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An Essay by NPR's Scott Simon
Sept. 22, 2001 -- I really don't want to be critical of anyone during a national crisis, especially people who are sources of spiritual guidance to millions of Americans. But sometimes the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson say something so staggering, they renew your capacity to be shocked, amen, even in a shocking time.
Last week, when America was wounded and confused, the Rev. Falwell was a guest on Pat Robertson's television show, The 700 Club. He said that God Almighty, angered by America's abortion rights, gay rights and secularism in schools, had permitted terrorists to slay the World Trade Center and smite the Pentagon.
FALWELL: What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.
ROBERTSON: Well, Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population.
FALWELL: 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--all of them who've tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'
This week, both the reverends issued apologies. Mr. Falwell called his own remarks "insensitive, uncalled for and unnecessary" -- everything but wrong.
This week, it was reported that Mark Bingham, a San Francisco public relations executive, may well have been one of the passengers who so bravely resisted the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77. That flight crashed into an unpopulated field outside of Pittsburgh instead of another national monument.
Mr. Bingham was 31. He played on a local gay rugby team and hoped to compete in next year's Gay Games in Sydney, Australia.
I don't know if Mark Bingham was religious, but it seems to me that he lived a life that celebrated the preciousness of this world's infinite variety. Not so the Revs. Robertson and Falwell and the mullahs of the Taliban, who seem to see a God who frowns at tolerance and smiles with approval on murder and destruction.
Let me put it in the bald terms in which many Americans may be thinking right now: If your plane was hijacked, who would you rather sit next to? Righteous reverends who will sit back and say, "This is God's punishment for gay Teletubbies," or the gay rugby player who lays down his life to save others? And by the way, which person seems closer to God?
Scott Simon is host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.