For the record, I think New York's Mayor Blumberg's decision to hold a Memorial Service without clergy or religious representation is misguided. I can understand how 'religion' might be considered too volatile at a time like this, but it can also be a source of comfort and strength. The picture on the left is the iconic shot of the Firefighters carrying out Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest who lost his life while administering last rites in one of the Twin Towers. Faith is powerful. It can create chaos, but it can also heal hearts. There have been other inter-faith, 9/11 memorial services- including in New York, and they added to the healing.
That said, I don't see the exclusion of clergy as comparable to 'banning God'.
First, all but the most egomaniacal of clergy would readily blanche at the notion that their presence is somehow on par with the Almighty. God didn't get banned- Religion did. There is a deep suspicion in some that Religion may be at the heart of this and many other tragic events. I think that is oversimplified and frankly, just wrong (a recent study about this was just released). At the same time, there is no denying the danger of Religion Gone Wrong. Maybe Blumberg still remembers all the fuss kicked up by clergy-types over the proposed construction of an Islamic Community Center a couple blocks from "Ground Zero. Maybe he decided he didn't want to try and navigate the through the minefield of, 'Which faiths should be respresented?', 'By Whom?', 'Doing What?' Maybe, Blumberg decided the clergy needed a "time-out" so the memorial service could focus on the victims, and their families. Based on some of the hyper-ventilated responses, maybe he was right.
Second, God isn't so easily 'banned'. Just because religious representatives won't be on the platform, doesn't mean God's not around. Some of God's best work is done out of the spotlight. God specializes in showing up in the least expected places at the least expected times. If God was present in the hell of the first 9/11, God will certainly be at the memorial service for this 9/11, too. You can't keep God out. Try keeping prayer out, for that matter. God's people have never needed to have a spot on the 'schedule' in order to pray. That site has been bathed in prayer for the past 10 years. People all over the world will be praying for the victims and their families that day. I know we will.
Which brings me to my last thought. I can understand why Mayor Blumberg may have made the decision he made, but here is why I think he missed an opportunity: The answer is not to try and ban Religion Gone Wrong as much as it is incorporate Religion Going Right. How much more powerful would it have been to have representatives from all the major religions up front in a show of unity? How much more healing? The combined witness of all faiths standing against violence, would have signalled that Religion Gone Wrong is an aberration, not the norm.
Earlier this year, an interfaith statement was crafted called, The Charter for Compassion . It is as simple as it is powerful. There is nothing controversial here- and that is the point. For all the significant differences that exist between major faiths (and there are many), one value that all can agree on is the need for Compassion. Maybe if more folks (clergy included) could embrace things like the Charter for Compassion, others wouldn't feel the need to give religious leaders a "time out" at memorial services like this. Then again, if more people embraced Compassion, maybe there wouldn't have to be as many memorial services like this in the first place.