Oklahomans go to church to pray for victims of tragedy, seek comfort

Sunday, September 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The mood inside St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral on Sunday was eerily familiar to parishioners who had gathered under similar circumstances a few years earlier.

In 1995, the congregation at St. Paul's, like others across Oklahoma gathered a few days after the Oklahoma City bombing to mourn the loss of 168 people, including 19 children.

They gathered again on Sunday, only this time to mourn the loss of thousands of people believed to have died in terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Just as the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building brought Oklahomans together, Tuesday's tragic events will bring Americans together, said the Very Rev. George H. Back.

``We need to share our spirit and stand before one God and let one love unite us and hold us,'' he said. ``Evil is intrinsically weak. It cannot face being confronted.

``We cannot rewind the events of tragedy, but we can change the way the events end.''

Pastor Russ Martin of the Newlife Bible Church in Norman posed a series of question to his congregation about the attacks, including how could a loving God allow this to happen.

``The question of 'If God is good, why do bad things happen?' is based on the assumption that a good God and bad occurrences cannot coexist.''

Martin also addressed the question of whether the United States should retaliate for the terrorist attacks.

``God's word says there is a time for love and there is a time for hate. There is a time for peace and there is a time for war. But is this one of those times for war?''

Connie Devine, a senior academic counselor at the University of Oklahoma, said she struggled with that question all week but found an answer in Martin's sermon.

``What I was concerned with was that we were going to reach out and just kill people,'' Devine said. ``I think we have to retaliate. I was not thinking that way yesterday.''

Joanna Snyder, an adviser to international students at OU, spoke to the congregation at Newlife Bible.

Snyder said there have been reports of international students at OU receiving threats. She said some Muslim students aren't attending classes because they are afraid.

``As America has been terrorized, some Americans are dealing with the aftermath of Tuesday's events by threatening people who aren't like themselves,'' Snyder said. ``I'm concerned for our country but also for the internationals within our community.''

The Rev. Kenneth Hagin Jr., pastor of Rhema Bible Church in Broken Arrow, said the evil influences that motivated hijackers to crash jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also motivates those who assault innocent citizens of Middle Eastern descent.

``We must resist the temptation to be angry and prejudice against a whole group of people,'' Hagin said.

Hagin, whose television program ``Rhema Praise'' is shown globally via satellite, also admonished his congregation to get involved spiritually by praying for the nation and its leaders and standing on the principles of the Bible.

He also urged the audience to make hands-on contributions by reaching out to neighbors in need and lending other practical support as the country prepares for a war against terrorism.

``This country has been good to us. Now we need to rally. What can we do for this country?'' he said.