Old Glory stands guard at the United 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when my wife and I visited on July 2, 2012.
As I went to bed last night, I told my wife, “Wow, it’s after midnight. It’s 9/11.” This day marks a day of remembrance for me, as well as every other American, as we remember when we came under attack from forces that, to this day, seek to destroy us. Eleven years ago today, I was at work at an office supply store when I go the news. As we listened to events unfold on the radio, I thought of my family. I called my mother, who was at home watching the wall-to-wall news coverage of the two planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center. As we talked, she broke off in mid-sentence and said, “My God, another one just hit the Pentagon.” I told her I loved her, and hung up the phone. I found a small training room in the back of our store, shut the door behind me, and sat down and cried. I cried for the victims, I cried for my nation, and I cried for my own freedom. Not knowing if the three attacks (and later, the failed fourth attack that was brought down by heroes in Shanksville, Pennsylvania) were the beginning of some sort of Blitzkrieg or not, I frankly was scared out of my mind. After composing myself, work continued, but it obviously wasn’t the same. A contractor that was working in our store that day left shortly after the attacks, because her brother worked in one of the Twin Towers. She needed to be with family and frankly so did all of us. After work, I went to my mother’s house and along with her, and my two younger sisters, watched the replays of the attacks and the continuing coverage on television. Family was the most important thing on that day, in that moment. I woke up the next morning with the immediate thought of, “Oh, God, let it have been a dream.” I turned on the news only find an aerial view of a smoldering New York City on the screen, and my heart sank again. While the thought had crossed my mind the day before, on this day, 9/12, I knew that we were now a nation at war.
In the weeks and months following, measures were taken to find out exactly who did this, to find them, and to either kill them, or bring them to justice. The Patriot Act was signed, and it was a well-intentioned means of protecting America and Americans against another 9/11. In times of war, sacrifices are made, and certain liberties are, for lack of a better term, suspended. Curfews may be enforced, as they were in London in World War II, or tighter security measures may be taken at airports, seaports, train stations, and bus terminals. Again, these are well-intentioned. The trouble with these “temporary” breaches in our freedom, is that they oftentimes are anything but temporary. The Patriot Act was originally supposed to “sunset,” or expire, on December 31, 2005. However it was extended in 2006 by President Bush, and again in 2010 by President Obama. The sunset has never really dipped past the horizon. When our liberties and freedoms are given up for a measure of security, we have neither liberty nor security. Our government overstepped the Constitutional reigns on its own power, even though they did so for what they truly believed was best for our country. Governments and other authoritative structures are not keen on giving up power that they have either usurped by force, or been given by a willing populace. It doesn’t mean that they’re evil; it just means that power is an addictive drug. Be it government leaders, religious leaders, or the committee chairmanship of a community watch, those in power don’t like giving power back to those who gave it to them. Like Gollum in the The Lord of the Rings, they can become corrupted and not even realize it. Not all become corrupted, and in fact, I believe that most do not, but enough do become so intoxicated with their authority, that they end up actually putting in greater danger those that they were given the power to watch over and protect.
In the decade-plus since 9/11/01, we have seen our nation, under two presidents from opposite sides of the political and ideological spectrum, overstep its authority in an effort to protect us. In doing so, we’ve seen government departments like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) come into being. While the creation of the DHS and TSA seemed like the logical step at the time, when fears and emotions were at unprecedented heights, when we look back at the monstrosities they’ve become, it’s reasonable to say that we were wrong to allow their creation. There’s almost a weekly story of someone being abused, humiliated, or sexually assaulted in public view by TSA agents at airports across the country. Disabled children in wheelchairs are searched head-to-toe, and women have their private areas groped because they’re told they may be a security threat: “It’s just procedure, ma’am.” My pastor was detained several times and searched in the months following 9/11 while men who actually fit the profile of those who perpetrated the attacks walked by without a glance. Now, is everyone who looks like Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi a terrorist? No, absolutely not. Far from it. But in an effort to not offend anyone, our government has ended up offending everyone.
Along the same lines, when religion steps on your freedoms, it is just as bad as when a government does. The aforementioned Atta and al-Shehhi subscribed to a strict interpretation of Islam that provides for everything except freedom. Women are subjugated to a status not much different than cattle, and believers are called upon to kill not just the atheist, the Christian, and the Jew, but the Muslim who is “not Muslim enough.” Most people seek refuge in their faith. As a Christian, I believe that the name of the Lord is a strong tower, and that there is safety in that Name for the righteous man. But even in my own faith, there are those that, although well-meaning, allow power and authority to to cause them to overstep the biblical reigns on that very power and authority. I’ve seen men of God, with the best of intentions, call for extra-biblical standards of dress, entertainment, and even food and nourishment. Other Christians who don’t subscribe to the same standards are deemed “not Christian enough,” or even not Christian at all. We have allowed this to happen because of our love for God and desire to please Him, just as we allowed our government to clinch its fist around us because of our love of country. The Christian pastor who goes beyond what Scripture says to define salvation is like the politician who goes beyond what the Constitution says to define liberty.
I love my nation. I bleed red, white, and blue. I love my church. I worship the One who bled for me. But when a government forgets that ever since the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, it is a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, it needs to be reminded at the ballot box, and those that have abused their power need to be replaced by those who honor the freedoms that our Founding Fathers fought for. When a church forgets that since Calvary, it is a nation of kings of priests, it needs to be reminded at conferences and meetings, and those who have overstepped there biblical authority need to be replaced by those who honor the freedom that our Heavenly Father died for.