Religious Groups Call for a 'Meaning Making Response' to Terrorism

Representatives of dozens of religious groups released a letter to encourage unity at the wake of the third anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Sept 23, 2004. The interfaith group, which met for dialogue in New York last week, said their ultimate desire is to “stand together in a meaning making response.”

"We recognize that while terrorist acts and interpretations we give them may draw some religious communities together, too often they tend to drive our religious communities apart. It does not have to be this way," the group wrote in their response.

Going further, the group called on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to plan for the rehabilitation of the World Trade Center alongside representatives from religious communities.

The site should include "a hospitable inter-religious sanctuary or sacred space of meditation that can reclaim the edifying and healing power of faith,” the letter stated.

The meeting in New York was planned by the National Council of Churches USA, Union Theological Seminary, The Interfaith Center of New York, Religions for Peace USA and New York Disaster Interfaith Services.

"We want to stand together in a meaning making response," the ecumenical group wrote. "We want to see one another as our own best selves, even as we face and seek to overcome our own worst selves as a human community."

"We are glad to learn that our concern for the inclusion of representatives of religious communities in the planning for the rehabilitation of the World Trade Center site is being considered.

"We affirm the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's recent effort to include religious voices in the planning and encourage their continued inclusion in the development of the site. This, we believe, will enable them to address religious themes that are obvious in the 9/11 tragedy. We also urge that a hospitable inter-religious sanctuary or sacred space of meditation that can reclaim the edifying and healing power of faith be included in the plans for the new site."

During the group’s meeting in New York, the representatives shared a dialogue on “religion-Related Violence and Resources for Healing from Faith Communities.”

The Rev. Lyndon Harris, an Episcopal priest who achieved nationwide renown for his work at "Ground Zero," encouraged participants to “turn our attention to meaning-making in the wake of public tragedy, to connecting with humility, not hubris, with the suffering masses of the world who have been and are victims of terrorism, and to tackling head-on the issue of religiously related violence."

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Director Rev. Shanta Premawardhana explained that the dialogue was "part of a search for alternative, multilateral ways of addressing terror and to develop an ongoing agenda for continued interfaith relationships in New York."

"Participants' houses of worship continue to provide spiritual resources to help New Yorkers heal from the terror attacks of September 11, 2001," the Rev. Premawardhana said, "and interfaith organizations continue to provide direct services such as grief counseling, health services and training for disaster preparedness, as well as opportunities for religious leaders to build personal and institutional relationships through interfaith dialogue."

The following is the full text of the statement, released by the National Council of Churches on Sept 23:


"Interfaith Dialogue Counters Violence in the Name of Religion"
A Statement by Religious Leaders Gathered on the Third Anniversary of 9/11

On the Third Anniversary of the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001, leaders and members of several religious communities gathered at the James Chapel of Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

The pain and agony of that horrific day are still with us. Our faith communities continue to provide spiritual resources to help the people of our city heal. Interfaith organizations continue to provide direct services such as grief counseling, health services, and training for disaster preparedness. In addition, they have made opportunities for religious people to build personal and institutional relationships through interfaith dialogue.

We recognize that while terrorist acts and interpretations we give them may draw some religious communities together, too often they tend to drive our religious communities apart. It does not have to be this way. We want to stand together in a meaning making response. We want to see one another as our own best selves, even as we face and seek to overcome our own worst selves as a human community.

We are people of faith, representing Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh traditions. While we are each deeply committed to our particular religious traditions, we reject self-righteous and exclusive ways of thinking. In an atmosphere of deep respect and reverence, we have listened to each other's concerns and agreed on common questions and agenda items for continuing our conversations. We want to demonstrate that through multilateral dialogue hatred can be overcome.

We are glad to learn that our concern for the inclusion of representatives of religious communities in the planning for the rehabilitation of the World Trade Center site is being considered. We affirm the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's recent effort to include religious voices in the planning and encourage their continued inclusion in the development of the site. This, we believe, will enable them to address religious themes that are obvious in the 9/11 tragedy. We also urge that a hospitable inter-religious sanctuary or sacred space of meditation that can reclaim the edifying and healing power of faith be included in the plans for the new site.

Signed by,

(Religious affiliations and institutions are listed for identification purposes only and do not imply institutional endorsement.)

Rev. Dr. Frances Adeney, Presbyterian Church USA
Ms. Nurah Jeter Ammat'ullah, Muslim Women's Institute for Research & Development
Rev. Williard Bass, Alliance of Baptists
Rev. Stanley Bhasker, Presbyterian Church USA
Dr. Michael Birkel, Society of Friends
Rev. Pedro Bravo-Guzman, Association of Independent Evangelical Lutheran Churches
Juanita Bryant, Esq., Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Mr. Adem Carroll, Islamic Circle of North America Relief
Rev. Dr. Robert Cathey, McCormick Theological Seminary
Rev. Rothangliani Chhangte, American Baptist Churches in the USA
Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, National Council of Churches USA
Ms. Dhilanthi Fernando, Alliance of Baptists
Ms. Alice Fisher, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
Mr. Peter Gudaitis, NY Disaster Interfaith Services
Rev. Lyndon Harris, Sacred City Project
Mr. Tom Hartman
Rev. Bud Heckman, Religions for Peace USA
Rev. Dr. Joe Hough, Union Theological Seminary
Ms. Moushumi Khan
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, National Council of Churches USA
Ms. Sue Kopp
Ms. Deidre Lee, National Council of Churches USA
Rev. N.J. L'Heureux, Jr., Queens Federation of Churches
Rev. Susan Lockwood, NY Disaster Interfaith Services
Ms. Christy Lohr
Rev. Dr. Peter Makari, United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Ms. Marjorie Markus
Ms. Bridget Moix, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Dr. Lucinda Mosher, The Episcopal Church
Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, New York Buddhist Church
Dr. Eric Nelson, The Thich Nhat Hanh United Buddhist Church
Sister Betty Obal, Loretto Community
Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches USA
Rev. Dr. Tony Richie, Society for Pentecostal Studies
Ms. Joey Rodger, Quaker
Dr. Gurucharan Singh
Ms. Stacy Smith, Union Theological Seminary
Ms. Jessica Stammen
Rev. Max B. Surjadinata, United Church of Christ
Mr. Josh Thomas, Union Theological Seminary
Dr. Christiane Tietz-Steiding, Union Theological Seminary
Mr. Harpreet Singh Toor, The Sikh Cultural Society, Inc.
Ms. Sarah Vilankulu, National Council of Churches USA
Mr. Moise Waltner, Interfaith Center of New York
Rev. David Waugh, Metro Baptist Church, New York
Rev. Marcel Welty, National Council of Churches USA
Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Zikmund, National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission