Remembering to Pray for Terrorists on 9-11

Remembering to Pray for Terrorists on 9-11 September 11, 2014


On this day every year, we remember a tragic day in our nation’s history. It will always be a day etched into my mind, that each year begs the “where were you?” question. While most Americans watched the day unfold in the morning, I watched the towers collapse late in the evening Korean time. I was in South Korea on a temporary deployment to train new and upcoming supervisors, when one of my colleagues came into my room and told me that I really needed to turn on the television. From that moment, we were glued to the Armed Forces Network for the rest of the evening, as we too watched in horror and sadness.

Osan AB, Korea. Sept 2001
Osan AB, Korea. Sept 2001 (that’s me in the bottom center)

Thirteen years have come and gone since that moment which dramatically altered the course of history– and we are very much still a nation at war because of, in part, the events that unfolded on that day.

Often when we speak of events like 9-11 or the current crisis with ISIS, those of us from my camp obviously point to Jesus’ command that we love our enemies. Often (and this is truly ironic) we (I am included in that) dilute the idea of enemy love to simply mean we refuse to kill them or use violence against them. However, refusing to kill enemies is only a small part of how Jesus taught we ought to treat them– he goes on to say that we should actively bless and pray for them! The Apostle Paul reiterates this principle by teaching the early church that they must not “repay evil with evil but repay evil with good”, meaning it’s not enough to passively love enemies– because a passive love wouldn’t truly be love at all.

And so we are commanded to bless them. Pray for them. Repay their evil with good.

This is precisely why the nonviolent teachings of Christ are anything but pacifism– they aren’t passive at all.

Love is always active.

The more I reflect on this, the more sad I am that we as Christians so rarely talk about praying for our enemies. We debate killing them, we complain that our national leaders aren’t doing enough to stop them, we talk strategy on ways we can contain or isolate them them…

We do everything BUT say, “hey, let’s pray for them.”

It’s quite sad, really. We pray for everyone else, but not our enemies?

We pray when we need to find a job, we pray when our loved ones are sick, we pray for those who are victims of injustice… but we don’t pray that our enemies– the perpetrators of injustice– will have their hearts softened?

I am still a relatively traditional Christian on two fronts: (a) I believe that prayer is often the most effective tool a Christian has and (b) that we’re called to be obedient to God even if that is hard or involves self-denial. Why even I myself have chronically failed to pray for, and bless my personal enemies or our national enemies, I have no idea– other than I fail miserably at times. However, as I continue attempting to be a force on the American Christian landscape pointing people back to the radical message of Jesus, I pray that we will recover a holistic understanding of what enemy love looks like– it must not be passive.

Love never is.

And so today, on the anniversary of 9-11, we must pray for our enemies. We must pray for every ISIS soldier and pray for every terrorist around the world who wishes us harm. We pray that their hearts would be soft, that they would repent, and that they would one day be reconciled and restored instead of destroyed.

And yes, we even pray that God would bless them, as crazy as I admit that sounds.

We do it not because it is easy.

Not because it is our natural instinct.

Not because it even makes sense.

We do it simply because stand or fall, we want to follow Jesus wherever he takes us.


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  • Terry Firma

    When a terrorist has his knife at your throat, or your daughter’s throat, or your wife’s throat, and is ready to start carving, what you offer is him is some figs and a compliment about his new haircut? That’s weird, ’cause I’d be totally ready to kill the motherfucker with one blow to his ugly mug if I could.

    What you propose is certainly impractical (to the point of absurdity, I think), and I’m not even sure it’s very moral. In the abstract, sure, it’s great to love your brother. In practice, I’d rather prevent the blood of innocents being shed if it means I (or our military) have to take out a cadre of fundamentalist assassins who are hellbent on nothing but violence.

    But then, I’m just a godless heathen, so what do I know?

  • Terry Firma

    As for the efficacy of prayer, which you call “often the most effective tool a Christian has,” well, the science on that has been in a long time.

    “The largest and most scientifically rigorous study of prayer’s efficacy, the 2006 STEP project, found no significant difference whether subjects were prayed for or not, except some negative effects among those who knew they were receiving prayers.” Emphasis mine. ; see also

  • Kenja Purkey

    Matching hate with hate has never been productive. I will be praying that our enemies will have their hearts softened. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Not much, obviously.

  • What a hard teaching this is, but not Pollyanna, not pie in the sky, but hard, muscular, soul work, that can keep us sane. Thank you for sharing. Here is a piece I wrote and posted on This I Believe. Blessing my enemy kept me from losing my mind.

  • Adam M

    Terry your view is probably the dominant view in America. But after all the violence done in the name of religion I would think you would support this view for those who are people of faith. It might not be right for you but just
    imagine if all people of faith chose to fight evil with non violence. The Anabaptists and other groups have lived this for hundreds of years and paid the cost for doing so.

