man in the parable?
  • What does the separation of church and state mean in the current crisis?
  • What is the responsibility of the church in the development and preservation of international law and cooperation?
  • How do we find the words and actions that can change the agendas of politicians?
  • Is the United States' self-interest equivalent to the public good?


This is an extraordinary time in the history of the United States. It is a time that calls the religious community to articulate a faithful response and to speak truth to power. Christian churches have a particular message rooted in their understandings of the Gospel and must not be silent. The power of the churches is not solely in its human institutions but in the presence, inspiration and grace of God. It is the power of the Holy Spirit which brings peace and speaks the truth.

This meeting encourages the churches in the United States to give attention to these and related questions and concerns as they assess the ongoing response of their government, not only to the events of September 11, 2001 but also to the exercise of US power in the world. The way in which this power is exercised has major consequences for all people living on earth.

Among many such challenges, the discussions identified a number of areas where further discussion and reflection are needed, including:

1. The impact of the "war on terrorism" for human rights and security in the US and abroad.

  • The erosion of constitutional principles and civil liberties at home, including the treatment of detainees.
  • The impact of US policies on human rights in other countries.
  • US policies towards states it has identified as supporters of terrorism, with particular emphasis on Iraq.
  • The contrast between national security and global security.

2. US policies toward specific countries directly impacted by the US response to the attacks of 11 September.

  • Israel and Palestine.
  • Pakistan and India.
  • Afghanistan and its efforts to recover from war.

3. National defense and arms control.

  • The impact of the US assertion of a right to make preemptive strikes, including with nuclear weapons.
  • The consequences of US resumption of nuclear testing.
  • The effects of US policies toward the sales of small arms, including to non-state actors.
  • The impact of diversion of scarce resources to military forces.
  • The need to develop alternatives to war.

4. The United States as a member of the Global Community.

  • The impact of US unilateral actions in areas such as the environment, UN conferences, UN peacekeeping operations, and disarmament for global peace and security.
  • The effects of US opposition to the International Criminal Court and weakening of other international treaties.
  • The extent to which US actions are undermining international law and global governance.
  • The perception that the US has abrogated its moral authority to mercantile interests.

Those gathered at this meeting urge the churches of the United States and the leadership of the churches to engage in dialogue on these issues and to take the opportunity to consult with and listen to their ecumenical partners from the international community.

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Isaiah 58: 6-12.

* A number of initiatives were organized by the WCC, including letters to the US churches and the UN Secretary-General; inter-faith meetings; the November 2001 visit to the United States of an international delegation of religious leaders as "Living Letters" to the churches and people of the United States; the November 2001 meeting whose report is entitled "Beyond 11 September: Assessing Global Implications," and an alternative news service known as "Behind the News: Visions for Peace, Voices of Faith." The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA has issued a number of statements and collected resources, including a liturgy to mark the anniversary of the 11 September attacks. Churches in other parts of the world have also organized initiatives to express solidarity with US churches and to try to understand the consequences of the changing world. See for example: "Bridging the Gaps: Report on an ecumenical visit to the U.S.A. March 2002 - six months after 9/11 by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland,"