11 September 2001 I was in the Placer County Jail awaiting trial for offenses arising from drug related activities. By 0550 hrs PDT the correctional officer assigned to our tank turned on the TV. He had been on the internet while we slept and received a news feed which reported the first attack, the first plane which flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Several of us got up to watch the coverage. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but as I recall we saw the second plane slam into the South Tower. We watched as the North Tower collapsed, then watched as the South Tower collapsed. We watched in disbelief. How could these buildings just collapse like that?
I have to admit that I am ashamed of my initial reaction to the attacks. Remember that just three months prior Timothy McVey was executed (11 June 2001) for his involvement in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. At this time (2001) I had been of the opinion that McVey would have been an American hero had he timed his assault differently and only destroyed property. The killing of the children in the on-site day care turned an act of revolution into an act of terrorism. I was sympathetic to a new American Revolution. So, my initial reaction was one of hope that this was an act of revolution. I was in the height of my atheism, four years prior to my conversion to Christianity. I had no, initial, thought of the potential loss of life. Regret for the deaths of innocent people began sometime later. When it was discovered that al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group, was responsible my initial reaction was one of disappointment. I so wanted it to be American revolutionaries. This disappointment gave way to disbelief, but that’s stuff for another post, maybe even another forum.
Now, as a Christian I am ashamed of my reaction at the time of the 2001 attack on America. I am ashamed because my initial thought was not sadness for the loss of life. I am ashamed because I actually cheered this horrific act of violence and hate. I am ashamed that I ever thought that armed and violent revolution was a viable option for reclaiming America from the evil, hierarchical power structures that marginalize and oppress. I am ashamed of who I was at that point in time. I am ashamed. More I apologize to all for having held these ideas, for these reactions to this horror that claimed so many innocent lives.
I read a blog this morning before I went to church, Jesus Creed reposting of Will Willimon’s portion of a Christianity Today article, How Evangelical Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11. This post is a mere three short paragraphs and has changed the way I think about the attacks of 11 September 2001 or rather our response.
The American response to the attacks has been one of violence, and for a secular government maybe that is not totally inappropriate. I do think that we went too far, even in the days of my atheism. We were duped into thinking that countries were our enemies, when that wasn’t true. So we went in and killed innocents in our pursuit of the criminals responsible. We shredded our constitution and stripped American citizen of civil rights. If you think I am wrong, consider this fair analogy. A criminal group commits a particularly violent and heinous crime in one of our cities or towns. Lets say that in a botched robbery they killed several innocent people. They get away from the scene. Lets say that one of them has a friend who lives in your neighborhood or apartment complex. Now the authorities get information that this friend of theirs may be harboring them. Now the authorities invade your neighborhood destroying your house, killing your friends and maybe even your kids just to get to this criminal group. Appalling isn’t it? We certainly wouldn’t stand for it, would we? Would we? Maybe we really would, because that is exactly what we stood for, albeit unwittingly, when we stood for our government’s response to the terror attacks ten years ago. But I digress.
As I said, I can almost understand a secular government’s desire for the retributive action, such as ours took. But what I cannot understand is the Christian response. The church in America supported and even cheered on this violent response. We have joined our attackers in an assault on the Kingdom of Heaven. We do this when we hate, worse we generalize our hate to entire people groups, to an entire religion, to entire races. We have responded with hate and violence towards innocent people, demonized them because they happen to share the skin tone and religion of those who hurt us. Is this truly how we think Jesus would want of us? Seriously?
Another fair analogy. Back in my daze of agnosticism and eventual atheism I would read of Christians who gunned down doctors who performed abortions, who killed women who had had abortions, bombed abortion clinics and killed people. I judged all of Christianity based on the actions of these few mentally deranged individuals and the extremist groups that bred and supported them and their activities. This is exactly how American Christians have treated Islam and its followers.
In our unforgiveness, hate, and violence we have declared war on the Kingdom of God. In our unrelenting defense of Christendom we are wreaking destruction on the Kingdom of Heaven. Although I do not think that we are able to see this because we have so confused Christendom for the Kingdom of Heaven that we in our collective mind think they are identical. They are not! Christendom is empire, it is a part of the hierarchical power structure that oppresses. This happened when Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion and made it a tool of the Empire. The two, the church and state, fused, Christendom was born, the Holy Roman Empire. This is what we try to defend so vehemently. Yet, Jesus brings in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is antithetical to empire, subverts the power structures that are empire. Don’t kid yourselves America is every bit empire as were the biblical empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, and even Solomon’s Israel.
We have been conformed to the ways of this world, we have adopted the wisdom of the world (empire) and we think the wisdom of God foolishness. We twist the biblical witness to fit our worldview, to show how God is for empire, for the hierarchical power structures. When we think that God is for violence and hate. We may give lip service to love, but it is some perverted love that promotes the killing of innocents. A perversion of the Gospel when we believe that peace can be won through violence. This was the way Rome achieved Pax Romana, through superior firepower, oppression, violence. The way of Christ is true peace through love, forgiveness, non-violence.
If the events of 11 September 2001 have taught us anything it should be that the hierarchical power structures of oppressive empire are violent and lead to the escalation of violence. That violence is devastating in the lives of the innocent, their families, their friends, their communities, their countries, to the world. That it is devastating to you and me as well. When our consciences have become so seared that we support violence we too have become its victims.
So, on this tenth anniversary of the horror that was 9.11 lets us honor the victims by allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let us no longer think like the world that the wisdom of God is foolishness, that Jesus way of love is NOT stupid or foolhardy, but is the only way for us to achieve real peace. Lets us stop defending Christendom and start promoting and living the Kingdom of Heaven.