In the spring of 1989, Chinese students at Beijing University led in an uprising for democratic freedom. Their protest was over hardship, corruption, and forty years of repression. The conflict became so intense that the Chinese government ordered over three hundred thousand troops to use tanks and semi-automatic weapons to crush the protest. By early June, the Chinese army had succeeded in backing off the protestors. That is, until June 5. Perhaps you will recall the image that was broadcast around the world of a lone, unnamed student simply known as “Tank Man” who stood in Tiananmen Square to block a line of tanks. In this extraordinary confrontation, “Tank Man” became an icon for the struggle for freedom.
That was merely 1989. From that time, the Chinese government vowed to erase this image from Chinese history and memory. How well have they succeeded in their effort? In 2006, veteran journalist Anthony Thomas returned to China, and showed the images to the undergraduate students at Beijing University. To his surprise, none of the students recognized the images or even knew the reasons why “Tank Man” was willing to die. In less than twenty years, one man’s heroic stand had been erased from the memory of a nation.
At 8:45 a.m., Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, the world as you and I knew it changed forever. We will never erase the horrific images embedded in our minds of aircraft crashing into buildings and massive structures crumbling to the ground. With the most devastating attack to ever occur on American soil, the terrorists did more than register a high death toll; they struck at our nation’s psyche and removed our sense of security. In the days that followed, as a pastor, I was asked a hundred times, “How do you answer this from the Scriptures?” My mind recalled a moment recorded in Luke 13:4 when Jesus had addressed a national event where the tower in Siloam had fallen on innocent people and their lives were lost. The people were filled with worries, fears, confusion, and terror. There were so many questions, and the people needed answers of hope. It seems there were some in the crowd holding the assumption that the horrific event was a form of judgment from God. When Jesus answered with a challenge to personal inspection and repentance, surely they were awakened to the fact every story has more than one perspective. As you reflect on September 11, 2001, it is easy to focus on the tragedy, the terror, and the tears of that day. But, are you able to see the triumph on that historical day?
On that day, there was an impressive reaction. When tragedy struck, our nation was humbled to its knees. Through the brokenness, tears would flow and people began to pray. Prayer occurred in churches, in classrooms, in the marketplace, on the street corner, and in government offices. But, it was interesting to note, there was not a single protest over praying in all of America! In times past, God had always protected America in this war torn world, and our nation called upon God to do it again. As Dwight Eisenhower signed the law adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, he said, “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.” Our leaders were reminded that our first line of defense was not found in alliances, not in weapons of war, but in God almighty Himself. I will not soon forget watching as the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives stood together on the steps of the Capitol and sang in unison, “God bless America.” It was truly an impressive scene.
On that day, there was an instinctive resolve. It has been said that those things which cost us nothing are held both cheaply and carelessly. Our generation had never faced the demand of sacrifice nor been asked to answer the call to duty in order to preserve our freedom. American patriot Samuel Adams said, “The liberties of our country…are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors…[who] purchased them for us with toil and danger.” On that tragic day, the entire nation paused around television sets and we watched the courage of the first responders. We then watched as an American flag was hung from the scrap heap of steel. It was a reminder to all of us of who we were, what we were about, and what we had taken for granted. Courage then spread like a contagious cold, and all of America was determined in their resolve that those who died would not die in vain. John Kennedy said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of freedom.” Everyone was prepared and willing to fulfill those words.
On that day, there was an immediate respect. Our nation has struggled for generations with division and prejudice. However, all of those lines of demarcation were erased and labels were removed. There was no such thing as young or old, rich or poor, black or white, democrat or republican. We all came together and were simply Americans. Woodrow Wilson said, “America does not consist of groups. A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in America has not yet become an American.” For the first time in our generation, the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty carried deep, sincere meaning to all of us:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me —
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Why is it important that a time be set aside to remember this eventful day in our nation’s history? We saw our nation pray unashamedly. We saw our nation rally together for a common cause. We saw our nation stand united as one. For a moment in time, we were given a glimpse of how it might have looked when our nation was birthed so many years ago. Who knows if or when we may ever see such things again. But, if we ever forget the way back home, we may just deny ourselves a wonderful future.
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2013 Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.