EthicsDaily.com recently posed the following question to its columnists: “Has the world changed since 9/11? If so, how?” Columnists respond below. Part 1 ran on Monday.
Tarris Rosell (associate professor of pastoral care and practice of ministry at Central Baptist Theological Seminary):
Among several sermons by my pastor posted on the EthicsDaily.com Web site is one entitled, “Whoever Welcomes You.” Preaching “hospitality,” Dr. Heather Entrekin refers to Benedictine disciplines of change, stability and obedience. Those concepts now help me make sense of our post-9/11 world as well. Clearly, “change” happens, whether by massive terrorist acts or unnoticed molecular action. How we change in response to the former might be informed by the other two Benedictine rules for life in community. That of “stability” challenges my temptation to give up on or abandon Christian brothers or sisters whose own responses to terrorism seem to me idolatrous in their nationalistic and militaristic zeal. “Obedience” is even harder. Hard choices face us as a nation and a church. We are at odds with one another and with the global community. “Obedience is listening to and doing the will of God,” my pastor notes; but what is the divine will for this post-9/11 world? She and I would agree that surely it is more peaceful than that future being promoted now by White House leaders or some in the Middle East. Obedience requires that “the leader should lead in a way that helps others listen to and discern God’s way, and then do it.” Amen, pastor. May it yet be so with us and our world in the year yet to come. (And may other Christian communities be so blessed as mine to be led by such a discerning pastor!)
Barry Howard (senior minister of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.):
I believe the world has changed in so many ways that the majority of those changes are still being realized and processed. From my perspective, it seems that our nation is going through the various stages of grief (shock, denial, depression, panic, guilt, resentment and hope), and like any normal family system, not everyone is in the same stage. Because the assault on 9/11 was a multi-dimensional attack on the spiritual, social, psychological and economic fabric of our country, our sense of loss is more complex. Not only were thousands of lives lost, but so were many of our presuppositions, especially those regarding personal safety, economic security and religious superiority. I would like to think that we will emerge as individuals who are more circumspect, more patient, less acquisitive and more spiritually grounded than we have previously demonstrated.
David Benjamin (pastor of King’s Cross Church in Tullahoma, Tenn.):
Things certainly felt changed that day in September. The small military installation in town tightened down security. Thousands turned out for a memorial service at the high school stadium, including a line of emergency vehicles over 2 miles long. (This is in stark contrast to a city-wide prayer meeting only a few months before which attracted about 200.) And now … a year later. We all know where Afghanistan is on the map. Sometimes flying isn’t worth the hassle. The hottest song in the country is Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” But on a deeper level, there is a growing sense of tension between Islam and American-Christian culture, mitigated by sporadic calls for either mutual understanding or evangelism. Who hasn’t given a second, questioning look at “a Middle Eastern person” in the airport or a government facility? Certainly our sense of invincibility has been shattered. What is undetermined at this point is what our response will be. “What would Jesus do” takes on a whole new light.
Ron Sisk (professor of homiletics and Christian ministry at North American Baptist Seminary):
Certainly our American perceptions have changed. From those moments we stood helpless and transfixed, watching those horrid videos over and over again, many of us have been forced to see our world in unwelcome new ways. We know now that we are hated, that there are those who would like nothing better than to see all of America falling in a flash of fire. And we know that in some degree we are helpless, that, try as we might, we will never be able to quell all of that irrational hatred. There will always be those who add to their venom creative new ways of wreaking havoc. Still, we have also found a new kind of hope. We have been reminded of much that is good in America—character, determination, the genuine heroism of ordinary people. We’ve been given a renewal of the American quest, a world that is free of hatred and helplessness, and we have begun to hope that we shall yet get there.
Carol Ann Vaughn (director of the Christian Women’s Leadership Center at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.):
I don’t think the world itself has changed as much as our own awareness of the world has changed. We Americans tend to be very insular and ethnocentric in almost every way. 9/11 reminded us, terribly, that the rest of the world often knows more about us than we know about ourselves. Perhaps it is this shift in Americans’ attitude of invincibility that has changed the most. People react differently to such powerful psychological paradigm shifts. Some evidence heightened sensitivity towards other people—their own families, colleagues, strangers on the street, an orphan on the other side of the world—while others try to extirpate their insecurity, fear and anger through a callous backlash against anyone around the corner or around the world. I think today we see, as we always could if we would pay attention, both the worst of bullying in its various forms as well as the best of “amazing grace” in myriad responses.
