Lessons from the September Terrorist Attacks
In the weeks since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the nation has changed
dramatically. While not all changes are yet obvious, already there have emerged
specific trends and lessons to which the Bible and America’s history clearly
Lesson One: Humility Precedes Justice.
Disasters have occurred on numerous occasions throughout American history.
While none have exceeded the death totals of this recent tragedy, there have
been instances in which a higher percentage of Americans were killed. For example,
in the Great Massacre of 1622, Indians killed over one-fourth of all Americans
then in the Colonies. And between 1675 and 1677, in similar attacks, twelve
of Massachusetts’ ninety towns were completely annihilated and forty others
partially destroyed. What should be the response to such disasters?
The Bible gives clear guidance in Joshua 7-8. Israel had become a mighty nation
and grown accustomed to victory. Approaching the town of Ai, Joshua dispatched
a small unit of three thousand of Israel’s nearly one million soldiers to conquer
that city. In the ensuing battle, some 36 Israelis were killed – about one percent
of that smaller force and a miniscule number from among the larger force. Nevertheless,
even that loss caused Joshua and the nation to humble themselves before God
and seek His forgiveness for any sins (Joshua 7:6). After that time of prayer,
humiliation, and repentance, they rose up and annihilated those who had inflicted
the injuries on them.
Nehemiah 1:3-6 offers a similar lesson. Upon hearing that Jerusalem had been
destroyed and burned with fire, Nehemiah first “mourned and fasted and prayed
before the God of heaven” and then “confessed the sins which we Israelites,
including myself and my father’s house, have committed against God.” Following
that time of humiliation and prayer, Nehemiah organized a force, pushed back
Israel’s enemies and rebuilt what had been destroyed.
America followed this pattern in 1622 after the Great Massacre, in 1675-1677
in King Philip’s War, and on numerous other occasions, including the American
Revolution and the War of 1812. It is also the appropriate thing to do in the
wake of the terrorist attacks – for each of us not only to examine ourselves
and repent of our own sins but also to pray for the nation and its sins. In
fact, President Bush both emphasized prayer as the early and immediate as the
ongoing focus for the nation; and Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom DeLay have
also proposed a day of humiliation and prayer for the nation. Following such
a time of humiliation and prayer, it is Biblically precedented to destroy the
enemy who caused the loss of innocent life.
Lesson Two: Complete Pluralism is Untenable.
In recent decades schools and public arenas have moved toward a completely
inclusive pluralism, teaching that all of the 1700 different religions are equal
and therefore deserve equal acceptance and respect. This tragedy shows the fallacy
of that teaching. Not all religions are the same; not all have the same value
systems; in fact, many directly oppose the value systems of others.
For example, recall the pictures of Palestinians who, upon hearing of the initial
report that some 10,000 innocent victims had been killed in the World Trade
Center attacks, crowded into the streets celebrating and cheering, “God is great!
God is great!” This is a view of God antithetical to that held by Christianity.
In fact, the top dozen terrorist organizations in the world all claim an adherence
to the same strain of the same religion, and since the initial attacks, (e.
g. in Pakistan, Africa, etc.) have risen up against Americans and Christians.
The religion of the Bible is different from other religions. As Founder Zephaniah
Swift (the author of America’s first legal text) explained:
The Christian doctrines inculcate a purity of heart and holiness of life
which constitutes its chief glory. It is superior to all the systems of pagan
philosophy promulgated by the wisest men of ancient times.
Signer of the Declaration John Witherspoon similarly declared:
The Christian religion is superior to every other. . . . There is not only
an excellence in the Christian morals but a manifest superiority in them to
those which are derived from any other source.
Unlike some current strains of religion, Christianity over the six centuries
since the Reformation has had a respect for human life – even the lives of its
enemies – and does not rejoice in the death of either friend or enemy. (Remember
that America helped rebuild and restore Italy, Germany, and Japan after having
defeated them during World War II.) Indeed, John Jay (an author of The Federalist
Papers and the original Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court) described
the Christianity of America as “enlightened”; John Quincy Adams characterized
it as “civilized”; and John Adams termed it “rational.” Daniel Webster further
explained that American Christianity was “Christianity to which the sword and
the fagot [burning stake or hot branding iron] are unknown – general tolerant
Christianity is the law of the land in America!”
Proverbs 20:11 tells us that “Even a child is known by his actions”; the actions
of different religions demonstrate that there are differences and distinctions
between them, and that those distinctions are significant. While religious tolerance
is the foundation of religious liberty in America, to continue to infuse into
the culture the all-inclusive pluralism purporting that all religions are equal
makes as much sense as saying that there is no difference between night and
Lesson Three: Absolute Tolerance is Irrational.
