January 26, 2021

How Did 9/11 Affect Christian Faith in the U.S.?

By Chaplain Mike

As the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches, I have been reading articles that discuss how this event has affected the church and people of faith in the U.S.

What do you think?

In general, do you think there have been any significant changes in perspective about the faith here in the U.S. since 9/11?

On a personal level, have you seen any lasting effects in your own spiritual life or in the lives of others you know?

Did your church incorporate any new approaches or ministries after 9/11 that have continued and have proven effective in helping people’s spiritual formation after the tragedy and the way it changed our world?

Here is what some others have been saying.

In terms of general religious trends, John Blake at CNN suggests that there are four observable attitude shifts toward religion in America after 9/11.

1. A chosen nation becomes a humbled one.
Americans, long triumphalist about our place in history and the world, discovered that their sense of specialness and invulnerability was shattered by 9/11. Rev. Thomas Long from Emory University says, “The challenge for every faith tradition is going to be helping people grieve the loss of an image of America that they once had,” he says, “and acquire a modern understanding of ourselves on the world’s stage.”

2. The re-emergence of “Christo-Americanism.”
Americans began to learn more about Islam after 9/11, and in many cases this led to a backlash against all Muslims and a renewed “Christo-Americanism,” which one scholar called, “a distorted form of Christianity that blends nationalism, conservative paranoia and Christian rhetoric.”

3. Interfaith becomes cool.
On the other hand, a new interest in interfaith communication and cooperation arose, especially among young people. Interfaith events have spread across the country. Mosques and temples have held joint worship services. Many college campuses an interfaith dialogue. The Obama White House launched a college interfaith program. “A generation of students is saying that they want to be interfaith leaders, just like previous generations said they wanted to be human rights activists or environmentalists.” (Eboo Patel, Interfaith Youth Core)

4. Atheists come out of the closet.
Voices that speak against religion became louder and more strident after 9/11. Both the terrorist attacks and the “God is on our side” rhetoric of response to which atheists objected “really showed atheists why religion should not be in power. Religion is dangerous, even our own religion,” explains David Silverman, President of American Atheists.

“Four Ways 9/11 Changed America’s Attitude toward Religion”

What has been happening with regard to faith and churches in New York City itself? Tobin Perry at The North American Mission Board (SBC) wonders, “Will the 9/11 legacy be a church-planting movement?”

Perry reports that 40% of all churches in Manhattan started after the year 2000. Were the tragic events of 9/11 the catalyst for the church-planting boom in Manhattan? Yes and no, say mission representatives. A great many people returned to the churches and faiths of their past to seek comfort and spiritual perspective in the wake of the terror attacks. However, studies also show that the number of evangelical Christians in Manhattan has tripled since the early 1990’s (from 1% to 3%) and a large number of new churches have been started.

This may be because more people are “seeking God” after 9/11, or it may not. But one thing is clear: “While 9/11 may not have changed the spiritual temperature of New Yorkers, it did focus the attention of the evangelical world on the city.” Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church has started 75 churches throughout the city in the past two decades, and the SBC’s “New Hope New York” effort, begun in 2003, has planted 45 new congregations.

The most recent Barna study suggests that most of the renewed religious activity such as church attendance in the city has taken place since 2004, and thus may or may not be related to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. “Whatever the combination of causes, the residents of the New York City region are more spiritually active, more likely to be ‘churched,’ and more committed to Christ than they were a decade ago,” Barna said.

• • •

Five years ago, Mark D. Roberts did a series of  five articles called, “9/11 and Faith: Some Reflections.” His observations are still pertinent today.

Five years ago yesterday the United States was rocked by the unthinkable. Terrorists hit us in the heart, shattering our icons and killing thousands of our innocent citizens. We were stunned. We were heartsick. We were outraged. We were, indeed, terrorized. And, for a while, we were also more interested in God. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there were prayer meetings throughout the land. Church attendance was up. And religious leaders, if they weren’t blaming American immorality for the attacks, were predicting an era of spiritual renewal. Tragedy and death have a way of turning our hearts toward God.

At least for a while. Maybe even a very short while. The Barna Group has recently released the results of an extensive survey of American faith pre-9/11 and five years afterwards. The bottom line? Almost nothing has changed. Americans still believe more or less the same things and do more or less the same things when it comes to religion. The “intense surge in religious activity and expression in the weeks immediately following 9/11” has led to no significant or lasting result, according to the Barna Group.

