Preaching can wait?

No ... but the tone might well have been adjusted

Issue: "A patient nation," Oct. 13, 2001

"I was chilled," wrote WORLD reader Pam Hennig of Fenton, Mich., "by Mr. Belz's ill-timed and callous response to the events of Sept. 11 in his column 'Sinflation.' As we mourn our dead, we don't need a prophet; we need kinship. Amid the destruction and pathos, we don't need a sermon; we need a Savior. We know we are sinners. We know we miss the mark. Mr. Belz missed his mark when he chose to point the finger at our collective 'isms' instead of pointing to the cross-to Jesus, the comforter who heals the brokenhearted. At this sad time, let us take the tender approach of Romans 12:15 and 'weep with those who weep.' The preaching can wait."

Others agreed. One long-time friend said he found my column "offensive," while another said he was "profoundly troubled." A pastor from Maryland blasted away at me for a long paragraph, and then closed: "In short, a blank page would have served the matter much better than your editorial."

So now that I have so effectively established my reputation as the fellow who knows how to use exactly the right word at just the right time, let me confess: When hordes of good people tell you that something you did really fell short, it doesn't work to respond by saying that all those good people misunderstood you, or took you out of context, or were just too dense to get your point. The likelihood in such a circumstance is that you blew it.

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So now I want to speak to WORLD's special friends-those who typically back us to the hilt, but who believe in this case I spoke with careless insensitivity at a moment when our nation needed and deserved another tone.

Here, let me say better two things I did not say well in my Sept. 22 column:

0While it was right to say that such monstrous evil as occurred on Sept. 11 was the result of sin-both specific and general-it was wrong to allow the inference to be drawn that we know whose sin was involved. Critics faulted me for jumping on Jerry Falwell's bandwagon, pretending to know the mind of God, and assigning specific blame for all this evil on the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual lobby. Mr. Falwell was wrong to say what he did, and admitted as much. We went to press before Mr. Falwell spoke; if the timing had been different, I might have gone to extra pains to stress that we don't know the mind of God on such matters. I should have made that effort anyway.

What God means to keep as a mystery is not for us to probe. That is Jesus' clear teaching in the book of Luke, where He tells the story of a tower falling and killing 18 people. God has no obligation to explain why evil hits some people and not others. Nor are we arrogantly to pretend that we know what God hasn't explained. When we said under a picture of New York going up in flames that this was "The wages of sin," I can appreciate how some readers thought we were also saying that the victims had gotten exactly what they deserved.

Many devoted followers of Jesus Christ lost their lives in the attacks of Sept. 11. The testimonies some of them left, and those of their survivors, have stirred many of us. These men and women knew themselves to be sinful persons, but they did not die for those sins. Jesus had already paid that sacrifice. They died because of the wicked behavior of terrorists. Their deaths are an illustration of the awful and enormous price tag inflicted by other people's sin. If readers missed that central point, that's more my fault than it was theirs.

0My column also confused some because they read between the lines the tired old arguments of those who talk about "moral equivalence." "OK," we used to hear, "so the communists are wretched people-but consider also our own sins." And then the communists somehow got a free pass.

Many readers thought I minimized the wickedness of the Sept. 11 terrorists by bringing up the reality of our own false gods. And they saw this as unpatriotic. Oddly, while my first critics lumped me with fundamentalist Falwell, this second group associated me with liberals who have always had the bad habit of blaming America first.

The blame belongs to the terrorists-and only the terrorists. So monstrous was their evil that we may be hard pressed as a nation to mount a proportionate response. The blood of 6,000 people cries out, and I fully support the president's commitment to a huge and enduring effort to root out the terrorists and their venomous hatred of all that is American.

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