Sometimes it includes the words "never forgive." When I see that part posted by Christians, it makes me wonder if we think Jesus' teachings only apply when someone cuts you off in traffic or steals your lunch from the break room fridge. "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt 6:14-15)
Perhaps we misunderstand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not saying, "What you did is OK." Forgiveness, as the late Ann Landers suggested, is refusing to let someone live in your head rent free.
But let's get back to the "never forget" part. What is it we're not supposed to forget? It can't be that people are afraid we're going to forget it ever happened, because we are reminded of it every time our politicians use it as a reason to restrict liberty in the name of security or go do something in a Middle Eastern country. It seems to me that the terrorists have occupied quite a bit of rent-free head space in the American psyche.
So what's the meaning behind "never forget"?
If "never forget" means that we should remember and repeat the bravery, comradery, and service to our neighbor that the tragedy spawned, and honor the self-sacrifice of emergency responders, then I'm on board. If "never forget" means that we should reverently remember those who lost their lives and the pain and grief felt by the family members, then I'm on board. That day represented a horrifying loss of life that shook our nation to its core. There should be no dismissal of the raw emotional pain we suffered. If "never forget" means that we should remember how that day reminded us of life's brevity and the way in which it brought us to our knees in prayer, then I'm on board.
But if "never forget" means that we should annually rekindle our anger and thirst for revenge, I'm not on board. If "never forget" is some sort of veiled threat that we can be counted on to meet violence with violence, I'm not on board (Rom 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9). If "never forget" is a rally cry to bring us into the streets waving our flag, denouncing our enemies and caring only for our own, then I'm not on board and don't really see how that distinguishes us from others we condemn.
We say we "never forget," but there's actually quite a bit we've forgotten about 9/11 and the circumstances surrounding it.
- Most have forgotten that then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced on September 10--the day before--that the Pentagon could not account for $2.3 trillion in transactions. That's a lot of money. Like, 12% of the national debt. Where is the outrage from the penny-pinchers on this one?
- Most have forgotten that 15 of the 19 identified hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. None were from Iraq or Afghanistan.
- Many have forgotten, judging by the ongoing hatred and suspicion of Muslims, that all prominent Muslim groups in the U.S. condemned the 9/11 attacks as well as other terrorist acts. One website documents when and how the groups announced their condemnation, and it uses the same "never forget" graphic near the top of the page. Close to 3 million Muslims call America home and love it as much as all its other citizens.
I have a feeling we wouldn't take too kindly if we were on the other side of the "never forget" rhetoric. Something tells me we wouldn't be as understanding if we heard "never forget" from an innocent Yemenese family who lost loved ones in one of our drone strikes. Something tells me we wouldn't want to hear it from Iraqi victims of U.S. chemical weapons. Something tells me we wouldn't want to hear it from the people of Chile after we backed a coup there 40 years ago that brought to power a military government that killed 3,000 people and imprisoned 27,000. Oh, how we have turned a blind eye to our own sins.
Here's what I hope we don't forget. I hope we don't forget that there is more to being on the side of truth and right than striking back harder. I hope we don't forget the words from Proverbs: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them." (Prov 24:17-18).
Let us not say "blessed are the peacemakers" (Matt 5:9) while using rhetoric that divides and angers. Let us not say "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21) and continue to repay evil with evil. Let us not say that God loves the world (John 3:16) and wants all to be saved (Ezek 18:23) while wishing for and taking pleasure in the destruction of our enemies.
Some hear such words as weak, mushy nonsense that is a call for us to sit back and take a beating. Not at all. It would be irresponsible not to defend ourselves. But if you think the best way to defeat evil is to strike back harder and faster, you have not understood the gospel.