  • Hi Terry,

    I’d like to share something difficult that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:

    “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
    Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
    Through violence you may murder the liar,
    but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
    Through violence you may murder the hater,
    but you do not murder hate.
    In fact, violence merely increases hate.
    So it goes.
    Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
    adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
    Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
    only light can do that.
    Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

  • Terry Firma

    All lovely in the abstract, for those who want to feel really good about themselves and crow about it.

    In practice, turning the other cheek, nine out of ten times, leads to defeat and annihilation for the cheekturners. The Nazi threat of the thirties and forties didn’t go away with praying for their poor misguided souls and offering them flowers and bonbons. It deserved and got a violent response that was at least equal to the German violence that preceded it, and indeed provoked it.

    And of course you sidestepped my pointing out that in order to save innocents, serious blows to violent aggressors are often not only required, but may be considerably more moral than releasing white doves and sending your best wishes/prayers to the Huns who are champing at the bit to continue their campaign of rape, murder, and pillage.

  • R Vogel

    Yes, because Ben was advocating that people pray for their health. Nice red herring.

  • John A. C. Kelley

    Jesus didn’t come to make you comfortable. Most, if not all, of what Jesus said was impractical and absurd to those who heard it.

  • I can see the distinction from pacifism in your position. What I wonder is, what if this view were actually adopted and implemented by foreign policy makers? Not that we are in any danger of that happening. But, I’ve always thought that Christian teaching of the radical sort you’re proposing is fundamentally opposed to the power structures we have in place. State power has always relied on force as the last resort to impose its will on its citizens and foreign entities. And let’s face it, that is all resting on fear – fear of our enemies who might harm us, who the state has offered to protect us from. The government makes it patriotic to hate our enemies – it is reliable because it makes good sense from a survival standpoint. Jesus was killed by government force, yet Christians today show that despite their claims of ultimate allegiance to God, they practically give allegiance to the state. And so long as there is human government it seems to me that the approach of radical love and non-violence will never be adopted by a government. A country may tolerate non-violent, radical love dissidents but it will never allow those views to hold sway in the halls of power. They would treat a person with that view like the sweet-tempered Prince Myshkin from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot: pitiable, naive, and exploitable. Let the Prince Myshkins of the world pray for their enemies all day long – left at that, they’re no threat.

    So, there is a missing ingredient here. I’m not suggesting that Jesus was a violent revolutionary – it’s clear he was different from the zealots. But the Romans and Jewish authorities were threatened by something else: the rival power of the Kingdom of God. Simply being non-violent and radically loving enemies. . . that wasn’t enough to get Jesus killed. He wasn’t simply a fool. . . in the eyes of those in power, he was a dangerous fool. His may not have been a physical danger, but it was threatening enough that the Romans responded with the full power of the state. There is a different kind of power in that kind of love which affronts and alarms those who use violence to maintain their positions. And I could easily see how teaching to love and pray for an enemy, perhaps an enemy of the state, could be taken that way.

  • I don’t disagree with your points. All I intended to say today was: (a) Jesus said to pray for our enemies and (b) we should probably do that.

  • CroneEver

    All the people that I wish I was as good as prayed for their enemies: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Dorothy Day, C. S. Lewis, and countless saints of every denomination and religion. Most were far more successful at waging peace than any war has ever pulled off. “Seek peace and pursue it” ; “pray for your enemies”: two very hard paths that, in the end, are the only ones that lead to where I want to go. I will pray for my enemies, and pray that I can follow the path.

  • What violence, in your opinion, has Amerika shown? Only defensive or intervening? This country, by your thought process, deserves far more violence in return on its home soil then I’d wager you’d like to see. Serious blows, in the opinions of many around the world, should come to U$A to quell its aggression. Would you advocate for that as well?

  • Terry Firma

    If you’d been around in the forties, would you have sent good wishes and kind thoughts to the kamikaze pilots who decimated Pearl Harbor? Be honest, please.

  • Terry Firma

    Please show me the proven effects of prayer, preferably in a big-sample, peer-reviewed study. Until you do, talking to the sky may be soothing, but we’ll have to agree that it doesn’t bring any results beyond billions of lost man-hours that could have been used for something that’s measurably useful.

  • Good wishes? Kind thoughts? I would have PRAYED through the difficulty. Same as now. By praying I am not in agreement with kamikazes or ISIS, I am asking for G-d to intercede where I cannot. This is my honest answer. To go along with your WWII line of thought, I hope that there were Japanese men and women of faith praying for the nation that had bombed them, who wished to see peace instead of vengeance.

  • Mike

    I recommend Psalm 109.

