9/11 in New York City: Liberty and Prayer for All

Thirteen years have passed since the tragic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers. We remember that day as if it were yesterday. Two years ago I wrote on our reflections on 9/11. Much has changed, yet what matters remains the same.

 Now the Freedom Tower is complete and is renamed One World Trade Center. Other parts of Ground Zero are newly opened to the public, including the 9/11 Museum. The skyline of lower Manhattan looks more hopeful. Additional building projects add to economic vitality in that part of the New York City. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.
Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

The proposed Ground Zero victory mosque, much discussed a couple of years ago, is still not advancing at this time. Many people have forgotten about it. The issues seemed so complex. Do people have a right to build worship centers wherever they wish? Are the Muslims in New York City being treated equal to the Christians and Jews? What is the special attraction to building a mosque at Ground Zero where people of the Muslim faith killed 2,753 people in the name of their Allah? Many of their victims were Muslims, too.

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New York City is a center of great liberty. The Statue of Liberty represents our City in many ways, including that there are more than 200 mosques operating throughout the five boroughs of the City. And it is not difficult to build another mosque. Many politicians argued that the City needed to welcome one more mosque, even at Ground Zero, to prove our deep commitment to Liberty. However, the victory mosque plan is probably dead now, for apparent economic reasons – although there is an ironic spiritual background to the mosque's delay or demise.

In fact, the Ground Zero mosque story is filled with spiritual irony. In one irony, the leaders of the effort were focused especially on their plans for just one building site on which a part of one of the hijacked airplanes had landed. While the location is two short blocks from the World Trade Center, it was still part of the attack site that some Muslims consider a victory over "infidels" – and thus worthy of a victory mosque. Other sites were offered close-by, but without a physical link to the 9/11 attacks, and the mosque organizers Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan were not interested. While they publicly insisted on the liberty to build a mosque wherever they chose, the symbolism of an oppressive "victory" was essential. So it turns out that the real issues were spiritual, not legal, not liberty.

In another spiritual irony, the forward purposes of the proposed mosque were contrary to liberty. While seeking to exploit our American devotion to religious liberty, Daisy Kahn and her imam husband were planning to use the Ground Zero mosque to promote strict adherence to their Muslim religious law, "sharia law," as the sole basis for social and cultural life in America. In an extended, relaxed meeting with Daisy Khan and others, I personally asked her why their group wanted to teach sharia law at their proposed mosque. She answered that on the one hand many 100,000s of tourists come to Ground Zero and want to understand 9/11 and need some explanation, some wisdom. On the other hand, Ms. Khan said, "American democracy is so utterly chaotic that it needs the structure and stability that sharia law would bring." Immediately I responded to Ms. Khan that for her sake – and for my wife, daughter, and all other women – I would pray earnestly that her plans to promote sharia law at Ground Zero would fail. So far, my prayers are answered.

Please give me prayer and the "chaos" of our American democracy any day.

In remembering 9/11, prayer is precious. As stated in a former article, our family is especially grateful for the protection of many people who were not killed in the attacks. Include the 30,000 who were rescued from the two attacked skyscrapers – the largest rescue ever from burning buildings. Include the 100,000s in lower Manhattan who were not killed because the two towers filled with fuel oil did not topple over, but collapsed onto themselves. Include the 10,000s of office workers, customers and tourists who did not show up that day by the attack time, and did not need to be rescued. Include our son who did not come to the World Trade Center that day because he heard the Lord tell him not to come. We are eternally grateful, in constant prayers of thanks to God. In our son's case, we are grateful both that the Lord spoke and that our son obeyed him.

After 9/11, we organized training for more than three thousand counselors. There was such a need. All New Yorkers were affected spiritually and emotionally. In our training programs, we were wonderfully assisted by the American Association of Christian Counselors based in Virginia and the Victim Relief Ministries based in Texas. We sustained training programs for many months, but the interest decreased.

Now we see an increase in the desire to serve – both in prayer and in trauma counseling. There are increased reasons for prayer as we hear new information about the advances of terrorist organizations such as Hamas in Gaza, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the government of Iran that terrorizes its own people while it supports terror elsewhere. We must pray constantly for people subjected to terror in so many different countries in our time, especially lifting up our precious brothers and sisters in the Christian faith who are still special targets of Islamic terror. May they all be protected in the Lord and feel His awesome, redeeming, healing presence.

There are special prayer meetings in New York this week, especially on 9/11. In one delightful plan, there is a 3-hour prayer-and-dinner cruise circling Manhattan on September 11 evening. While fasting has an important role, feasting has an elevated place in Biblical spirituality, too.

Please pray. And be thankful that in the Liberty of Christ we can pray in any direction! We do not have to face an idol or pray in the direction of a shrine. The Lord's graceful presence penetrates all circumstances. Pray as you are walking down a noisy street, attentively driving through complex traffic, calmly sitting at your kitchen table, resting on a park bench, or joining others on a prayer cruise.

May the God of all grace fully awaken us today to the abundance of his tender mercies. And may he continue to protect us and empower us to multiply his praise.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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