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September 15, 2001
Column #1046

THE NATION RESPONDS WITH PRAYER

     In stunned disbelief, America watched a handful of terrorists transform commercial jets into bombs that demolished shining symbols of American capitalism and military power.

     The next day America's churches were full of mourning people turning to God in prayer. 

     I attended a service across from the White House at St. John's Episcopal Church, where most presidents have worshiped. The service opened with the timeless wisdom of Psalm 46:

''God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way...
Come and see the works of the Lord...
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth...
Be still and know that I am God.''

     The Gospel came from John, Chapter 10 which quotes Jesus: ''I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me...and I lay down my life for the sheep,'' a statement repeated four times in a few verses. I thought of hundreds of firemen and police killed trying to save the lives of others. 

     As President Bush put it, ''Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America, with the daring of rescue workers, with the caring of strangers and neighbors who came to give blood.''

     For the first time in my memory, a President quoted Scripture: ''Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray that they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: `Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.'''

     The supreme moral question we must now answer is, what should be done about that evil?

     A woman at St. John's prayed, ''As Christ said, `Let us pray for our enemies.''

     But as the Pope said Wednesday, ''How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of-ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people.'' 

     Edward Cardinal Egan, the new Archbishop of New York, added, ''We call for justice.  We insist that those who have committed this crime be called before the courts of civilized people. We must not, however, allow our pursuit of justice to descend into sentiments of hate and violence.''

     However, that draws some fine lines. Is the problem a few terrorists or a wider Muslim challenge to Western culture and Christianity?

     While our government had not officially declared who was responsible at this writing, fingers are being pointed at Osama bin Laden and his Talaban supporters in Afghanistan. 

     As retired Episcopal Bishop William Wantland has noted, followers of Islam ''have also perpetrated a policy of genocide in Sudan, oppressed thousands of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere and have raped Nigeria. We must understand that at the bottom of all this is a hatred of all things Christian. This is a holy war against our Faith, as well as against our country.'' On the other hand, many Muslims in this country are as horrified as any Christians by what has happened. Several have noted that nothing in the Koran justifies slaughtering civilians. 

     The question which seems to have been avoided in all of the media coverage is this: What fuels the hatred of America that would drive some Muslims to commit these heinous acts? 

     David W. Virtue put it this way on his web newsletter, http://www.orthodoxanglican.org/virtuosity: First, Oasama Bin Laden has a ''pathological hatred of the State of Israel, Zionism and the United States that supports the Jewish State. Second is his hatred of a decadent Western culture, that the Pope calls a `culture of death' which is morally numbing our own children's minds and impacting the life of his culture, other Middle Eastern nations and the rest of the world.''

     We can see the culture of death in untrammeled pornography and its consequences: millions of out-of-wedlock births, abortions and divorces. If America hopes to end terrorism, it must do far more than wipe out terrorist camps and leaders. They can be replaced with a younger generation of America haters.

     Pollster George Gallup declares, ''This most terrible moment in American history could be one of the most transforming if this tragedy leads us to renounce evil that can lurk in the human heart and choose to seek the good as we know it in Jesus Christ.''

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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