On Sept. 14, 2001, Elmhurst College Chaplain Scott Matheney, along with then college President Bryant Cureton, and EC students, packed the chapel for a 9/11 commemoration service. 20 years later, Matheney remembers those days and weeks after 9/11, reflecting on how it bred hatred, how the country can heal, and his own perspective as a New Yorker.
“I want this institution to be able to have the capacity — to be able to look backwards and see some of the strengths, and some of the weaknesses, and how that informs [us] to build to the future,” said Matheney.
He reflected on the usage of religion as a way to produce hatred and sow division in the world.
“There’s a lot of hatred, and it’s rooted in religious discourse, and philosophical and political conversations. It’s become an issue again, it’s worse,” said Matheney. “Especially because of what happened in Afghanistan, we pegged the Taliban as the problem, to root out the Taliban, now the Taliban 20 years later has taken over.”
“We know there is going to be this same kind of firmament, wherever in the world, will come out of roots that will have some religious tensions, really wrong type of religious tensions. There’s the capacity to use God in a pretty negative way.”
Matheney also discussed the role of storytelling in healing, and how the stories of history shape who we are and what we will eventually become, something the U.S. faces as its time in Afghanistan comes to a close.
“Was it the right response? That’s the conversation that requires minds and policy and understanding, did we do the right thing by going in?” said Matheney. “You make decisions and you move forward, you debate. There’s individuals who have to worry about that and think that through — and then there’s the society and how they interpret the history.”
On 9/11, the Fire Department of the City of New York’s chaplain was killed, and the photo of his body being pulled from one of the towers is now a famous photograph. One of Matheney’s students from his time at Columbia University filled that chaplain’s role.
“One of my students from Columbia University took his place. [The] first openly lesbian ordained with the United Church of Christ — so I know there is a story of redemption in the pain, and I know that there are different ways to interpret history, depending on where you sit in power, privilege, and I also know that some things happen and I can’t control, but there are other things that I can be engaged in, and my little block of life in time that I am given, what do you want to do with that?” said Matheney.