A Christian Response to Bin Laden’s Death

by Rev. Janetta Cravens Boyd

On Sunday evening Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. President Obama addressed the nation, recalling the terrible affects of “that bright September day” darkened by terror and loss of innocent lives. We have not been, and are not, at war with Islam, the President reminded us. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, but a murderer of Muslims. His murderous leadership affected Muslims and Christians and people of other faiths without distinction. He has been called the “Hitler of our time,” though I do not know if that is a fair, or just, comparison. What is comparable is that he used death as punishment for racial, ethnic, and religious groups, and used violence to instill fear and terror to men and women in this country and in others.

The news of Bin Laden’s death elicited a wide array of responses from jubilation, to patriotism, to sorrow. We should not forget that any triumph seen in this event has come at the expense of a long and difficult war. As American people, we responded to violence of September 11 with the personal service of the men and women in our military who gave their lives — and with great sacrifice to their families — to prevent our nation from ever again experiencing that kind of violence. As citizens, we bear the costs of this arduous battle.

There is, I believe, within our Christian tradition, room for us to experience the relief that at last a significant chapter in the “war on terror” is ended, while also experiencing the regret, even grief, that death was the necessary arm of justice. There is plenty of language in our tradition to express our feelings of rage, and our desire to have those who perpetuate violence brought to justice. “Break the teeth in their mouths,” says Psalm 58, “Tear out their fangs… let them vanish… bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.” But so is there language for caution and a word about the fine line between seeking justice and becoming that which we seek to destroy. “Trust in the Lord and do good,” instructs Psalm 37. “Fret not because of those who do evil… refrain from anger… forsake wrath.”

We should never celebrate the loss of life, or rejoice in the death of any human, even if we have considered them our “enemy.” As Christians, we must continue to struggle with the use and place of violence as a response to violence and views of death as appropriate punishment. As people of faith, we place our trust in the reconciling love of God that brings us the peace we so desperately desire. It is God’s love, not death, that brings peace.

We do not yet have any way of understanding the magnitude of the events on Sunday, what Bin Laden’s death will mean for our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, with Al-Qaeda. Neither do we yet know as American and global citizens, how this will unfold in our national and foreign political relationships and responsibilities. What we do understand is that humans were not created to live in fear, and the responses we choose can show our faith in God, our hope for a different tomorrow, and our respect for the whole human family.

(*I’d like to thank Chris McCreight, Hosana Letvin, and Michael Mooty for their levity and responses during the breaking news of Bin Laden’s death. Their Twitter posts, Facebook comments, and newsletters respectively were very helpful in steering my thoughts and grounding my faith. Their influences are woven in this post, proof that faith is truly done best in community.)

Rev. Cravens Boyd is the Senior Minister at University Christian Church in Seattle, Washington.

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