  • sharon peters

    i am praying for the trolls.
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the trolls I cannot change as your children,
    God, grant me the serenity to accept that i cannot fix them.
    God, grant me the wisdom not to enable them.
    God, grant me the courage to change the trollish behavior in myself,
    And the wisdom to know where and when to contact the moderator when trolls target and occupy a comment board too ferociously for too long.

  • Benjamin Martin

    Dear Formerly Fundie Troll: You’re Not Helping Anyone (and I say this in love.)

    Anybody can prooftext a verse and troll with it. Corey thinks he’s clever trolling mainstream Americans on a holiday upon which they were attacked, since he’s so cleverly playing a different side of the coin in American sociopolitical life.

    But, as we know, Jesus was a nationalist Zealot. Humiliating foreign women by calling them dogs (biyatchuz!), among other non-PC behavior. Are you down with Jesus now?

    Jesus has enough trollbait for every stripe of troll. Should add nicesly to the never ending cycle of hatred in America between those who stare at FOX and those who stare at CNN.

    Oh, but ain’t that America for you and me.

    Ain’t that America Something to see, baby.

    Ain’t that America Home of the free, yeah.

    Little pink houses for you and me.

  • Benjamin Martin

    Couldn’t say it, on, say August 11? Nah, you’re like a FOX gnus host trolling Muslims on Ramadan with something juicy and snarky.

  • Ah, yes. Some dude says Jesus was a Zealot in his book, therefore, it must be true. But hey, have fun trolling somewhere else.

  • Alf Penner

    If every Christian in the West had prayed for Osama Bin Laden, instead of calling for revenge, post 9-11, do you think it conceivable that he could have had a Damascus Road experience? What would THAT have done for the world? Was Jesus happy the day Bin Laden was assassinated?

  • Artistree

    Thanks for a great article.
    You would probably like this debate at Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston which can be watch by youtube in the link below.

    Speaking of behalf of just war is Dr. Peter Kreeft (professor of
    philosophy at Boston College) and Dr. J. Daryl Charles (Berry College).
    Speaking against just war and for biblical nonresistance is David
    Bercot ( Ana-Baptist), and Dean Taylor( former soldier).

  • Gary Lieberman

    Dallas Willard has said that it is possible to kill someone in love if it would mean the best for the largest amount of people. In the case of ISIS and other extremists who bring us to thoughts of the Nazi activity of WWII I am more able to say that killing an enemy in this case may be the best thing for them, and of course others.

  • Brandon Roberts

    i see the point your making. and you must be a great guy that your willing to pray for our enemies. and i think we should give the terrorists a chance to repent but if that doesn’t work than i believe we should kil them. and i still think violence is all they understand and no i’m not trolling i’m not saying your an idiot for not agreeing with me. i’m sure your a lot smarter than i am in fact. i’m just saying that’s my personal view

  • Matthew

    In all sincere honesty Benjamin, after reading the article early this morning I came away from it with a sense of guilt. Guilt because if what you say is really how it is … if there´s no place for a just war against such savages … then I feel like as a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ I´m simply not living up to the standard. I find myself “in step” with those who seem satisified with the call for military action against them. I guess I´m only 3/4 pacifist yet 100% a believer — but I´m not sure such numbers begin to satisfy the kind of committment your posts often allude to.

  • Mike

    “In practice, turning the other cheek, nine out of ten times, leads to defeat and annihilation for the cheekturners.”

    This is not true. 9 out of 10 times turning the other cheek de-esculates the situation and moves toward peace. It’s in the 1 time in 10 that it doesn’t that a violent response is called for.

    The problem is not with the doctrine of turning the other cheek, the problem is with extremists who want to insist on it in all cases and demand that everyone else do the same.

  • I don’t disagree with you either, Ben, and think it was a timely post. I just wanted to spin off the point you made about the love Jesus offers being active by saying it is actively threatening. Not just to government power, but to us and our own prejudices, how we cloak our desires for vengeance, how we make a virtue out of our lack of mercy. Jesus turned down the possibility of being temporal ruler, but he had another sort of power that the temporal rulers saw as a rival. And they were right to think that.

  • Repent or die? Is that really Christ-like?

  • Who decides what is ‘best’ for the largest amount of people? At what point do we say that something like national security or foreign policy trump ideas like ‘thou shalt not kill’ and ‘those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’ simply because they are for some perceived greater good?

  • Hahaha did you quote The Cougar to make your point?
    Let me try!
    *Suckin on chili dogs outside Tasty Freeze*

  • JJ Smith

    “What I wonder is, what if this view were actually adopted and implemented by foreign policy makers?” As noted, we’re not in much danger of that happening. I think we all operate at different levels of consciousness, thus some people operate more out of the spirit and some more of the flesh (earthly mindedness), and every level between. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us we should each use whatever gift we have received to serve others. There are always those predominately of the flesh for whom man’s law and politics will be their gift. And as long as we live in a world where we are not all on the same page of right/wrong, their role is necessary. So they deal with man’s law in man’s way, and sometimes that, sadly, involves war. And all the while, those who benefit from their efforts to create a stable, civilized society should offer thanks and prayer, for them and their service, as well as for the enemies of a stable, civilized society who make their service necessary.