Honestly, though I find this disappointing, it doesn’t really surprise me much. I’ve spent a good chunk of my pastoral life interacting with people in crisis. Time and again I’ve seen how a crisis can intensify someone’s interest in God, yet not make any long term difference in that person’s faith or religious life.

Roberts cites the Barna report further as it criticizes churches for not being ready to deal with turning the short-term crisis into a long-term ministry of spiritual formation in people’s lives. “Few congregations,” the study noted, “led people to a serious and prolonged period of self-reflection and personal change.”

But Roberts (rightly, in my opinion) observes that this failure was not a matter of being ill-prepared to handle the aftermath of catastrophe. If churches are doing their jobs, times of crisis merely add another dimension to the work the church is always doing.

“Serious and prolonged” attention to spiritual formation is our continual task, not something we take up when public tragedy strikes, in hopes that people will be more open to what we offer. Then, in extraordinary circumstances, we have ministry habits to build upon and a reputation for maturity that will enable us to minister to special needs and discuss specific questions.



  1. After 9/11 I remember seeing some new faces in church. Mostly the spouses of those who attended regularly on their own. They came for a couple of weeks…and then disappeared again.

    • I observed the same thing, with the addition of overflowing crowds at many of the mega churches in Orlando, where we lived at the time. Many of these churches did some heavy advertising those first weeks after 9-11, but very few of the crowds stayed very long…not unlike the throngs of people at the gyms and YMCA’s the first six weeks of any given new year who are (mostly) gone by early spring….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      So then should we get hit by a 9/11 attack every few weeks to keep scaring everybody into church?

  2. tigger23505 says

    My spiritual life was actually more impacted by events on 10/12/2000, the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen. It was for me a case of put up or shut up. My reaction to the deaths and injuries to my shipmates, forced me to decide if I was going to allow myself to become just another mouther of mealy platitudes, or someone who was going to let the Lord take vengeance on the attackers in his own time.

    On a more lasting scale, it recalibrated my personal scary stuff meter and almost completely removed my fear of public speaking. I have become a Certified Lay Speaker in my home district of the United Methodist Church. The only reason that I have not taken a wider role in the District Speaking circuit is a job that has me out of the local area much of the time.

    The real trick, and it isn’t much of a trick, is deciding that the only difference between you and Peter or Paul, has more to do with clothing, footwear and transportation, than with psychology. That is if you think that the people of the first century church were moral giants of a stature that we cannot reach today, it will keep you looking at your shoes. If you believe as I do that they were first and foremost mortal men, who understood where they were and what God had done for them, then there is no limit to what we can do in God’s will.

    Paul testifies to his humanity and fallen state in Romans 7:14-21
    14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
    15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
    16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
    17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
    19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
    20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

    Stephen a Greek Proselyte testifies to human nature in Acts 7:52-60 (His entire testimony before the Sanhedrin Acts (6:1-7:60) is instructive.

    52Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
    53Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
    54When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
    55But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
    56And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
    57Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
    58And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
    59And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
    60And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

  3. Since 9/11, I’ve had too many conversations with “Christians” who feel that it is perfectly within their belief system to advocate bombing the hell out of the Middle East to get rid of the “Muslim problem”. Forgiveness is rarely mentioned; the firm belief that America is God’s country often is. Religious freedom for many is being allowed to set Christianity front and center everywhere and push all other religions into the shadows.

    I’m glad 9/11 got some people to return to church. I just wish they’d listen to the part about loving your neighbor, even if he or she is not Christian, while they are there.

  4. Two things I would say about this, which I see more often. Atheists and agnostics are more vocal. I don’t know if that is however due to the 9-11 attacks, or due to the fact that were are in a post-modern society where Christianity is dieing. Perhaps it’s just a “larger group of numbers” that exist today than say 1995. Just the other day when I was riding the DC Metro I saw a poster by the Center For Inquiry (where I’ve gone a couple of times to meet others…) talking about the virtue of not needing God. This was the campaign that I saw…


    I do think many of the points in the video hold truth. Do you really need God to love, or to live, or to care? I mean do you really? People of other faith or non-faith can love people, express concern, etc…all the while not having faith in god. That faith may in other capacities but it is not in god. I think this is where Christianity is experiencing blow back due to some of their teachings. God has been sold in the United States as the solution to absolutely everything. From choosing a job to dealing with that irritating hemoroid that is flaring up again. A few months back a guy who I have been dialoging with gave me a Matt Chandler CD about Ecclesiates and I listened to it, and heard Chandler talking about how you can still be a good father and not be a Christian and corrected those who taught otherwise. I totally agree with Matt Chandler on that one point.

