Christian leaders slam religious exclusion from NYC 9/11 commemoration
Christian leaders have expressed concern that clergy are not going to play a role in New York City’s 10th year anniversary of 9/11.
Fernando Cabrera, pastor of New Life Outreach International in the Bronx, said he felt there was an element of shortsightedness in the decision, pointing out that government has limitations on what it can or cannot do.
Cabrera, who is also a New York City councilman, told CNN, “There’s certain things that government cannot do, and answering questions of meaning of ‘Why are we going through this?’ and ‘Where am I going to get strength from?’ those are existential questions that can only be answered from a spiritual aspect.”
Cabrera, who has started a Facebook page challenging the mayor’s decision, said that religious leaders are “one of the pillars that carried us through. They were the spiritual and emotional backbone, and when you have a situation where people are trying to find meaning, where something is bigger than them, when you have a crisis of this level, they often look to the clergy,” The Christian Post reported.
Even the former deputy mayor of New York, Rudy Washington, was outraged by the exclusion. Washington, who was in office when the attack occurred 10 years ago, said, “This is America, and to have a memorial service where there’s no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me. I feel like America has lost its way,” according to The Christian Post.
Focus on families
Evelyn Erskine, spokeswoman for New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the focus of the 10th year anniversary will be on the families of the victims.
Erskine told CNN, “The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature. It has been widely supported for the past 10 years and rather than have disagreements over which religious leaders participate we would like to keep the focus of our commemoration ceremony on the family members of those who died.”
Not everyone buys the explanation.
John Long, of the Federation of Fire Chaplains, told The Christian Post, “You can’t have a memorial service without religion. If it wasn’t for God and his direction, you couldn’t have memorial services to begin with.”
The issue of inclusiveness and the difficulty that would come in representing all faiths in the NYC 10th anniversary of 9/11 was also raised by those who agree with Bloomberg’s decision.
However, Long told The Christian Post, “For the National Day of Prayer they include different religious groups. What’s the difference between the National Day of Prayer and the 10th anniversary memorial?”
In 2001, shortly after 9/11, Washington, who was New York’s deputy mayor at the time, organized a Prayer for America service at Yankee Stadium. Leaders came representing all major religions, who addressed the large crowd in the event, which was also televised.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield wrote in Fox News, “Mayor Bloomberg has rightly defended the inclusion of the so-called Ground Zero Cross in the 9/11 Memorial and also defended those who want to build a mosque and Muslim community center nearby.
“So why now, at a critical moment when faith is so central for so many New Yorkers is the city officially unable to find a way to honor that reality and recall the important role faith has played in the lives of so many people both in New York City and around the world – both in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and in the days and years since?”
Cabrera told CNN, “This is not a message of unity when you begin to exclude people who were crucial in the turnaround moment that we needed.”