Yesterday, Bobby looked at media coverage of 9/11 commemorations. There are some interesting stories to be found in who was and who wasn’t invited and what people think about it. In Washington, the commemoration will be an interfaith service. In New York, clergy aren’t part of the program.
I wanted to highlight this Laurie Goodstein story from the front page of today’s New York Times. It’s very well written, as to be expected, and nicely characterizes the nature of the debate. But I do have a thought I’ll save for the end. Here’s the beginning:
The second Sunday after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, New York clergy members of many faiths joined elected officials at Yankee Stadium in a city-sponsored memorial ceremony that melded the sacred and the secular, replete with flags, prayers and tears.
Ten years later, any consensus that existed about the appropriate role of religion in public ceremonies marking a monumental American trauma has fallen apart.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has come under attack by some religious and political leaders for not including clergy members as speakers at Sunday’s official ceremony at ground zero on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
The story goes on to give voice to a variety of people. We hear from someone who suggest these fights represent widespread Balkanization in religion and politics. We even get a mention of civil religion:
In a nation of unprecedented religious diversity, the United States once managed to navigate religion in public life with relatively generic acknowledgments of the sacred — a tradition often referred to as civil religion.
Ten years ago, the event at Yankee Stadium and a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral attended by President George W. Bush were conducted in that tradition, and they were held with no controversy to speak of. But now, Professor Wolfe said, “the civil religion, those informal kinds of agreements, can’t work if everyone is going to be litigious, if everyone is going to be more concerned about their own special interests, their own rights.”
It’s funny, but my memories of Yankee Stadium worship service led by Oprah Winfrey couldn’t be more different. It marked a huge controversy in my church body, which I wrote about for the Wall Street Journal. Observing how poorly the media understood the situation in my church had a huge effect on me and my decision to write more about religion.
The article goes on to talk about the rituals New York City conducts on 9/11 anniversaries as well as the controversy that has erupted over those rituals’ lack of inclusion of religious figures.
We get quotes from people upset about things but also a mention that the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York and the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis have said they’re fine with the format for commemoration services. The article then goes on to discuss the interfaith worship service in Washington that will include other religious groups (such as Jews).
Like I said, it’s a good article and covers a lot of ground with an economy of words.
What is interesting, however, is to have an article that discusses differences between mainline and evangelical Protestants and gets into interfaith worship and civil religion and see no mention of the various Protestants who have a fairly well-fleshed out theology of avoiding civil religion and syncretism.
I mentioned my church body earlier and certainly Missouri Synod Lutherans not only don’t mind the format for the Ground Zero commemoration but support it, as Rev. William Cwirla does here. Reformed theologian Michael Horton argues that Christians shouldn’t seek to be included in such events here. Confessional Protestants (including Lutherans, Reformed and Presbyterians) have a really interesting take on navigating church and politics. Part of that involves a more robust worship in our congregational settings (I just received from my congregation this note: “On the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, Immanuel’s Divine Service (10 a.m.) will focus on the lessons and psalms appointed for a day of supplication and prayer. We will pray repeatedly for peace, and hear from God’s Word that in a world of violence, our refuge is God and our future secure.”). It also means we avoid civil religion and syncretistic worship.
Just because you never hear about these Lutherans, Presbyterians, Reformed and others with a “Two Kingdoms” approach to such situations doesn’t mean it’s a fringe belief. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod alone is larger than the Episcopal Church, for instance. It’s certainly understandable how this viewpoint gets left out of stories hungry for political conflict and “on the one hand, on the other” or “he said/she said” type setups. But in the aggregate, you can see how it ends up seeming like all Protestants are fighting for worship in the public square or that politics is the dominant prism through which to see American religion.
In The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, Darryl Hart writes about how academia and the media view Protestants as mainline vs. evangelicals, which both fails to appreciate how similar those two groups can be (if unaligned politically) but also neglects the swath of Protestants that aren’t as political or engaged in civil religion. It’s a good book to read to see how the typical view of Protestants seen in the media can be too simplistic.