After the Attacks: Finding Fault; Falwell's Finger-Pointing Inappropriate, Bush Says

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After the Attacks: Finding Fault; Falwell's Finger-Pointing Inappropriate, Bush Says

Newspaper article

By: Laurie Goodstein

Date: Sep. 15, 2001

Source: Goodstein, Laurie. "After the Attacks: Finding Fault; Falwell's Finger-Pointing Inappropriate, Bush Says." New York Times, Sep. 15, 2001.

About the Author: This article is by staff writer Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times.


On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four American passenger jets. Two were flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York, killing 2,986 people. One was flown into the Pentagon, killing 174, and a third crashed in a Pennsylvania field after a heroic passenger revolt prevented the hijackers from reaching yet another target in Washington, D.C.

Two days after the attacks, Baptist ministers Jerry Falwell (1933–) and Pat Robertson (1930–) made controversial remarks on Robertson's Christian television program The 700 Club, which claims one million viewers daily in the United States alone.

Falwell and Robertson blamed people "who try to secularize America" for distancing the nation from God. Falwell went even further, stating, "I point the finger in their face and say, '[Y]ou helped this happen.'"

A few days after the broadcast, Falwell apologized, saying that "This is not what I believe and I therefore repudiate it and ask for God's forgiveness and yours." A few weeks later, however, he indicated to the Washington Post that the only problem with his remarks was that the list of blameworthy groups had not been long enough: "I didn't complete what I was going to say. If I added the church as one of the offenders—a sleeping church that is not praying enough—it would have been acceptable."


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Despite the media furor that erupted after his appearance on The 700 Club, the Rev. Falwell said that many religious conservatives approved of his controversial remarks. "As a matter of fact," he told the Washington Post in November 2001, "most of the heat I've taken has not been because of the statement. It's from people who are upset that I apologized. Thousands of people of faith in America unfortunately agreed with the first statement…. They were incensed that I apologized." But many conservatives disapproved of the original statements: Conservative publisher William F. Buckley, Jr., called them "ignorant" and proof that ordained ministers are "able terribly to misteach Christian thought."

It should be noted that Falwell and Robertson did not apologize for saying that God is "lifting his protection" from the United States, a claim that Robertson reiterated in writing soon after the controversial broadcast. What they retracted was the claim that a specific disaster or attack could be attributed to God's wrath at particular sins or sinners. Robertson, however, has repeatedly warned that disasters may be visited by God upon, or permitted by God to befall, specific groups or geographical areas in response to specific sins, especially sexual sins.

In 1998, Robertson warned that because Disneyland had rented its facilities for a privately sponsored "Gay Day," Florida might be visited by disastrous weather, earthquakes, terrorist bombings, or even a meteor strike. In 2005, he warned that the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, had "rejected" God by voting out school board members who supported the anti-evolutionary concept of Intelligent Design, and that if disasters befell the town its people should not expect divine assistance. In 2006, he claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's punishment for Sharon's order that Israel end its occupation of the Gaza Strip. He later apologized for the remark.

The belief—not held by all Christians—that God sends disasters to punish cities, regions, or groups for sinful behavior is based on Old Testament narratives such as the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many conservative Christians interpret this story as saying that God destroyed these cities for their practice of homosexuality. On the other hand, many religious scholars say that inhospitality, not homosexuality, was the sin that doomed the cities. There is no independent historical or archaeological basis for the narrative.

Conservative evangelists like Falwell and Robertson are influential among one of the most powerful voting blocs in the United States—conservative Christians—many of whom believe that American society is threatened by liberals, feminists, and homosexuals. The danger of homosexuality is a particularly common theme in the social thinking of some fundamentalist or evangelical American Christians. In the mid-1980s, Falwell called homosexuals "brute beasts" and said that a gay-oriented group of California churches constituted "a vile and Satanic system" that would "one day be utterly annihilated," after which there would "be a celebration in Heaven."

The political clout wielded by televangelists such as Falwell and Robertson could be seen when President Bush, despite his repudiation of the remarks made on Robertson's show, met privately with Robertson shortly before the United States war with Iraq began in early 2003.


Web sites "Falwell Apologizes to Gays, Feminists, Lesbians." Sep. 14, 2001. Available at 〈〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

Harris, John F. "God Gave U.S. 'What We Deserve', Falwell Says." Washington Post, September 14, 2001. Available at 〈〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

Carlson, Peter. "The Televangelist's Awkward Apology: What Did He Mean and When Did He Mean It?" Washington Post. November 26, 2001. Available at 〈〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

Buckley, William Jr. "Invoking God's Thunder: on the Rev. Jerry Falwell." National Review Online, November 26, 2001. Available at 〈∼dbromley/jerryfalwellspeaksLink.htm〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).