I flew to North Carolina a few days ago to participate in a pastor peer group meeting.
I arrived early at the airport, checked in and then began the security screening process.
The Transportation Security Administration officer instructed us to place all personal items on the conveyor belt, to place laptops in a bin by themselves, to make sure all liquids and gels were in a plastic bag.
I needed to take off my jacket, shoes and belt and to empty the contents of my pockets.
It’s all part of the new routine whenever we embark on air travel.
As my belongings passed through the X-ray scanner via the conveyer, I stepped into the full-body scanner, turned to my right and planted my feet on the footprint templates.
I lifted my hands high in the air like a good Pentecostal and waited as a security agent scanned my anatomical profile to make sure I was not carrying any unpermitted weapons or devices.
Usually I pass through security with no delays, but, unfortunately, on this occasion, the scan detected a suspicious shadow around my back pockets, which required the gloved agent to perform a pat-down below my waist.
As an extra measure, I was taken aside for my hands to be tested for any powder residue.
The agent was professional in fulfilling his responsibilities, and I thanked him for “keeping us all safe” before I collected my personal items and moved to a nearby table to repack my laptop, put on my belt and shoes, and head to Gate 2 where I would catch my connecting flight to Atlanta.
Until 15 years ago, such extraordinary security measures would have been deemed unthinkable and excessive. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and thereafter, these measures are the new norm.
Given this reality, what have we learned about ourselves and our world since 9/11? In particular, as followers of Jesus, what are the proactive steps we can take to be “salt” and “light” in a post 9/11 world?
1. Find your greatest security in your relationship with God.
Psalm 46:1 teaches us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in our time of trouble.” Our faith doesn’t exempt us from tragedy, disaster or even acts of terrorism. But our faith does serve as a compass to help us navigate the most difficult and challenging circumstances of life.
2. Refuse to live in fear.
We cannot allow fear to dissuade us from fulfilling our mission. One of the goals of terrorism is to invoke a life-disrupting fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Obviously we need to be wise, savvy and circumspect at home and abroad. However, we cannot let the fear of the unknown keep us from going where we are called to go and doing what we are called to do.
3. Avoid responding to terrorism with terrorism.
We cannot allow terrorists to provoke us into behaving like terrorists. In other words, you cannot defeat terrorism by conducting acts of terrorism. Followers of Jesus are called to respond to adversaries with the spirit of Jesus.
4. Express gratitude to first responders.
The events of 9/11 gave to many of us a deeper appreciation for the valiant service of firefighters, police officers, paramedics and other first responders.
As a pastor and community leader, I want to affirm those who serve as first responders and to encourage others to consider these vocational tracks as honorable career opportunities.
5. Learn the basic tenets of other faiths like Islam.
A huge challenge for those unfamiliar with the religions of the world is learning to distinguish between radical Islamic groups – Jihadists, for example – and mainstream Muslims who not only reject methods of terrorism, but who also must contend with it.
Just like radical “Christian” groups such as the Branch Davidians and the Peoples Temple do not represent the majority of Christians, members of al-Qaida, ISIS and Boko Haram do not represent the vast majority of the Islamic world.
6. Be careful not to become xenophobic.
Xenophobia is the fear of people from different countries, cultures or ethnicities. Just because most of the terrorists of 9/11 were from the Middle East does not mean that everyone who wears the common wardrobe of a Middle Easterner, such as a burka or a turban, is to be suspected of terrorism.
7. Pray for our president and national leaders.
The task of making decisions during turbulent times is stressful and tedious. No military or political leader in history has faced the type or magnitude of threat posed by terrorist groups.
No matter your preferred political party, it is imperative that people of faith pray for those who lead our nation to exercise wisdom and discernment.
I anticipate that security measures will continue to be improved and upgraded. There is no going back to a pre-9/11 environment.
We can, however, look forward to a day when terrorist cells are minimized. We can support initiatives that address the root cause of terrorism and not just the symptoms.
And until then, to counter the current climate of fear and suspicion, we can live proactively with faith, courage and radical hospitality.
Barry Howard serves as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida, a leadership coach with the Center for Healthy Churches and a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics. His writings can also be found on his blog, Barry’s Notes, and on the CHC blog. You can follow him on Twitter @BarrysNotes.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.