…Today we Speak
It’s the day after. I feel as though I’ve let out a huge sigh of relief. I feel as though the world has been broken and remade overnight. I still feel. We all do. But today we’ve got to talk about this. So far, I’ve avoided naming the issue, but today we have to talk about the death of Osama bin Laden.
Someone asked me (indirectly) why this matters. Why am I trying to enforce my religiosity upon their feelings? Why isn’t it enough simply to let them feel? Well, I’ve admitted that everyone needs time to respond to the news in their own way. And if you haven’t finished with that period of time, that’s fine. Stop reading now and continue to feel. But at some point, we need to move on. I do not mean to offend or to hurt, but I need to begin writing about this, perhaps more for myself than for anyone else. Yet I still hope it can help some of us. I hope my writings, and the writings of others, can remind us and guide us as we react to the recent news and to the days to come.
So I’ll tell you why I think a Christian response to the death of Osama bin Laden matters: because Christians are called to be different. The Church is called out, called to live in a way that exemplifies and incarnates the love of Christ. Sharing in the orgiastic outpouring of nationalistic fervor in no way reflects the massive and scandalous love of the God we serve, the God who transcends artificial things like borders and lives among the boundaries that divide. A thoughtful, heartfelt Christian response matters because the way we react to situations, the way we allow ourselves to continually feel and think about certain things, is perhaps indicative of a deeper spiritual reality. Let us then reflect upon an appropriate response.
The most basic fact of the past day is that a man has been killed. Yes, that man was Osama bin Laden, and yes, he was killed by US Navy Seals in an act of war, but the plain fact is that a man has been killed. And in the streets of America, people were celebrating. People clothed themselves in flags, chanted their hatred of bin Laden, declared their undying support for their country, and celebrated the death of a human being. This is something that I cannot bear. As citizens of the Kingdom, America and America’s concerns are secondary to us. If there are those among the Church who were also among the crowds on Sunday night, I would caution them to consider where their allegiances lie. I would caution that outright loyalty to Empire above Kingdom is absolutely wrong, and that blind support of American foreign policy without consideration for the Kingdom and Christ’s teachings is short-sighted at best, dangerous and even sinful at worst. This is not to say that bin Laden was only America’s enemy, he was an enemy of the world, and of the Church as well. But we are called to pray for our enemies, not dance on their graves and shout our joy at their death.
Does this mean I don’t think Osama bin Laden was an evil man? Absolutely not. He was a violent, hate-filled, twister of religion, and he killed or ordered the death of thousands of innocent people, Americans and otherwise (it’s easy to do the judging bit, by the way. It’s hard to follow Christ’s commands). Bin Laden was wrong, and he was evil. He was the enemy of many, if not all. But does this mean he was beyond redemption? Does the enormity of his enemy status release us from our injunction to pray for him? Did God ever stop loving Osama bin Laden?
The answer to these questions is, simply: no. Jesus commands those who would be members of His new community to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. When was the last time we prayed for Osama bin Laden? Christ says that those who would become citizens of Heaven and participants in the coming Kingdom should not resist evil, but should respond to oppression with creativity, humility, and justice, but never with violence.
I will not deny the United States the right to prosecute a war (though I will continue to protest the injustice of the war itself, regardless of the position of the government). It is the sad reality of the sin-sick world we live in that men kill other men in the name of justice. But here lies what is quite possibly my biggest concern: justice. For the past 24 hours, justice has been the buzzword. Bin Laden has been brought to justice, they say. But has he? I’m not even talking about God’s justice. I’m talking about anything that can be codified as human justice. News reports literally made it sound like the Seals bopped bin Laden on the head and tossed him out of a helicopter into the ocean. He was killed by a handful of soldiers. He was not brought before the Hague to answer for his crimes. He did not offer amends. He was not given a chance to be reformed and welcomed back into the community, which is the aim of God’s justice. He was simply offed. And while I don’t know if a trial would have given anyone any sense of closure, I do know that this operation certainly didn’t.
Closure is almost as serious an issue as justice. People talk about this being the ending of an era, the turning point in America’s nebulous ‘war on terror,’ but I cannot see how this closes anything. Half the material I read via various new outlets this morning speculated on bin Laden’s successors. Another quarter was about the potential terror threat to Americans abroad. But more than not ending anything with al-Qaeda, I doubt this brings any resolution to victims and survivors of bin Laden’s terrorism. How does his death return lost loved ones? How does it heal pain? How does it stop the cycle? Violence begets violence, and Desmond Tutu once claimed that we will reap a whirlwind. Is that what we want? Are we prepared for whirlwinds of violence? Do we wait patiently for the next step in the cycle? Or are we bold enough to say no more and meet violence with love? Are we ready to love like fools for Christ’s sake?
I wish I had more words. I wish I had more time to think and write and clarify and discuss. I’ll close with two thoughts, one my own and one from another source: bin Laden is dead, and while we may appreciate that perhaps America has attempted justice, we must not celebrate the death of one of God’s sons, no matter how evil he may have become in life. We must work tirelessly to bring people like bin Laden into the Kingdom. We must live lives that defy violence and answer it with love. We must hope in the foolish, broad, scandalous, gracious love of Christ and trust in the justice of God, not of men.
The second thought comes from the Vatican, and perhaps they said it best:
“In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”
Let us yearn for peace.