Anticipating heightened tension as the nation approaches the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, a broad coalition of religious leaders representing dozens of denominations and religious bodies plans to gather for a special ceremony on Thursday. The leaders will call for peaceful remembrances of the terrorists attacks and plan to celebrate the role of religion as the country still struggles to heal from the emotional and political ramifications of 9/11.
The rare gathering, which will take place at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., will include clergy and representatives of some of the nation's largest Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant denominations. While hundreds of interfaith ceremonies are taking place across the country leading up to and on 9/11, Thursday's gathering is significant for the breadth of figures involved. Confirmed participants include representatives of the Islamic Society of North America, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the World Sikh Council, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Methodist Church and the National Council of Churches of Christ, among others.
"We want to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11, and not only with uplifting words and memories, but with a commitment to the common good. It's time for us all to stand together in this land of opportunity with diverse ethnic and religious groups to stay we are here to transcend faith, religion, political ideology," said imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, the nation's largest Islamic organization.
The representatives form largely the same group that gathered in Washington last year ahead of the 9/11 anniversary for an "emergency summit" as the nation debated the merits of building an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero and when a fringe pastor in Florida ignited international violence with threats to burn the Quran. They also came together in March as Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) chaired hearings on Capitol Hill about the radicalization of American Muslims. The group calls themselves "Shoulder to Shoulder," an allusion to how Muslims line up close together during group prayers.
"Last September we gathered in order to speak out against anti-Muslim rhetoric that was so widespread at that time. We stood with one another then in order to say that whenever one religious community was threatened, all of us were threatened," said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. "What we will do is certainly mourn those who died 10 years ago, but we will also say this country ought to be mature enough to make distinctions between extremists of any faith and the vast majority of those who stand against terrorism."
While the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero and the Rev. Terry Jones, who captivated the nation with his threats to burn Qurans, are rarely spoken about anymore, a new controversy has arisen this year over the lack of clergy of any faith participating in the Sept. 11 memorial dedication in New York City. In addition, some of the clergy speaking Thursday said a trend of proposals in legislatures to ban Shariah law in several states has caused alarm.
"Religious extremism exists and it's real. It was a significant factor in leading to 9/11. No one in his right mind would deny that," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, who said he will spend part of his speech Thursday addressing reflection and remembrance. "We have to battle extremism, but point two is that sometimes we tend to permit entire populations to be represented by their worst elements," he added.
Several polls have shown Muslim-Americans to be optimistic about their lives in the U.S. and more positive in their outlook than the general population, but leaders who will speak Thursday said hurdles remain for Muslims and other minority religious groups.
"I don't think the issues have gone away," said Yoffie.
Speakers scheduled for Thursday's event include:
Bishop Martin D. Holley, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
The Rev. Daniel Vestal, Executive Coordinator, The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Representative, American Baptist Churches USA
Imam Mohamed Magid, President, Islamic Society of North America and imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society
Rabbi Marc Schneier, Founder and President, The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
Dr. Tarunjit Singh (Butalia), Secretary General, World Sikh Council - America Region
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism
The Rev. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed
Rabbi Dr. Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
The Rev. Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
The Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director, Faith in Public Life
Additional religious leaders that will attend include the following:
The Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners
The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness, Bishop Suffragan of Armed Services and Federal Ministries, The Episcopal Church
Bishop Ray Chamberlain, United Methodist Church Council of Bishops
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Archbishop of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
The Rev. J. Brent Walker, Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty
The Rev. Brian Messler, Ministry and Mission Board Member, Church of the Brethren
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Gentle, Representative, Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) and Senior Minister, National City Christian Church
Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church
The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President, Interfaith Alliance
Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr., President, The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Rabbi Jack Moline, Director of Public Policy, Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbi Charles Feinberg, Co-Chair, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, Director, Faith and the Common Good (a project of Auburn Theological Seminary)
Representative, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rajwant Singh, National Chairman, Sikh Council on Religion and Education
Rev. Craig Roshaven, Witness Ministries Director, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Parvez Shah, Secretary General, Universal Muslim Association of America
James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute