Tuesday, Sept. 11th was simply a horrendous day. We didn’t get very much work done, needless to say, as we watched well-known buildings burn and collapse and waited for the next disaster.
My friend Ron watched the Pentagon burn from his 8th floor flat in the Cairo near Dupont Circle. It took my friend Mark over an hour to ride his bike home from his job at the Environmental Protection Agency when they closed the government and evacuated all the buildings — usually a 10 minute bike ride. And much more tragically, an old friend worked on the 89th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers and I have not heard from him or been able to reach him.
I grew up in New York. I love to drive to New York from New Jersey or Long Island and watch the skyline loom up across the river, punctuated mid-town by the Empire State Building and the lovely graceful Chrysler Building and anchored way downtown by the two huge towers of the World Trade Center. The anchor is gone now. I don’t know if it will be easy to look at my hometown skyline again.
Here in my new home I often take a route that passes right by the Pentagon on my way downtown, especially if I am going to MCC DC. The gaping hole and blackened walls of that side of the Pentagon will be hard to look at.
And though we are not yet completely sure, it appears that these atrocities were committed by religious fanatics.
It is important to remember that the last time we as a people felt like this, unknown terrorists had blown up a Federal building in Oklahoma City. The assumption was that it was the Arabs, that Islam was somehow responsible. But it turned out to be a lanky, blond-headed American boy, helpfully trained by our own military. Go figure.
Jumping to conclusions is the only exercise some Americans get. But we can’t let our assumptions control our actions. Not all followers of Islam are terrorists. The terrorists are the real heretics, twisting the Koran to their own perverted uses. Sort of like Christians can do when it comes to homosexuality.
Despite all the horrors America has unarguably committed and the wrong-headedness of some of our leaders, it is hard to look at all this disaster and feel anything but fierce pride and patriotism. I hope that feeling doesn’t translate into American horrors against whatever Arab or Muslim country can be connected with the attacks on us, and especially on individual Arab or Muslim people.
The President’s missile defense shield seems a little silly now — our enemies don’t need missiles when any handy American Airlines 767 filled with jet fuel can get through to it’s target without even a fighter jet being scrambled to try to stop it. Our strongest symbols of American financial and military might can be shattered not by missiles or nuclear bombs, but by determined fanatics with knives on a commercial airliner.
In stark contrast to the craven acts of knife-wielding barbarians there is another face of America. It is seen in the bravery, commitment, love, and compassion of thousands of people who are groping through the rubble, sometimes with their bare hands, trying to find any left alive in the huge pile of junk that used to be the World Trade Center. It is in the thousands lining up to give blood. It is the millions who are thronging their churches, synagogues, and mosques to pray. I like to think that this is the true face of America and indeed the world.
Even people of the strongest faith are tempted to ask, Where is God? How can a loving God allow this to happen? Where is God in all this?
It is my belief that we CAN see the hand of God in this situation. But not in the disaster itself. God is not found in the disasters that befall us. God is found in our response to those disasters. God didn’t hijack and crash four jet airplanes. But God does inspire our loving, caring responses the rescue workers, the police and fire fighters, the medical personnel, the heroes and heroines on the scene in New York and at the Pentagon. And God is found in us ordinary people who stop to grieve and pray, who give blood, who light a candle.
Similarly, God will not be seen in the Americans who throw bricks through mosque windows, or who vandalize Islamic centers, or who shoot up Arab gathering places, or who terrorize American citizens of Arab descent or Islamic faith. God will be seen in those of us who stretch out a hand of love to those who are different from us, even Arabs, even Muslims. God will be seen in our acts of kindness, forbearance, and understanding.
That isn’t to say that I don’t want justice done for those who supported the horror rained down upon our great nation that day. I do. I want those responsible found and punished to the fullest extent of the law. Americans crave justice in this case. I hope that we also remember that judgement is God’s.
Life will go on in our country. New York will rebuild its shattered financial district. The Pentagon will be rebuilt. But there is something else that has been taken from us, something that will not so easily be rebuilt. Our sense of safety. Our innocence. Our belief that our strong, powerful, dominant country is somehow invulnerable.
I disagree that this is a new Pearl Harbor. It isn’t, because there is no identifiable Japan, no single nation or alliance of nations who have attacked the United States militarily in an act of war. Perhaps it is more like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo toward the beginning of the last century — the act of a lone assassin. That act evolved into the First World War as nation after nation got into the act of reprisals and revenge and retaliation. Soon the whole world was engulfed.
I am afraid the new century is starting out as badly as the last one. Senseless and horrific acts of violence have obliterated hundreds, probably thousands of innocent people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. I fear what will come next.
May God have mercy on us. Grant us your peace.
R. Adam DeBaugh has served the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches since attending the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., in 1973 and is a director of Chi Ro Press.
He served on the Board of Directors of the Gay Rights National Lobby.
In late 1975 he was named Director of the UFMCC Department of Christian Social Action, which position he held until 1986. As Director of Christian Social Action and of the Washington Office he traveled extensively throughout the UFMCC, visiting, speaking, and preaching at over 100 churches throughout the U.S., and supervised the Christian Social Action programs of the denomination.
In 1979 he and the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson were named the first co-directors of the new Department of Ecumenical Relations and in 1981 Adam wrote the UFMCC’s original application for membership in the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S. With Elder Wilson he supervised the first triennium of dialogue with the NCCC through 1984, when he stepped down from the ecumenical work of the Fellowship.
In October, 1983, he was elected District Coordinator of the Mid-Atlantic District, only the second lay person to hold the position of District Coordinator in the UFMCC. (In the UFMCC, the District Coordinator is somewhat analogous to a Bishop in other church polities, having episcopal, pastoral and administrative responsibilities. The Mid-Atlantic District covered six states and the District of Columbia.) He served on the UFMCC General Council (the governing body of the denomination) from its inception in 1985 until his retirement as District Coordinator in June 1992.
In 1990 the Mid-Atlantic District Committee, recognizing Mr. DeBaugh’s gifts in the areas of writing, editing, and publishing, granted his application for Special Work status for Chi Rho Press, a Gay and Lesbian Christian publishing house. He decided not to stand for re-election as District Coordinator when his term expired in June 1992, in order to follow God’s clear call on his life to devote his energies to the ministry of Chi Rho Press.
A committed lay person, Adam DeBaugh is an accomplished writer, speaker, workshop leader, and preacher. He served on the Board of Directors of the Washington Blade newspaper in the early 1970’s, and on the Board of Directors of Emmaus House of Prayer, another Special Work of the Mid-Atlantic District. He has served on the Board of Trustees of the Fund for Overcoming Racism, a scholarship fund for people of color who are studying for the UFMCC clergy ministry. He was a member of the board of directors of Among Friends, Inc., a non-profit Washington area agency that provides transitional services to Gay and Lesbian people in crisis.
He has written a number of booklets, including “Writing to Congress” and “The Least of These: A Christian Social Action Bible Study on Matthew 25”, which are currently distributed by Chi Rho Press. He is a contributor to the books “The Road to Emmaus” and “Positively Gay”.