One of the Twin Towers was billowing smoke. The other had already collapsed.
I had just gotten dressed. My wife Kim paused from feeding our four children breakfast on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as I watched the television feed from New York City.
A half-hour later as I drove to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., where I served as singles pastor, the radio poured story after unbelievably horrid story: A plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and the White House may have been targeted as well. All air traffic had been grounded.
Our country was under attack, changing us forever. The 9/11 calamity would alter the relationship between Christians and Islam as well.
In one morning we suffered a horrendous loss not experienced in America since Pearl Harbor. Almost 3,000 people died in multiple attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Saddleback's prayer service that night drew 10,000 grieving souls. Gatherings continued on the church campus almost nightly that week, with additional daytime services.
Americans who weren't churchgoers were open to the comfort of Christ. For months regular services overflowed.
For many American Christians, however, 9/11 is the dividing line between naïve ignorance of the suffering world and an enlightened, informed understanding of just how brutal suffering can be. Deep suffering afflicts a majority of the people in the world. Many suffer simply because they follow Jesus.
Muslim terrorists motivated by unimaginable hate perpetrated these crimes. Before 9/11, an enemy was typically somebody who personally offended or hurt me. Now the enemy is a group of people blinded by a hate-filled belief system and bent on our annihilation.
We cannot minimize the suffering of the victims, or the grief-beset loves ones they left behind to mourn this catastrophic loss. But let us never forget that Jesus loved and died for the lost. He asks of us the humanly impossible: To love the hijackers and those who plotted the attacks as well. The Bible offers no exceptions to this command to love. How do I love someone who would so willingly and joyously kill innocent civilians?
The Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit, through which we are able to carry out this mandate. 2 Corinthians 5:14 says that the love of Christ compels us. That love must control us even when our human nature might move us the other direction.
Of the world's 6.8 billion people, one-third are Christians. The rest, including 1.5 billion Muslims, are without Christ. That means the forces of darkness command them. Our real enemy is Satan, who uses an arsenal of controlling belief systems, including Islam, to enslave billions in a Christ-less, hopeless eternity.
Apart from Christ, the actions of hijackers motivated by their theological viewpoint make complete sense. Apart from Christ, we Christians have no alternative but the same base level of hatred. How tragic that 19 men believed their entrance to paradise was secured by being jihadist terrorists. We must pity those so enslaved in spiritual darkness that they truly believe killing Christians and others is a service to God. My heart breaks for those entrapped in such evil.
Many Muslims are as distressed as we are by the evil actions of these jihadists. But we must remember that because one segment of Islam doesn't support this, it doesn't deny the reality that another segment not only does endorse it, but also embraces and perpetrates it. The challenge we face is to separate the spiritual, religious force from those who are enslaved by it. And the Church, equipped with Jesus’ teachings, is able to love the sinner while abhorring the sin. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, this is impossible.
9/11 is an annual reminder of how utterly inhumane the world would be without Christ. In the weeks following that infamous day, our nation experienced resurgent hope as we united and prayed for God to heal our land, to bind up the wounds of the hurting and victimized and to place our faith in the day that God delivers true, perfect justice void of hate and revenge. That must continue to be the daily prayer of every follower of Christ.
Violence against the Church reflects the hatred of those hijackers. Persecution of Christ's church reminds us the battle between Jesus and the forces of darkness inflicts real casualties. Every year thousands of Christians are martyred for their faith. Many other Christians are arrested, kidnapped, threatened or face discrimination and alienation. We must stand with suffering Christians and to do whatever we can to strengthen them amid the storm.
The Holy Spirit empowers and enlightens us to not conform to the world, including the hatred that compels human nature without Christ. We can't benignly look to interreligious dialogue that says everybody's good. There's an eternal price to pay for following Islam. If we don't preach the gospel to Muslims, we're guilty of affirming something that will lead them to hell.
We must not answer hatred with hatred of our own. We loathe the evil and ultimate spiritual separation that Islam holds on its adherents. Open Doors founder Brother Andrew says ISLAM must stand for “I Sincerely Love All Muslims.” The bottom line is we must demonstrate to them the love of Christ.
Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an affiliate of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians living in the most dangerous countries around the globe since 1955. For more information, visit www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.