I have yet to respond in any public way with my thoughts on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. For the last week and a half I have simply been taking in others responses and trying to sort out my own thoughts. So here’s what I’ve been able to process for myself. Perhaps it will be of some value for you as well.
At first my reaction to the story was rather ambivalent. I heard the news after we finished up a fundraiser for Camp Mennoscah at Bethel College. I had just cleaned up and was starting to drive home when I turned on the Radio and KFDI was all a buzz with a forthcoming announcement from the president. For the hour and a half that I was driving home I heard the live ABC radio feed including reporters with little to say, commentators with their two cents, and finally the full announcement from the president.
After uttering the obligatory “holy crap” I mainly listened in stunned silence. My mind did wander back to that day in college when I woke up to the news of the twin towers exploding in flames and I thought how this was something of a bookend to that saga. But I also thought of all of the lives that were lost in the last 10 years, not just at the hands of “terrorists” but also at the hands of the U.S. and it’s allies.
The part that got me though, was when the reporter started talking about the crowd that was quickly gathering in front of the White House cheering and chanting U-S-A, U-S-A. As they turned on the live sound feed my heart cringed. While the chant was U-S-A the image in my mind was the countless protests on the other side of the world that looked exactly the same except in a different language chanting a different slogan.
Now, granted, I’m a pacifist who has intellectually ripped apart the justifications for U.S. superiority, military power and the use of the myth of redemptive violence. However, emotionally, up until the point where I heard the chanting, there was a part of me that actually thought that I could say that no, this war wasn’t about East vs. West, Islam vs. Christianity, Native vs. Imperialist. Some part of me wanted to believe the rhetoric of justified causes. But at the moment the chanting came over the radio I realized that, no, we are no better than those we claim are our enemies.
In the following days one commentator said that we should go easy on the young people of our nation who were out cheering and chanting. That this was the closest thing that we were ever going to have to a VJ day or a VE day in the War on Terror. What’s more, the expressions of celebration were not celebrations of someones death but rather collective relief of a decade of living in fear.
There may be some truth to this, but there’s one key difference between the killing of Bin Laden and VJ or VE day. On those day’s the celebration was because fighting had stopped and peace had broken out. On that Sunday, the celebration was over someones death. Those are very different things. One is to celebrate the cessation of killing human life, and the other is to celebrate the death of a symbolic figure that will ultimately not result in less killing.
Now, being that I’m a pastor, part of me thinks that I should have a response that is more Biblically based and less social commentary.
So, Biblically speaking, I have my standard bag of tricks.
Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Not only is there the “love your enemies” part, but there’s also a great commentary to be had in verses 46 and 47. I would translate it into this context like this “If you party in the streets over the death of your enemies, what reward will you get? Do not even the terrorists to that?”
Proverbs 24:17-18 Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.
Verse 17 is fairly obvious. Verse 18 makes me a bit uncomfortable but ultimately falls in line with in line with Romans 12:19
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord
That being said, I have found more resonance with Ezekiel 33:11
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
Am I glad that Bin Laden is no longer in a position to kill other people. Yes. But that change doesn’t require that he be killed. As Ezekiel says, I would rather that he turns from his ways and live. For that matter, this is the same wish that I have for everyone who takes human life. For the state that carries out executions. For the governments that carry out “shock and awe” bombing campaigns. For the gang members carrying out revenge killings. For those who make people disappear into secret prisons. For people who carry out systematic rape and torture. For those who oppress others in a plethora of ways around the world. I wish the same thing for all of them that I wish for Bin Laden: that they turn from their ways and live.
Ultimately, I’m saddened more than anything else. Mainly, I’m disappointed in the response of my country and many Christians who have been celebrating this event.