In addition to a distorted pluralism often advanced in public, there is
also a distorted view of tolerance which advocates that everyone should be respected
for his or her own individual beliefs, whatever they may be. Yet, if tolerance
is our quintessential societal virtue, then shouldn’t we be tolerant of those
who made this attack? Shouldn’t we even respect their beliefs as terrorists?
Or – can it be – are there some beliefs and behaviors for which tolerance is
Perhaps the absurdity of the politically-correct tolerance teaching was recently
demonstrated at a Midwestern college where – like most State colleges – “tolerance”
was the unofficial motto. The campus was gathered in an assembly when an administration
official interrupted to announce that America had been attacked by terrorists.
Amazingly, one student stood up and began to applaud and cheer for the terrorist
attackers. The reaction of those around him was predictable: students were outraged
and police had to intervene to preserve his health.
There is a place for tolerance, but there are points where tolerance must end.
Proverbs 8:13 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil,” not tolerate
it; and Proverbs 28:4 says that those who love the law resist the wicked, not
tolerate them. This disaster may help rid America of some unprincipled, non-Biblical
thinking that has permeated the nation in recent years.
(By the way, Toward Tradition has published an excellent pamphlet, “Terrorized
by Tolerance,” available at www.towardtradition.org.)
Lesson Four: A New Affinity with Israel has Resulted.
The Bible is clear that Israel holds a distinct place among nations. As the
Apostle Paul explained, “Concerning the election of God, Israel is beloved because
the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). And God
has also made clear that the manner in which a nation treats Israel determines
how God will treat that nation (“I will curse him that curses you and bless
him that blesses you” Genesis 12:3, 27:29). David further instructs us, “Pray
for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you. Because of the house
of the Lord our God I will seek your [Israel’s and Jerusalem’s] good” (Psalms
America’s long tradition of support for the Jewish people in general was established
by our Founding Fathers. For example, while describing a federal parade in Philadelphia,
signer of the Declaration Benjamin Rush declared:
The rabbi of the Jews locked in the arms of two ministers of the Gospel was
a most delightful sight. There could not have been a more happy emblem.
George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew congregation of Savannah showed a
May the same wonderworking Deity who long since delivered the Hebrews from
their Egyptian oppressors and planted them in the promised land, whose Providential
agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as
an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven
and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal
and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.
Elias Boudinot (President of Congress, a framer of the Bill of Rights, and
a founder of the American Bible Society) was so fond of the Jews that he served
as president of the “Society for Ameliorating the State of the Jews” and made
personal provision to bring persecuted Jews to America where they could have
an “asylum of safety.”
Regrettably, however, this tradition of support for Israel and the Jews had
begun to wane over the past decade as the Palestinians became prominently featured
in American news stories, as Arafat was accorded special treatment at the White
House, and as Israel was harshly criticized for her strong retaliations against
terrorists. Now, because of this terrorist attack on America, we have a new
sympathy for what Israel experiences on a daily basis and a new understanding
of why she responds so forcefully against her terrorist attackers.
Significantly, Muslim commentators sympathetic to the terrorists who regularly
attack Israel appeared on news broadcasts across the world (e.g., in Canada,
Great Britain, Europe, etc.) following the American disaster declaring that
America’s tragic losses in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were actually
self-inflicted wounds. They explained that we had brought this disaster on ourselves
because of our support for Israel and that we actually deserved what had happened
Such inflammatory charges – as well as the attacks against us – have served
to strengthen our support of Israel, and for this we will be blessed.
Lesson Five: The Hypocrisy of Secularists is Confirmed.
For years, groups such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), AU (Americans
United for Separation of Church and State), PAW (People for the American Way),
et al., have consistently opposed public religious expressions. These groups
claim that by suing to prevent such expressions, they are simply seeking to
preserve the principles of the Constitution in all their purity. Yet, if they
really believed this, then why have they been so relatively silent since the
attack? After all, there has probably never been a time in recent American history
in which there has been so much “illegal” activity for them to sue (so far,
they have objected to only a few incidents, including public schools saying
“God bless America”).
When the attack occurred, I was in Washington, D.C., about to begin our annual
WallBuilders’ Pastors Briefing with pastors and Members of Congress. We were
in a location that had been targeted by the terrorists, but their destructive
plans for that area were unsuccessful. We did, however, see the Pentagon burn.
When the city was reopened, airline flights were unavailable and we therefore
obtained two cars in which I, my family, and some of our staff members could
return to Texas. That 1700 mile cross-country trip was very instructive – and
For example, one State had taken its electronic highway construction signs
and had placed them along the interstate. But instead of flashing, “Two left
lanes closed, merge right” (or something similar), all the signs were flashing
alternating messages of “Pray for America,” and “God bless America.” This was
a use of State funds to deliver a religious message and to urge a religious
activity – clearly an “unconstitutional” activity (according to the ACLU et
als errant interpretation) . In another location, the public schools had covered
their fences with signs urging passers-by and the community to pray – they,
too, were delivering an overtly religious and thus an “unconstitutional” message.
