September 26, 2013
Taking a hard look at the 9/11 rallying cry.
“The Day the World Changed”
My journey of “Never Forgetting” September 11, 2001, starts during my freshman year of college. I wake to the sound of my roommate running down the hallway of our dorm. He turns on the television, and says, “You have to see this!” We both sat in silence watching the events that took place that morning, one day that will never be forgotten.
Now here we are, just past the 12th anniversary of 9/11. On this anniversary I found my social media feeds filling up with the phrase, “Never Forgive, Never Forget.” Posted by evangelical friends no less. It’s become one of the rallying cries of America surrounding this tragedy. But, what does this reveal about the culture we live in?
This year, as in the past eleven, the phrase comes up on the anniversary of the attacks, and lingers for a while in updates and social media feeds. What worries me is not the phrase “Never Forget.” Mass murder shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s the phrase “Never Forgive” that troubles me. Can Christians post “Never Forgive” on our social media accounts, while at the same time preaching forgiveness in our churches? Is there another message that we can proclaim in the shadow of tragedy?
“Never Forgive, Never Forget”
People and cultures remember. It is an important part of who we are; our lives find meaning in the memories we create and keep. But since the tragedy of 9/11, it seems we’ve come to be increasingly defined by unforgiveness. Many Americans seem to believe that what took place on September 11th has given them the right to hurl racist insults, harbor racist feelings, and in general, to spew forth hatred.
In a recent study, the Barna group found that 12 years after 9/11 “preventing terrorism” ranks equal to or more important than healthcare, immigration, and education. We are on the watch for anything that is a “terror attack” (gunman enters elementary school and Boston Marathon bombing, as two recent examples) and this guides much of what we do and say even if we are not consciously aware of the influence.
Some may be surprised that the study shows that Millennials prioritize preventing terrorism above social concerns. Even though most of them were teens or children at the time of the attack, preventing terrorism is the top priority for them. Why? Perhaps because they grew up in a new era defined by the struggle against terrorism. Though older Americans generally respond with more anger over the attacks, the commonality between these two groups though is the use of the popular phrase “Never Forgive, Never Forget.”
Sure, this rallying cry is a trend, one that will likely continue to appear briefly every time the country commemorates the attacks of 9/11. But trends often reveal the heartbeat of a culture. A culture that needs to learn about forgiveness and the ultimate forgiveness found in Christ that is never to be forgotten.
Our role in a “Never Forgive, Never Forget” world
To never forget is important. We want to remember those who died and the families who are without their loved ones. But this is not a time to turn this “Never Forgetting” into a time to embrace hatred and racism. What masquerades as a rally for justice is often just an excuse to seek vengeance.
We can commit to remember, even as we extend forgiveness. That doesn’t mean we dismiss or downplay the pain experienced by families who lost loved ones on September 11 or in the wars that followed. We will never forget that September day, but we can forgive. And we must urge those we lead to forgive as well.
If we ignore this call to forgiveness, we water down our teaching and preaching of the gospel. Forgiveness is at the center of the gospel. The danger with unforgiveness is not realizing the extent of the forgiveness we have received. We devalue the forgiveness that has been given to us by living a life of unforgiveness. If we do not practice forgiveness (Matt. 6:12), we feed the unforgiving attitudes of those in our churches.
Does forgiving equal forgetting? I don’t believe so. I believe there is a balance between remembering deep loss and horrific tragedies, while recognizing the joy and beauty that makes life worth living, while always looking forward.
As Christians and leaders we are commanded to “Forgive, and to never forget.” We are to forgive others and forget the wrongs done to us while never forgetting the price that was paid on the cross for us. By forgiving we are being counter-cultural and not holding on to the anger that we felt that morning of September 11, 2001. We must forgive because we have been forgiven. Through this forgiveness we have been given a greater calling even more powerful than the rallying cry “Never Forgive, Never Forget.” What if the cry in our churches to the world was “Always Remember, Always Forgive.” Sure, it’s not as catchy as “Never Forgive, Never Forget.” It may never trend on Twitter. But it’s a whole lot healthier for our souls, and the souls of those we lead.