by Rev. Gabriel Salguero
I remember September 11, 2001 well. Like most people the sounds, images, and sense of loss are deeply marked in my memory. I also recall the days immediately following 9/11. The thousands of volunteers streaming in from all over the country to bring support, comfort, relief, and a simple, “We are with you.” All of this was a tribute to the nation’s ability to pull together after a tragedy. The deaths of those in the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, Stonycreek, PA, and the hijacked flights still cause me to weep and pray. As we near a decade since this tragedy many of us continually ask, “What is the best way to mourn, remember, reflect, and be a healing presence?”
I bear in mind the early days after 9/11 and the abundant calls for unity independent of race, class, ethnicity, political ideology, and religious or non-religious affiliation. The call, however well-intentioned, was short-lived. In recent days, I’ve been asked to give my reflection as a Christian pastor in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to exclude any faith representation at the 9/11 memorial in New York City. Frankly, I think his decision is reflective of much of the either/or thinking that this nation has devolved into after the early days of the 9/11 tragedy. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “In American life there is today a real crisis…” While King was speaking particularly about race relations I think this diagnosis can be broadened to all spheres of human relationships in this country.
We have a crisis of communication that hurts our ability to become what Dr. King called “The Beloved Community.” I think Mayor Bloomberg’s decision reflects trepidation of how the participation of faith leaders will be interpreted by the larger public. Admittedly, some faith leaders have not done well to assuage the skepticism concerning religious leadership. Regrettably, many faith leaders have become in King’s words, “the tail light and not the head light” in matters of the common good. Still, there are enough faith leaders with good discernment and love for mercy and justice that the folly of a few should not disqualify the whole. Clergy were a healing presence for thousands during 9/11 and remain a healing presence in times of grief and remembrance.
The exclusion of faith leaders (rabbis, priests, pastors, imams, chaplains) is symptomatic of our inability to navigate difference in our national conversations and life. A fundamental query remains, “Will we go the way of echo chambers and silos or can we find a way to become the Beloved Community?” Echo chambers don’t broaden or deepen us. This will require work on all parts. Faith leaders will have to find ways to dialogue respectfully with atheists, agnostics, secularists and vice-versa. Civility is in high demand and low supply. Our common life and future generations demand better. In addition, political leaders from all over the spectrum need to model honest, tough, but civil discourse. Convictions are not the enemies of civility. Dr. King argued, Andrew Wilkes reminds us, that disagreement and varied points of view should not be feared but rather entered into with a sharp mind and a loving heart. I can and should love people I disagree with and I should demonstrate that love in word and deed.
Some years ago Harvard professor Samuel Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington’s analysis of potential global conflicts centered on conflicting worldviews is an ominous warning. As for me, I still hold to The Dream of a young Black Baptist minister proclaimed 48 years ago from our nation’s capital, “We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” A praise-worthy memorial would try to include the great diversity, both religious and secular, of this nation for the sake of lamenting and healing together.