Furthermore, when the President declared the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance,
we all saw media reports of hundreds of public schools across the country halting
school activities and participating in the prayer time. I witnessed a plethora
of other similarly “illegal” actions by city and State governments. Why has
no lawsuit been filed or press conference held denouncing what these groups
so often consider to be egregious acts against the Constitution? This general
silence, while refreshing, demonstrates their hypocrisy and demagoguery by their
attempts to avoid the public hostility which they actually deserve.
(By the way, Congress would now have difficulty voting for a fourth time against
a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning. In the votes in the the
last three sessions of Congress on that issue 90 percent of Republicans voted
to protect the American flag, while 88 percent of those who voted against protecting
the flag were Democrats. Undoubtedly, most of them would not have the courage
of their “convictions” to vote against this amendment now.)
Lesson Six: The Court’s Policies on School Prayer are Proven Absurd.
Notice the difficult position in which public schools were placed as a result
of this tragedy. Due to the successes of legal groups on the left of the political
spectrum, the official policy at the time of the attacks was that schools could
not set aside time for prayer for the nation or the victims. In fact, the Court
had ruled in Wallace v. Jaffree that even voluntary, individual, silent student
prayers were unconstitutional! The official position therefore was, “Students,
if you want to pray for these disasters, wait seven hours until you get home.”
Based on decisions by the Supreme Court, we can no longer do what we did at
the time of Pearl Harbor, the Korean or the Vietnam Wars, or the assassination
of President Kennedy. How absurd that in our nation’s schools, public tragedies
now require private prayers. Yet, talk shows – hosts, guests, and callers –
are now clamoring for the reinstatement of voluntary school prayer, and it has
been years since support was so high or fervor so strong for the return of this
Furthermore, this environment has provided a Biblically-justified setting for
civil disobedience. Three thousand years ago, when the government prohibited
Daniel from praying to God, Daniel deliberately disobeyed the law and prayed
anyway. In fact, the three Hebrew children, the Hebrew midwives, the Apostles,
and many other heroes of our faith were also guilty of civil disobedience. While
civil disobedience does expose the individual to the punishment of civil government
(e.g., Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, the three Hebrew children into
the fiery furnace, the Apostles into jail, etc.), there probably will not be
another time when civil disobedience at schools for the purpose of praying would
be less likely to be punished.
Lesson Seven: The Depravity of Man is Affirmed.
Although many in society today are convinced of the natural goodness of all
mankind, the events of recent weeks prove otherwise. Nevertheless, some teachers
in New York City so strongly believed in the innate goodness of man that they
were actually attempting to console distraught students by telling them that
what had happened at the Trade Centers was simply “a terrible accident.” Parents
were properly outraged. It was not an accident; it was a deliberate action perpetrated
by innately depraved men whose intent was the slaughter of innocent victims.
Expectations that man will behave in a civilized manner (unless influenced,
directly or indirectly, by Christ or the Scriptures) are unwarranted (see Jeremiah
17:9, Isaiah 53:6-7) Jesus Himself understood this, for although the crowd was
praising Him and throwing down palm leaves to honor Him, He knew they would
turn against Him. Thus, John 2:24 says that Jesus would not commit Himself to
them because He “knew the hearts of men.”
Our Founders also understood the truth of the depravity of man. As George Washington
A love of power, and proneness to abuse it, predominates in the human heart.
Alexander Hamilton similarly observed:
The passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice
John Quincy Adams understood this problem and pointed out its solution, explaining:
Human legislators acknowledge their inability to govern and direct the sentiments
of the heart, but it is one of the greatest marks of Divine favor that God
gave rules not only of action but for the government of the heart.
Thomas Jefferson similarly explained:
Jesus pushed His scrutinies into the heart of man; erected His tribunal in
the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.
While we should expect the best from others (1 Corinthians 13:7), the events
of recent days prove that without the influence of Biblical teachings men will
hurt and kill one another.
As Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop similarly explained:
Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them
or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm
of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.
Indeed, without the influence of Christ or the Scriptures, man, and consequently
society, will spiral downward rather than evolve upward.
Lesson Eight: The Influence of Christianity Elevates a Society.
How America responds to worldwide disasters such as earthquakes, floods, droughts,
fires, civil wars, and other human or natural disasters is different from the
response of most of the rest of the world. While other nations send condolences
in the aftermath of tragedies, America sends workers and tangible relief. Why?
