Bishops Take Different Paths in Recalling 9/11

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Here's a quick test for you. On the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the senior bishops of the two Anglican provinces in the United States gave sermons commemorating the events of that fateful day. See whether you can identify who made the following statements—a) Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori or b) Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan.

On recalling the societal effects of the 9/11 attack:

  1. Ruefully told of walking past a pickup truck that featured the image of a "waving American flag" and a "sorry slogan" that stated "All I Need to Know about Islam I Learned on September 11."
  2. Described visiting gardens in Paris that day with a fellow group of spiritually grounded pilgrims, emotionally recalling the French band playing "The Star Spangled Banner" to a crowd of Parisians who spontaneously stood in unison.

On how to respond:

  1. "Pray for all the torturers and terrorists among us. Imagine them sitting in a vineyard, feasting in the late afternoon sun, laughing and making music with former foes, in a land where no one is afraid any more."
  2. "What the righteous can do is share about Jesus Christ: what he's done in my life, what he's done in your life, what he can do in any life to set it right no matter what it faces, including death itself. For that's the last enemy, but already that enemy has been conquered."

And lastly, on loving our enemies:

  1. "When Jesus says love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, he's challenging his listeners to turn and change their hearts. He's speaking directly to people who are being victimized by capricious power mongers addicted to violent methods of control. His own eventual public execution was only one example of the terrorizing used to keep people in line. Yet the ability to align one's heart with peace changes reality."
  2. Recounting being in Rwanda soon after the genocide, the bishop met with rural Christian leaders and asked about the hope and future of Rwanda. A young pastor said clearly, "The only hope for Rwanda is Jesus Christ. The only hope for America is Jesus Christ. The only hope for your life and for my life is Jesus Christ."

If you guessed that the odd numbers are Jefferts Schori, and the even numbers Robert Duncan, then congratulations, you passed the test.

Speaking at the historic St. Paul's Chapel adjacent to Ground Zero, Jefferts Schori's sermon was centered on the question: "How will we change hearts that seem closed to learning more about peace?" Duncan, preaching at the Sunday morning services of The Falls Church in Virginia, focused on King David's Psalm 11 and asked: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

Preaching that "our righteousness is not from us, but from another," Duncan answered his question: in the face of adversity, "what the righteous can do is preach the Gospel." As he explained, "We preach salvation in the face of all of the tragedies of the world. We preach salvation by grace, by God's kindness and love through faith in Jesus Christ." The Anglican Archbishop emphasized Christian distinctives in saying that Christians come to church "not only for his word, but also for his body and blood," which he described as a "foretaste of when all these stones will be destroyed, not one left upon another, and when we will be before him in his heavenly kingdom, his heavenly order in which all things will be made new and everything set right by God's power and God's grace."

Duncan simply summarized his answer to the question "What can we do?" with: "Do righteousness, trust God and preach Jesus."

For her part, Jefferts Schori apparently wished to draw the victims and perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks together beneath the banner of moral equivalency. "Pray for all the torturers and terrorists among us," she urged. "Can we recognize the common desire of all the peoples of the world for peace in their own day?"

The two church officials had also differed on mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision not to invite clergy to pray at the official 9/11 memorial service. As Jefferts Schori told reporters following the service at St. Paul's Chapel, "We don't need to be in the center of things, but here for those who need us. And that's what St. Paul's did. They were here for people who needed them."

Duncan felt differently, arguing in his sermon that making space for prayer was not about exalting religious officials, but about making a place to acknowledge God. "Mayor Bloomberg was precisely wrong: the way to observe this day was not to take religion out of it," Duncan refuted. "The way to observe this day is to put Jesus into it."

Two very different senior bishops, with very different thoughts on September 11th, leading very different Anglican churches.