  • Brandon Roberts

    fair point. but if it will save the majority it’s worth it

  • I don’t want to assume that you claim faith, but if you do, would you say that your view is Christ-like? Do you think that saving The Majority, if it is not Christ-like, is worth it? Put simply: WWJD?

    Maybe if hate and evil were to be returned with radical love and prayer, then something miraculous might happen. Maybe by relying on military force, we’re saying that we trust the military more than we trust Jesus.

  • R Vogel

    Again with the misdirection. No one in this forum made any claim that prayer has a specific, measurable result, so there is no claim that requires any support.

  • John A. C. Kelley

    It worked pretty well with Jesus. Jesus and the early church were murdered, but they only multiplied even thought they never fought back.

  • Terry Firma

    Huh. Ben calls prayer “often the most effective tool tool a Christian has.” Effective how, would you say?

    If prayer has no measurable effect, as you seem to acknowledge, why pray?

  • Brandon Roberts

    that’s actually a really good point. and one that i cannot refute. and i do wish i could be the bigger person. but sometimes violence is the only option but yes jesus does want us to love them

  • LeRoy Whitman

    I suppose we could take this across categories and apply it to the “saga” elsewhere spoken of so freely on this site, despite the principle of David, “Tell it not in Gath! Declare it not in Ashkelon!” — and suggest that we might want to also pray for Masrk Driscoll. After all, he truly has been instrumental in bringing multiplied thousands to Christ (while so many of us are watching to see who stands or falls). And in this case it should be even easier than praying for a real enemy, since he is a brother. If the above is too “Old Testament” for some, Galatians 5:15 and 6:1 (and the verses around them) apply. I am certainly not glad to see a ministry have difficulty, even if it were not as perfect as mine.

  • bz

    This is why the gospel makes no (human) sense. With man it is impossible. Good post.

  • Proud Amelekite

    I think the OP is right. As much as I hate to admit it, the religion is based of a guy who would rather let people torture and kill Him than call down two legions of angels to save Himself. The first century Christians were fed to lions and suffered other horrific fates for refusing to fight for Rome in it’s wars in some cases. Loving your enemies is a fun saying and we throw it around a lot but when it is tested, almost everyone fails the test. Even I do, yet I recognize that I am a failure in that regard and need work.

  • Matthew

    You make a good argument …

  • R Vogel

    Your question isn’t a honest one, so I’m not going to spar with you over it. I will not, however, allow your silly straw-man tactic to go ignored. You are accusing Ben of making assertions he did not make. If you want to know what effect Ben thinks prayer may have you could always ask him like a decent human being rather than just being an officious prat. Then your post might be at least relevant to the discussion.

  • Terry Firma

    Yes, honest question. You are just unwilling (and probably unable) to answer it.

    “You could always ask him like a decent human being.”

    Well, he’s coming to visit and drink beer and spend the night in a couple of weeks (we happen to be decent human beings as well as good friends), so I might. We’ll drink one to your health, if you’d like.

  • Terry Firma

    Those outcomes would have happened with or without prayer. Your sister just wasted a lot of time that could have been spent helping the poor or what have you — you know, like Jesus did.

    Wow — God helped your low-performing nephew enter the college of his choice! That’s so awesome! So you’re telling me He was so busy helping undermotivated students get education degrees that he couldn’t or didn’t help parents who prayed incessantly for their leukemia-stricken child to get better. And He let her die. The Almighty found a home for an unwanted dog, and still had time in His day to kill a few thousand ardent believers in an earthquake or a tsunami. Praise God!

    You do know what “anecdotal” means, yes? Anecdotal evidence is fine as far as it goes, but it means nothing if it isn’t confirmed by proper data, scientifically collected and interpreted, from very large samples of people, with a peer-review mechanism in place. Those studies have been done, and they say that intercessory prayer is a useless activity — other than to maybe make the person doing the praying feel good about himself, I guess.

    Feelgood bullshit: religion in a nutshell.

  • Terry Firma

    In the study I mentioned, why would the sincerity of those doing the praying be in question? They were drawn exclusively from three Christian congregations: St. Paul’s Monastery in St. Paul; the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Mass.; and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry near Kansas City. Are you saying these people were secretly atheists? That they didn’t really want the patients they prayed for to get better? Please explain.

  • Ann Kah

    The day the towers fell was the day that I realized that I had to be far more outspoken about my atheism. That attack was the triumph of Muslim religious superstition over reason and humanity, and I want no part of a Christian counteroffensive that makes the same mistakes.

  • No one prays for Satan.