Because, as our Founders explained, Christianity elevates the benevolent character
of societies as well as of individuals:
Christian benevolence makes it our indispensable duty to lay ourselves out
to serve our fellow-creatures to the utmost of our power. JOHN ADAMS
The doctrines proclaimed by Jesus and His apostles include lessons of peace,
benevolence, meekness, brotherly love, and charity. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
Let the religious element in man’s nature be neglected and he becomes the
creature of selfish passion. The cultivation of the religious sentiment incites
to general benevolence. DANIEL WEBSTER
Christianity introduces a better and more enlightened sense of right and
justice. It teaches the duty of benevolence to strangers. JAMES KENT, “FATHER
OF AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE”
Christianity, in its tenderness for human infirmities, strongly inculcates
principles of benevolence. RICHARD HENRY LEE, SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION, FRAMER
OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Christianity’s influence upon America has produced our benevolence – a benevolence
that was obvious in the response of our people to the disasters in New York
and Washington, D.C. In fact, foreign broadcasts almost universally focused
on the remarkable humanitarian responses that have arisen spontaneously – from
within America a land that they described as “the most religious of all nations.”
Indeed, in what other nation has its leaders had to beg citizens to please
stop their contributions and to stop volunteering? This is reminiscent of the
accounts in Exodus 36:5 and 2 Chronicles 31:10 where the giving of God’s people
was so great that the leaders had to ask for the contributions to cease. Our
remarkable national benevolence is largely a result of the influences of Christianity.
Lesson Nine: A Rebirth of Religious Feelings.
A revival of religious feelings and patriotism has swept the country in the
wake of the disaster. Radio stations replaced their normal programming with
in-house productions calling the nation to pray and to display American flags.
Virtually every rendition of “God Bless America!” that was ever recorded has
been revived; and Congressmen standing on the east Capitol steps singing “God
Bless America!” literally brought millions of Americans to tears. Individuals
who say they had not recited the pledge of allegiance in over three decades
are now reciting it daily. The prayer service at the National Cathedral with
Billy Graham’s powerful presentation of the Gospel and President Bush’s remarkable
speech have been rebroadcast time and time again over local, regional, and national
Not only have Americans in general been touched with these religious feelings
but also the survivors in particular have a new awareness of spiritual things.
One after another is expressing his or her overwhelming conviction that he or
she was spared by God – for some specific reason – and that they are now rededicating
their lives to finding out what it is God wants them to do and then doing it.
The overt expressions of faith in God and pride in country have also been rekindled
in a most unlikely source: the national media. For example, the World Trade
Centers were collapsing, Judy Woodruff of CNN called on viewers to pray for
the salvation of the souls of those in the Towers. And Britt Hume of Fox has
been unabashed in quoting Scriptures during his broadcasts. And when was the
last time anyone saw Dan Rather of CBS cry? And national newspaper columnists
usually critical of public religious expressions of faith are now opening their
columns with Bible verses. These often crusty, cynical news reporters have had
their hearts touched in a remarkable manner. And speaking of remarkable, New
York City mayor Rudy Giuliani talked more about God during the disaster than
did many ministers!
An openness about our faith in God and pride in America has been rekindled,
and an awareness of, and a new tenderness to, spiritual things has surfaced
in some of the most unexpected circles.
Lesson Ten: There is Never a Time to Let Down Your Guard.
No one could have foreseen what occurred on the morning of September 11th: America
was the only superpower: our enemies could be watched by satellite; our borders
were safe; our military was the most powerful in the world. All of this was
sufficient security to lull even the greatest statesmen and patriots to sleep.
The setting was similar in the day of Patrick Henry when in March, 1775, quoting
from Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11, he reminded Americans, “Gentlemen may cry ‘Peace,
peace’ – but there is no peace! The war is actually begun!”
Indeed, 1 Peter 5:8 similarly urges us always to be sober and vigilant, to
be self-controlled and alert, for our enemy is continually prowling around looking
for someone to devour. This is true physically, (as we have seen over the past
few weeks) but it is also true spiritually. There is never a time to relax and
let down our guard. As Proverbs 6:10-11 reminds us, it is because of only a
little sleep that our enemy will overtake us “like an armed bandit.” Jesus similarly
warned, “If the owner of the house had known what time the thief was coming,
he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matthew
The events of recent days prove that there is never a time not to keep watch
and be alert, both physically and spiritually.
While the recent tragic disasters have resulted in a terrible loss of innocent
life, nevertheless God has been able to bring good out of it for the whole nation,
and perhaps for the entire world.
We know that in all things God works for the good of
those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. ROMANS
What was intended for evil God has turned to good in
order to save many.
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