Many Christians think spiritual renewal followed the terrorist attacks, but the record shows otherwise.
The immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was a strange and fearful time, but it also seemed a hopeful time.
“A massive shift in perspective happened to our country on September 11,” wrote Philip Yancey in 2001. For a little while, he mused, the sense that everything had changed in a single morning “made us look at our land, our society, and ourselves in a new way.” It made us “live in conscious awareness of death,” made us notice that “many of us fill our lives with trivialities,” and forced us to “turn to our spiritual roots.”
Talk of unity was everywhere. Church attendance spiked, and Christian leaders began predicting a national revival. In a 2001 speech, President George W. Bush praised Americans for our decency, kindness, and commitment to one another. Now, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with the US military withdrawn from Afghanistan, we should ask: Were those hopes fulfilled?
We certainly didn’t maintain that sense of unity. Quickly, Christians got into heated discussions about whether we could support military invasions, torture, the Patriot Act, and more. Since then, our political divisions seem even more embittered, and polarization is on the rise. And as for the policy—well, wherever you land on these things, my guess is you aren’t too happy with how it’s gone, and our current political discourse is awash with talk of treason and even civil war.
Our lack of unity isn’t the only disappointment. The foretold revival never came, either.
For a few weeks after 9/11, people packed the pews, but it soon became apparent there was not a “great awakening or a profound change in America’s …