    The remergence of “Christo-Americano” I have also noticed. More people today have married their faith and politics in more extreme cases if I may say. I think this is why the Tea Party is so dangerous, and dominionsim can be so harmful. However I also think many people are going to misconstrue history and wrongly point to things that have no legitiamcy in their claim. For example. it’s a historical given that empires rise and fall in history. Every empire has had their ascent and descent. This includes the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Spanish, British, Germans, Ottomon, etc.. As much as I want to say otherwise I believe the US is on our descent and here’s why.

    1. Changing global economy with outsourced industry
    2. Lack of industrial base
    3. Lack of people pursuing engineering, mathmatics or science degrees.
    4. Domestic financial spending concerns with ballooning entitlements.
    5. Lack of strategic vision in Washington, D.C. with poor leadership across both parties
    6. Not investing in our transportation infrastructure which is aging and being neglected.
    7. Growing national debt

    Now instead of those reasons, I see those of the “Christo-Americano pointing to instead the continued legaliziation and practice of abortion, or repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, or allowing gay marriage, and even being reactionary to more immigrants being Catholic. In the process they miss the boat and act like the United States is Israel with a covenant. in its place.

    • You are right, Eagle, that no one “needs” God as a requirement to living a decent and moral life. Many can do choose to live as morally upstanding citizens based on a theory of common goodness, and I have no bone to pick with these men and women.

      The inherent problem, IMHO, is that views of goodness and morally correct behavior can and do change over time and in different social groups and localities. The target is nebulous and keeping changing trajectory, not unlike fashion (but of much more import!)

      And, with no central authority, morality can become quite subjective very quickly. It is the judicial branch with no set definitions of right and wrong. NOT with that I follow God because of His laws….otherwise I would be a devout Jew. I follow the ideas of this “guy” who kept the law yet superceded it, with these silly ideas about “love” and “service”……strange guy, this Jeshua Ben Yosef.

      As to the decline of the US Empire…..spot on. The corollaries to the failing Roman Empire are scary and hit way too close to home. I fear for the life my grandsons will inherit.

    • Eagle,

      I believe you see more emphasis on Aethiests and Agnostics because you are paying attention to them now where you were not before (assumption).

      I think there will always be an emmergence of groups in opposition to those who are in power. We saw it under George Bush, we see it now. I consider myself an open minded conservative – meaning I can see ideallistically what lets say a liberal is trying to say – I just don’t agree with the implementation. I feel the same way about the tea party, which I don’t consider myself a part of (just as I don’t consider myself a part of the Christian Right even though I share some of their ideals). I consider them a fad which will fade over time and certainly not dangerous – they are simply a voice at this moment in time (just like the global warming alarmists, environmentalists etc – I lived through the early seventees when I was continually presented with images of a future where either all the trees were dead because of pollution or nuclear war and I’d be wearing a gas mask).

      Having faith is a choice. I choose to have one. I don’t agree with people hitting others over the head with the Bible (big turnoff for me) even though I read it every day. I choose to work on my faith every day just as I work on my mind and my body (I run and work out regularly). There are secular ways to live a moral life, I just believe that this way of thinking just leads to hopelessness (I live, I die , and thats all there is).

      my thoughts….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I lived through the early seventees when I was continually presented with images of a future where either all the trees were dead because of pollution or nuclear war and I’d be wearing a gas mask

        Don’t forget Global Cooling. With all of these, Ye Ende Is Nighye Unless We Repent and Do Penance and Mortification for our Sins Against The Planet.

        Global Warming, Global Cooling, Pollution, Nuclear Whatever — all these are is a secularization of Left Behind. The only thing missing is The Rapture for Mother Gaia’s Anointed Faithful before everything cuts loose.

  5. A couple of observations about this article….

    I believe that the 911 tragedy caused folks to come together, come closer to God, re-evaluate their own mortality, – for a short time. Our culture as it is today just does not sustain anything for long periods of time, so once the event began to fade, so did the enthusiasm. That will continue for every isolated event because the short attention span (which is partly driven by technology and parenting).

