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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- As Americans solemnly marked the 10th anniversary of the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the question that was on many hearts was how should we respond as people of faith and as American citizens?
We are a religious people. More than four out of five Americans claim some affiliation with some form of the Christian faith and nine out of 10 believe in a Supreme Being.
In the immediate aftermath of those terrible events a decade ago, Americans turned to their faith and to their patriotism to find solace, comfort and strength as they mourned the loss of loved ones, friends, workmates and fellow citizens. They were inspired both by their faith leaders and the heroism of their fellow citizens -- the police and firemen who responded so heroically to the tragedy as well as the Americans who organized the first counter-attack in the war on terror on Flight No. 93. "Let's Roll" became a symbol of the bravery and the indomitable will of the American people and served as an inspiration to the whole nation.
Since the attacks, attendance at religious services has receded approximately to where it was prior to 9/11. Flags and other patriotic regalia are nowhere near as prevalent in our neighborhoods as they were in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Americans should be prayerfully grateful that our nation has not been attacked again on a scale similar to 9/11. It's not that the Islamic terrorists have not been trying. There is massive evidence of continued plots against our nation and its people. And as we pray, our political leaders should remember that we are a religious people (a new Fox News poll revealed that 77 percent of Americans believe prayer can help people recover from illness or injury.)
In future events commemorating 9/11, political leaders should include religious leaders. We are not a secular society; we are not France. Americans want and expect the spiritual realm to be included as they commemorate our grief, loss and resolve about national calamities.
And we should expand our prayers to include more than mourning the events of that terrible day. As people of faith, we should pray for the men and women (military and civilian) who continue to sacrifice on our behalf and who serve with such devotion to keep us from being attacked in a similar way here in the homeland during these intervening 10 years.
I, for one, am delighted, but also surprised, that we have not been attacked in a similar fashion to 9/11 since 2001. All of us owe a great debt to those who work so hard to protect us.
We should pray for our political leaders at every level. We are commanded to pray for all who are in authority and we should, at least on a daily basis, pray that God will give them wisdom, discernment and judgment as they deal with the many difficult issues that confront our nation.
We should also pray for all of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 or who have lost loved ones defending our country against such terrorism in the intervening 10 years. Our prayers should include an urgent request that our Heavenly Father give them a special sense of his mercy and love and that they will be aware that their country is terribly grateful for their loved ones' sacrifices.
As people of faith, we should also pray for our enemies. Something is terribly wrong with an ideology (religious or otherwise) that inspires people to find fulfillment and "salvation" in killing as many of their fellow human beings as they possibly can. The Twin Towers were the two most populated buildings in the world at the time of the 9/11 attacks and the terrorist intent was maximum human carnage.
As people of faith, we should pray that God would liberate them from the blindness and bitterness of their twisted understanding of religion (a fascist ideology masquerading as a form of Islam) which has so corroded their souls. It should always be remembered that nearly nine out of every 10 victims of the radical Islamic jihadists worldwide have been Muslims who have refused to accept this twisted death cult as the only legitimate expression of their faith.
We also need to pray for ourselves that God would protect our hearts from bitterness and hatred toward those who would attack and aspire to destroy our society. If we allow bitterness to take root in our hearts, or if we fall victim to the temptation to hate, then they win. At that point we will have descended to their level.
We should not take delight in the death of even as evil a character as Osama bin Laden. In Ezekiel 33:11 God tells us He does not delight in the death of the wicked. He would much prefer that evildoers repent and turn from their wickedness.
We can, and should, however, be encouraged by the fact that our government (the civil magistrate of Romans 13) has punished Bin Laden's evil and that our government is vigilant in fulfilling its responsibility to protect the innocent.
We must pray for our country. We should give thanks for the providential privilege of being an American. When we pray "God bless America," we should remember that blessings by definition are undeserved and unmerited and they do incur obligations and responsibilities. God's blessings on America mean that we, the recipients of such undeserved, divine largesse, have a responsibility to defend freedom and liberty, to pass it on untarnished to our posterity and to assist and aid its birth around the world.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. A version of this column first appeared in the Christian Post.