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Reacting to bin Laden's death a challenge for Christians

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/5/2011 (2292 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What's the proper Christian response to the death of Osama bin Laden? That question was on the minds of many following the May 2 assassination of the al-Qaida leader.

Some rejoiced in his death. "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers," was the Bible verse tweeted by Saddleback mega-church pastor Rick Warren.

Charles Lewis, a Roman Catholic journalist at the National Post, had similar feelings.

"I am thrilled bin Laden is dead," he wrote. "I hope he suffers for all he has done."

Lewis acknowledged some ambivalence about feeling this way, noting that Christ taught his followers to "forgive everyone."

But forgive bin Laden? That isn't humanly possible, he suggested.

While Christians are called to imitate Christ, "imitating Christ perfectly is impossible, for the obvious reasons that none of us is perfect," he wrote.

But that wasn't the only reason he couldn't extend forgiveness to bin Laden, or to any of his fellow terrorists.

"Who am I to forgive the evil any of these monsters has done to millions of innocent people?" he asked. "I did not have relatives blown to bits in New York, London and Spain... I simply do not have the moral right to forgive monsters."

And if that makes him an imperfect Christian, "I am OK with that," he said. "Join the club."

Others had a different view. Jesuit priest James Martin wrote he was glad to see bin Laden's long reign of terror finally come to an end. But, as a Christian, he couldn't "rejoice at the death of a human being, no matter how monstrous he was."

For Martin, the killing of bin Laden "is a 'life' issue, as surely as any other. The Christian is not simply in favour of life for the unborn, for the innocent, for those we care for, for our families and friends, for our fellow citizens, for our fellow church members or even for those whom we consider good, but for all."

All life, he said, "is sacred because God created all life. This is what lies behind Jesus' most difficult command: 'I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"

Another Jesuit priest, John Dear, expressed similar thoughts.

The Gospels, he said, contain no instance "where Jesus waffles on non-violence. He never says, 'However, if your enemies are particularly vile, kill them all... as a Christian, I am not allowed to retaliate, seek revenge or to kill. I'm supposed to love enemies, do good to those who hate, and bless those who persecute. This news only leads me further into grief, prayer and repentance."

For many, he admitted, thinking of bin Laden in that way would be like taking a "crash course in Mandarin. Too challenging, too hard, too impractical, too scary."

But, he went on to say, "these are the basic guidelines for Christian conduct in the world. Following these teachings, Christians reject violence, vengeance, retaliation, war and killing, and instead practise universal love, boundless compassion, generous forgiveness and persistent peacemaking."

One of the more controversial takes on the killing came from N.T. Wright, the former Anglican bishop of Durham in England, and a popular author and New Testament scholar.

In a statement sent to The Times, he accused the world of giving America a free pass for violating Pakistan's sovereignty and killing an unarmed man.

Americans, he said, would be "furious" if Great Britain sent soldiers to raid a hypothetical group of Irish Republican Army terrorists and killed them in a Boston suburb.

"America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not," he said. "By what right? Who says?"

U.S. President Barack Obama, Wright said, "enacted one of America's most powerful myths," that of the vigilante hero going outside the law to execute "redemptive violence" against an enemy who has rendered the legitimate authorities impotent.

While this myth may have been a necessary dimension of life in the Wild West, Wright noted, it also "legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one's own hands, which provides 'justice' only of the crudest sort."

Whatever your take on the death of bin Laden, it's a good bet his killing won't end the violence or terrorism. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed many years ago: "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that."

Hate, he went on to say, "multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction."

Let's pray that doesn't happen.

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