U.S. got what it deserves, Falwell says
By DOUG SAUNDERS, The Globe and Mail
Saturday, September 15, 2001
LOS ANGELES -- Tuesday's terrorist attacks, widely assumed to be the work of religious extremists, have inflamed some of the United States's Christian fundamentalists, whose leaders blamed their country's non-believers and secular institutions, its feminists, homosexuals and civil-rights groups for the thousands of deaths.
Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the most prominent leaders of the born-again Christian right wing, said on Thursday night on Mr. Robertson's widely broadcast 700 Club TV show that the United States is to blame for the destruction, which they described as God's retribution for sinful behaviour.
The remarks drew widespread criticism.
Rev. Billy Graham, a figurehead for more moderate evangelical Christians, suggested yesterday during an otherwise conciliatory address to a national prayer gathering that the only solution to the terrorism would be a return to God and "spiritual renewal."
Christianity has become a powerful social and political force in the United States. According to a comprehensive poll of 6,000 adults across the United States, conducted this year by Barna Research Group, about 40 per cent of Americans describe themselves as "born-again" Christians. Many are Protestants who believe the Bible is literal truth and that Judgment Day is approaching.
An additional 20 million Americans are members of less extreme evangelical Christian groups, according to a poll by The New York Times.
The majority of religious Americans appear to have responded to Tuesday's attacks with compassion, empathy and sadness. But Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson expressed the views of a sizeable minority of Americans by blaming the perceived sins of their fellow citizens.
"God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," Mr. Falwell said on Mr. Robertson's show, which claims a viewership of millions. Then, as Mr. Robertson repeatedly offered his assent, Mr. Falwell broadened his scope:
"The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] has got to take a lot of blame for this," he said, charging that the rights organization is responsible for "throwing God out successfully, with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools."
He added: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way [a Washington organization that opposes right-wing extremism] -- all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say: 'You helped this happen.' "
Mr. Robertson concluded: "Well, I totally concur."
Moderate Christian groups and People for the American Way denounced the evangelists' remarks yesterday. An ACLU spokesman said he would not dignify them with a response.
Confronted with the angry responses, Mr. Falwell was unrepentant. "I put all the blame, legally and morally, on the actions of the terrorist," he said. But America's "secular and anti-Christian environment left us open to our Lord's [decision] not to protect. When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture . . . the result is not good."
A White House spokesman called the remarks inappropriate, quickly adding that "the President does not share those views."
This is a particularly sensitive point, because President George W. Bush calls himself a born-again Christian, an Evangelical believer who found Jesus in the 1980s, with the help of Mr. Graham, after a number of dissolute years. During last year's election campaign, Mr. Bush tried to appeal to the followers of Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson. He has opened his policy offices to the views of fundamentalist Christians and has initiated policies that would allow religious groups to offer social programs.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush was one of many political leaders who watched Mr. Graham address a multifaith religious service at Washington's National Cathedral. His message largely expressed hope and reassurance, but he included remarks suggesting that a lack of religious belief was part of the problem.