    Point 1 – America more humbled – yes – but again some of the reaction is based on the makeup of the person and also the technology of getting people’s opinion out there quickly. In 1941 there were less voices that could be heard about us being bad Americans that goaded the Japanese into bombing Pearl Harbor. We acted together as one voice. Today with all the talking heads it becomes less easy to do this.

    Point 2 and 3- This was already there before 9/11 – again fueled by talking heads. But there was also a liberalism that was just as loud on the other side and had been active for years. 9/11 did not change or accelerate this. I was teaching an eigth grade religious education class around the time of 9/11. After the attack I called a local muslim center and talked to a religious leader about the tenets of Islam, what they believed apart from what was discussed on TV. This person seemed astonished and grateful that I would do this and I explained I did not want my students to get their impression from rumor or misguided media – and so I shared with my kids. But that is me and my personality and make-up.

    Point 4 – Athiests were always there and did not, in my view become louder after 9/11 – changing culture and technology just allowed them to be heard. Personally I hear very little from this group – no more or less than before 9/11.

    As our attention span becomes shorter, as technology continues to fill the void, as life continues to become easier – there is less and less room for God. But I will always continue to live by my faith partly because to be balanced you must work your physical self, your intellectual self, and your spiritual self – and treat others with love.

    One thing we can always count on is change – and the global winds are changing where I believe things will begin to reverse and our children will not have it as well as we did. This may re-introduce faith as people again begin to struggle or it may just introduce chaos as people begin to rebel at what they believe is entitled to them. We shall wait and see…

  6. Richard Hershberger says

    Americans began to learn more about Islam after 9/11, and in many cases this led to a backlash against all Muslims and a renewed “Christo-Americanism,”

    I disagree. Most Americans never gave a thought to Islam before 9/11. The rise of “Christo-Americanism” and the commentary on Islam coming out of it suggests that they now know less than nothing on the subject.

  7. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?

    “Roberts cites the Barna report further as it criticizes churches for not being ready to deal with turning the short-term crisis into a long-term ministry of spiritual formation in people’s lives. “Few congregations,” the study noted, “led people to a serious and prolonged period of self-reflection and personal change.”

    *I* read this as an attempt to convert and use the crisis to our advantage, and that if people make an alternate decision than our faith, then we have failed. I don’t see it that way at all.

    St. Pauls at ground zero provided support (and I’m not concerned with their Catholic affiliation here at all, even if I am Catholic), and comfort for the men and women who dealt directly with the horror of 911, they offered a sanctuary in a storm of sorrow and pain. They didn’t attempt to convert, or set people up to seriously reflect on their lives, they met a need and provided love and support where they could.

    Isn’t that enough?, why does there have to be more?. Don’t we already live in a society awash in religion?, shouldn’t we instead of evangelizing, meet peoples needs, love them as much as we can, a leave the rest to God?

    I do think that the tragedy exposed for many of us the U.S. Centric fanaticism that has taken hold in many of our Churches, don’t get my wrong, I supported the war and am glad they got Osama. But for me that was a lifetime ago, and I’ve changed considerably in that time, and I’m not so sure what I would support anymore.

    Good article CM, just to be clear, I’m not trying to be critical, just pointing something I noticed.


    • I agree with you Paul. It seems some seize upon “crisis” as the notorious “opportunity for ministry” that some have criticized here — the opportunity to proselytize without the accompanying self-sacrificing spirit of love and service.

      • The sad part is that if many responded with love many of the arugments and walls would be torn down. Instead of an “opportunity for ministry” if they responded with love and not having an agenda they could go much farther. Plus walls would be dismantled and people would take notice.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Opportunity for Ministry”
        “A Chance To Ram Our Agenda Down Your Throats”?

        With some of these guys, I can’t tell the difference.

        • Cedric Klein says

          Conversely, I often can’t tell the difference between-

          “Just show love & meet needs without trying to covert people”
          “Give us what we want and keep your mouth shut”.

  8. Thanks for sharing this sad article. It is more like reading a list of prayer requests than an article.

  9. Funny, how things are different for people. A few years AFTER 9/11, I had finally come to the conclusion my church was not a real Body of Believers.

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