On Sunday, September 11, 2011, Americans across the country and around the world joined together to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. On virtually every television station, images of the horror and heroism of that day were interwoven with tributes to the fallen and inspiring accounts of survival and sacrifice. As in the previous nine years, a special ceremony at Ground Zero featured the live recitation of the names of all who perished in the attacks, along with special appearances and statements by honored guests and elected officials.
This year, guest speakers at Ground Zero included President Obama, former President Bush, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Musical performances by Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor and Paul Simon provided a bittersweet score for the occasion. There was one demographic, however, that was conspicuously absent from the ceremony. Citing a lack of space and the "separation of Church and State," Mayor Bloomberg denied religious clergy a place in the memorial service.
On a day in which mournful strains of "Amazing Grace" seemed perpetually to float on the air in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, P.A., when the President himself recited from Psalm 23 as part of his remarks, how could Bloomberg be so ignorant to the critical role of faith in the memorial of the 9-11 attacks? Does the mayor suppose that, in the aftermath of the most horrific terror attack every perpetrated on American soil, the survivors and their families turned first to their elected representatives for solace? Did they drop to their knees in prayer to Paul Simon?
No, they didn't. On September 11, 2011 Americans by the millions turned to God for comfort and strength in the face of unspeakable evil. Indeed, many churches served as critical first responders at Ground Zero, providing shelter, supplies, material and spiritual sustenance to weary rescue workers and shell-shocked bystanders. To exclude clergy in the name of political correctness is an offense to the memory of those who died and evidence of how out-of-touch our elected representatives can be when it comes to questions of faith.
Mayor Bloomberg may take a cavalier attitude about his decision to exclude clergy from the 10th anniversary events at Ground Zero, but for many the silence created by the absence of public prayer for the fallen and their families was deafening. Ironically, part of the explanation for excluding religious figures from the ceremonies was that the events have always been conducted primarily "for the families." Of course, is is the families of the fallen that would have benefited most from the prayers and homilies of preachers, rabbis, and imams had they been permitted to attend the memorial services. It is the families of the fallen and their friends and neighbors across the country who are outraged by the Mayor's actions, who petitioned and pleaded that the Mayor reverse his decision when it was first discovered that there was "no room" for clergy at Ground Zero.
As many others have already pointed out, it is particularly vexing that the Mayor would hang his hat on the flimsy "separation of Church and State" canard when he has been such an outspoken advocate for the controversial Park 51 project. Apparently, advocating for the establishment of a mosque only blocks away from the site where thousands died at the hands of Muslim extremists doesn't ruffle his constitutional feathers in the slightest.
It is sometimes said that the definition of a Liberal is someone who has become so open-minded that their brain has fallen out. Despite his billions and his prestige, I can't help but wonder if Mayor Bloomberg has fallen victim to this phenomenon. Thankfully, despite the "official" exclusion of clergy from the memorial events of 9-11, God doesn't need a political invitation in order to comfort his people, for "wherever two or three are gathered," He is there with them (Matthew 18: 20, NIV).
Given the tens of thousands of memorials, prayer services, and vigils that occurred all over the world on September 11th, I have no doubt that God is with those who grieve, and all who remember.