Steve Ivy (vice president for values, ethics, social responsibility, and pastoral services of Clarian Health Partners in Indianapolis, Ind.):
I know with certainty only how my slice of the world has changed. My ear is more attuned to violence and injustice in my own community. My wife teaches at an International School, and the police are much more vigilant in their surveillance. My college daughter’s European classical studies class could not include Turkey on their itinerary due to parents’ anxiety. I have read more history and politics of the Middle East in one year than I had in my prior forty-eight, and I still do not understand. My heart carries a bit more sadness and my stomach a bit more fear than I did last Sept. 10. I have a few more questions to ask of God.
James Evans (pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.):
There has not been any change in the sense that one thing has become another thing. The things that were before 9/11 still are. What is different, however, is this: Everything is more. People who were afraid are more afraid. People who had a knack for finding the silver lining in every dark cloud are doing it even more. People who were intolerant before 9/11 are more intolerant. People who were brave and compassionate before 9/11 are even more so. The one area I am not sure about (ironically) is the area of faith. If my observation holds true then it follows that people who had faith before 9/11 have even more faith now, and those who had no faith before, now have even less. I find myself hoping I am not right, but fearing that I am. Of course, that’s pretty much where I was before 9/11—only now, more so.
Loyd Allen (professor of church history and spiritual formation at the James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology):
Yes, I think the world changed on 9/11, but I don’t believe we will know the extent of the change for quite some time. The world changed because the violence so common to much of our global village found entry into the most wealthy, powerful and influential gated community within it and exploded with a destructive force that shattered that neighborhood’s world view. Now, at a level we could not know before, we know that no person, no economy, no nation is immune to the aggression so often heard and seen worldwide in public media throughout the 20th century. We know we are vulnerable; we know we are somehow implicated by religion, suffering, evil and madness in places many of us cannot even find on a world map. Early changes include: efforts at securing our perimeter at the expense of former freedoms; forays outside the gate to destroy with counterforce the sources, human and communal, of the 9/11 violence; plans for pre-emptive strikes on potential attackers outside the gates; and renewed attempts to understand and alleviate underlying sources of the violence by redeeming the feared communities. Calls for missions of divine justice and missions of divine revenge are heard both within and without the once inviolate gates. The purposes to which the powerful and wealthy gated citizens ultimately will turn their response to evil only time will tell, but 9/11 certainly set in motion profound changes for all citizens of the global village, on either side of the broken gates.
Pam Durso (assistant professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C.):
I know my world has changed since 9/11—many of the changes I have seen have occurred in the classroom. I have always included a brief overview of the Islamic faith and its influence on the Christian community, but in the two semesters since 9/11, students have suddenly discovered how relevant this information is. They are more interested. They ask better questions, and many of them have educated themselves about Islamic beliefs and worship practices. Suddenly it is more important for them to know and to understand those who hold different beliefs. I see this desire for knowledge and understanding as one of the positives to come out of 9/11.
Karen Johnson Zurheide (executive director of Positive Tomorrows, a center providing support services for children and youth facing family life challenges):
Here in Oklahoma City, I don’t see that much has changed in a year, unless you count American flags now competing with OU pennants, flapping on SUVs cruising down the highway. Certainly there is a sense of solidarity with the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. But it’s not all positive. Remember that people here, by and large, cheered the execution of Timothy McVeigh. So just imagine how they feel about the foreign suicide hijackers. Overall, this culture seems to remain certain of American rightness and of the role of God’s blessing in our national past and future. Not that there is no diversity, as my daughter’s friend’s father, a native of Iran, reminds me that the issues are more complicated than American media-types would like to make them out to be. I hope to soon visit with this family over dinner, and learn from the mother and children, who spent the summer in Iran, what perspective their friends and relatives there have of world tensions, including the likely U.S. action against neighboring Iraq. This potential conversation for me is a reminder that almost all of us—even on the windswept plains of Oklahoma—have opportunities in our increasingly global environments to learn from various perspectives. I suspect that only when we take advantage of those opportunities, will understanding and genuine change begin to unfold, on both personal and larger scales.
The image of the Pentagon is kindly provided by Digital Globe (www.digitalglobe.com). A larger-scale image is available at the Web site.