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High atop the pentagon, a few yards from the jet-sized hole in the wall, workmen carefully unfurl a huge American flag. As they secure the Stars and Stripes to the broken building, one of the men lifts his hand in a quiet salute.

A picture of this scene landed on the front page of newspapers across the country, symbolizing what has suddenly become deeply important to Americans: national unity.

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks, Americans have crowded into churches. Many congregations rebroadcast President Bush's memorable address to Congress and gave stirring patriotic sermons. Mostly it was the right kind of civil religion, urging us to be the best of citizens wherever God places us.

We are also busy comforting the grief-stricken and reminding our leaders about Christian teaching on the just use of military force. But what's missing in the flurry of flag-waving and comfort-giving is something that should be the church's primary task: calling itself, and then the nation, to repentance.

For years, many of us have only half-jokingly said that if God doesn't bring judgment on America soon, he'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. I approach this subject gingerly because it's easy to be misunderstood, and I try to avoid end-times prophecy that makes Christians appear irrelevant to the world.

Still, the question must be asked: Can we discern God's purposes in these earthshaking events? Might God be using these attacks as a warning of impending judgment?

We must be careful how we raise this question. One prominent religious leader publicly blamed homosexuals and abortionists for bringing God's judgment on America. But this is not a time for angry finger-pointing; our job is to bring Americans together so we can teach ...

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In the Magazine

November 12, 2001

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