DESOTO – At its closest point, its exactly 1,000 miles from Missouri to Ground Zero in Manhattan. But, just as all American’s felt like they were New Yorkers Sept. 11, 2001, the ten-year anniversary of the terror in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. is bringing the tragedy back to Missouri churches.
Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church, where lead pastor Micah Fries preaches, will be asking the question “How should a Christian respond?” this morning.
“The response of the church towards those who attacked America, particularly the radical arm of the Muslim faith, must be grounded in Luke 6, particularly verses 21-36,” Fries said. “The message is a counter-cultural call to love those who most vehemently hate us, and who even attack us.”
Not just “love,” but “radical love.”
“[It] must be an aggressive campaign of love and mercy extended to those who most aggressively hate Christianity and Christians. As we have been “struck on the cheek” it is time for us to expose “the other cheek” as we reach out, befriend, display the love of Christ and communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims around the world and to anyone else who might “hate” us.
What does that mean for Frederick Boulevard? Making “a real commitment, not just a theoretical one.” The church left Aug. 31 for mission trips to two countries that are 95 percent-plus Muslim to establish an ongoing partnership to spread the Gospel in those areas.
“For too many Christians, since Sept. 11 we have been known for our aggressive anger towards Muslims,” Fries said. “All too often this seems to be grounded in fear over what they might ‘do to us.’ This is completely antithetical to the message of Jesus. We are supposed to expose ourselves to danger, be at risk, as we aggressively love those who are most unloving toward us.”
That is similar to the message at First Baptist Desoto.
“A fallen human race is always going to have element of terror and hate,” said senior pastor Jeremy Muniz.
That not only applies to Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or other terrorists. Last fall, when Westboro Baptist Church (a tiny Topeka, Kan. church known for outrageous publicity stunts, and not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention or any other denomination) picketed the funeral of a local solider, Muniz said the town responded not with anger, but with love.
“It’s our job to show the love of Christ even in the midst of hate,” he said. The visceral response is to return anger with more anger. But we are called to love the unlovable, even those who are doing despicable things. Their sins can be forgiven.”
David Krueger, pastor of First Baptist Church, Linn and chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission, said the upcoming anniversary is not only a day of remembrance of the suffering and loss, but also a reminder that applies to each person’s life.
“I cannot think of Sept. 11 without also thinking of Luke 13,” Krueger said. In that passage, Jesus refers to the accidental death of 18 Galileans when a tower in Siloam fell on them.
“The Lord pointed out that this did not occur because the Galileans were worse sinners than others, but that it was a sign that repentance was needed,’ he said. “Jesus reminds us that all men will perish. Some will perish peacefully in their sleep at 90 years of age. Some will perish violently in an act of terrorism. The fact that men will perish is a call to repentance and confession of the living Lord. None of us is sinless, so we had all better get prepared.”
First Baptist, Desoto and Muniz are also going to participate in the dedication of a new monument honoring service men killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as honoring military and firefighters and police in the community, something they do throughout the year.
“If there is a positive that came out of Sept. 11, it’s that it helped our country understand the sacrifice of those men and women,” Muniz said. “The military and our first responders in many ways illustrate that better than anything in our modern culture. It really is a beautiful picture of biblical theme: that Christ has love for us and sacrificed Himself for us.”
In addition to being the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., it is the first Sept. 11 since the attacks’ mastermind, Osama bin Laden’s death.
“Make no mistake; Bin Laden received justice, which he deserved,” Fries said. “The American government did exactly what they should have done and that is bring justice to the man responsible for leading a movement that has led to thousands of American deaths, not to mention an incredibly large number of deaths from many, many other countries around the world. As I contemplate God’s word, I am convinced that our response should not be one of jubilation. Proverbs 24:17 reminds us, Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.’ Ezekiel 33:11 reminds us, ‘Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways.’
“To celebrate bin Laden’s demise is to somehow deny God’s word that reminds us that we are all equally guilty before God and that we all stand equally condemned as a result of our sin,” Fries said. “Yes, Bin Laden’s sin was grievous. Yes, he deserved death. But make no mistake, so do you and I and every other person in the world. He represents another individual who died outside the grace of God and that is tragic.”
BRIAN KOONCE/ STAFF WRITER