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If you haven’t read our letter to Christianity Today announcing we would be canceling our subscription, you’d probably want to read it first. This post only has the subsequent replies. We were hoping for an “ah ha!” understanding and change. Read on to find out the responses. (And apologies for there being no pictures…)

Sept. 12

Emily,

Thank you for your letter to CT. We always appreciate frank feedback.

In this case, we are also a little puzzled by your email.  As far as I can tell, the article in question did nothing to suggest that America is completely innocent in 9/11, and in fact suggests that America is full of sinners, like every other nation.  It wasn’t about the subsequent wars, but only the culture war regarding whether it is appropriate to show certain images of that sad day.  While the subject of your email—the forgiveness of enemies–would have been an appropriate story, it simply was not the topic of the essay, as much as God’s forgiveness of us through Christ.  

But of course, we editors can sometimes be blind to what we publish. So I encourage you to note the lines and phrases that suggest this article did the things you are suggesting. Siting specifics can be very helpful to us here.

Blessings,

A senior editor, Christianity Today

***

Sept. 14

Dear X,

Thank you for your prompt review of our letter. We appreciate your desire to clarify what we had trouble with. It seems that our letter was misunderstood by the staff at CT. To be clear, the primary concern we had with this issue was the cover with the statement “The Horrors of 9/11 were not Unlike Those of Good Friday.”

This cover phrase prevented me from leaving the magazine out where several Egyptian Christian friends might see it because of the extreme insensitivity to suffering around the world and the equating Christ’s redemptive work with the events of 9/11. Furthermore, I prayed that my [Arab Peninsula] friend who is moving toward Christ from a culturally Muslim background would not see this magazine because of the extreme offense she would take at American Christians assuming their suffering was like Christ’s.

The problem is equating what happened on 9/11 with Christ’s suffering, taking the entire sin of the world on himself, and sacrificing himself in our place. America is not Christ, and unfortunately this cover phrase linked the two. This is not only offense to the Gospel but is also ethnocentric–implying 9/11 is worse than all the suffering other countries and people endure (Sudan, Congo–how many people have innocently died in the last 10 years and why is 9/11 more important?) Similarly there is no mention of the 6000+ military service members and 10’s of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan men, women, and children who have died in America’s war of a retribution in the intervening decade. Linking Christ’s suffering in this way minimizes it’s meaning. If Christ’s suffering was the same as our suffering, we place ourselves as equal to Christ. Taking this statement to its logical conclusion, the actions of America would lead to the salvation of the world. 

We firmly agree the article does address the topic of images of 9/11, even if this topic is not what is implied by the cover – an odd thing for the cover story. Furthermore this seems to be an extremely weak premise for a cover story. What the article does not address is in it’s very title: the Gospel at Ground Zero. There is no discussion at all of how the Gospel redeems or brings meaning and healing to the events of 9/11 other than a few scattered statements.  There is no discussion of how the events of 9/11 could have led to greater Christian love and charity for our neighbors around the world. Instead of tackling serious issues surrounding a proper Christian response to the world 10 years after 9/11, the article settles for banal discussions of media images and pairing Christ’s crucifixion with 9/11. (“Crucifixion looms over our lives”–ie a metonymy that replaces crucifixion with “the burning twin towers loom over our lives”.)

In narrating the story of Peter when Christ tells him he will betray him, there is no mention of our fighting bringing peace and that the best we can do in our own strength is betray Christ and try to bring war when he is preaching self-sacrifice. We are unsure why Jesus pressing “trauma” on Peter is similar to deciding to show images of terrorism of 9/11. To take this example to its logical conclusion, any newspaper that shows images of terrorism is doing the same work that Jesus is doing to Peter. This is likely not what the author intends, but we must take things to their conclusions or we will often end up in a murky place near heresy.

Because the author fails to clearly distinguish between America (or at least people in America) and Christ, statements such as “Let’s remember that the hands we are reaching out with are scabbed over with Roman spike holes, and the cross we are holding out is caked in blood” are easily read as saying whatever America does is reaching out with the hands of Christ. A sobering thought when we remember the many thousands of deaths America is responsible for in the last 10 years.

Not everything the author writes is offensive. He even makes several good points such as “Let’s remember, too, that the gospel brings peace and reconciliation to every Ground Zero in the cosmos.” However, the banal topic, the aggrieved and self-righteous tone, the disjointed narrative arc, and the lack of insight into how this article could be interpreted in other cultural contexts than white, middle/upper class evangelical America further confirmed our extreme disappointment in CT. Coupled with our dismay over the cover phrase, this further confirms our decision to cancel our subscription. 

Thank you for taking the time to seriously consider our concerns in order to make Christianity Today a more relevant, thoughtful, and Christ-centered publication. You may publish from this letter or our previous one as you see fit.

Blessings,
Emily and Charles 

***

Sept. 14 (thirty minutes after we sent the above email)

Emily,

I see your point better now.  Thanks for taking the trouble to explain yourself. I trust we can win you back someday!

Editor

***

We thought he might disagree with our reading of the article or defend it. But this seems to show that CT is not that sad about letting us go. 

So, on a more flippant note, just like John Piper hastily retired Rob Bell from his “in” evangelical circle, we now turn in our cards before Piper can fire us.