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2002 Statement of Affirmation for “Deny Them Their Victory

Presented by the Commission on Christian Action, adopted by the delegates to the 117th Covenant Annual Meeting.

The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, resulted in a tragedy on an overwhelming scale— thousands of lives lost, nations brought into a state of war, and in certain respects (it is not too much to say), the world’s future altered. Given the impact on so many lives, volumes have already been written concerning that day and its events, and more will be written for generations to come.

While much has been recorded in describing and interpreting September 11, it is remarkable that one particular document, broadly distributed as soon as the day after the attacks, remains timely and continues to speak of the trauma of that time, and of what is an appropriate religious response to that trauma. Soon after the attacks, many religious leaders, including Glenn Palmberg, president of the Covenant, signed the statement, “Deny Them Their Victory.” Posted on the Internet at www.sojo.net/response/, it was also printed in the November 2001 issue of The Covenant Companion.

Even now that many months have passed, the statement remains a meaningful response worthy of further consideration. The Covenant Commission on Christian Action affirms the statement and commends President Palmberg for endorsing it. We find its calls to action to be rooted in Scripture and in the best of Christian tradition. The commission calls on the delegates to this 117th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church to endorse the statement and to share it with their churches and institutions for further reflection and application.

Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism

We, American religious leaders, share the broken hearts of our fellow citizens. The worst terrorist attack in history that assaulted New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania has been felt in every American community. Each life lost was of unique and sacred value in the eyes of God, and the connections Americans feel to those lives run very deep. In the face of such a cruel catastrophe, it is a time to look to God and to each other for the strength we need and the response we will make. We must dig deep to the roots of our faith for sustenance, solace, and wisdom.

First, we must find a word of consolation for the untold pain and suffering of our people. Our congregations will offer their practical and pastoral resources to bind up the wounds of the nation. We can become safe places to weep and secure places to begin rebuilding our shattered lives and communities. Our houses of worship should become public arenas for common prayer, community discussion, eventual healing, and forgiveness.

Second, we offer a word of sober restraint as our nation discerns what its response will be. We share the deep anger toward those who so callously and massively destroy innocent lives, no matter what the grievances or injustices invoked. In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life. We pray that President Bush and members of Congress will seek the wisdom of God as they decide upon the appropriate response.

Third, we face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge—even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious.

But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.

Our American illusion of invulnerability has been shattered. From now on, we will look at the world in a different way, and this attack on our life as a nation will become a test of our national character. Let us make the right choices in this crisis—to pray, act, and unite against the bitter fruits of division, hatred, and violence. Let us rededicate ourselves to global peace, human dignity, and the eradication of injustice that breeds rage and vengeance.

As we gather in our houses of worship, let us begin a process of seeking the healing and grace of God.

This document was developed in consultation with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clergy, and circulated for signature beginning September 12 by the Rev. Jim Wallis, Call to Renewal and Sojourners; Dr. Robert W. Edgar, National Council of Churches; the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Reformed Church of America; Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Dr. Ron Sider, Evangelicals for Social Action.

Now numbering more than 1,000, a broad spectrum of the U.S. religious community, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist leaders, have joined their signatures to the interfaith statement “Deny Them Their Victory.” Signers from the Christian community include Protestant, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Historic Black Church, and Historic Peace Church traditions. The breadth of participation has made the document one of the most inclusive religious statements ever released.

Signers, who gave their personal endorsement, include the heads of denominations and religious orders, national, regional and local religious organizations and parachurch groups, presidents of seminaries; and directors of state and local councils of churches. There are also hundreds of local pastors and rabbis, and theologians, and professors from all parts of the nation.

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