Sunday night we heard the breaking news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Not only had he been killed, but it was at the order of President Obama and carried out by an elite team of Navy SEALs. In response Americans began to celebrate at Ground Zero in NYC, in front of the White House, Shanksville, PA where Flight 93 crashed, and during the 9th inning of a Phillies-Mets game. American flags returned as the images and emotions of 9/11 flooded the communal memory of most Americans. In a wave of – depending on your view – relief or vengeful delight or fearful dismay or sorrow the events of the day had culminated with this news.
Now before I carry on I want to say that what follows doesn’t mean that I abhor America, our troops, the government or anything like that. I went to Ground Zero shortly after the attacks; I walked through the corridor in the Pentagon where the plane crashed soon after reconstruction began; I mourned at the grave site of Todd Beamer (one of the many who died in Flight 93) one year after 9/11. I have dear friends and family members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What I offer below are mere thoughts and reflections on how I, as I attempt to follow Jesus, view the events surrounding Osama bin Laden’s death.
I was rather amazed at the reactions that sprang forth on the news. The celebratory delight that came as a result seemed to be founded upon the death of a man. I can understand this (as much as one can understand death and war) from the perspective of national or governmental relations. According to the narrative that the West lives out of, we were attacked and the natural outcome of this is to return violence with violence. The aim of our government is to obviously protect its citizens and its interests. Since we killed the enemy of the state before he was able to inflict more pain and death upon us we win. We win because he lost. He is dead and therefore we are alive. This is the Western narrative in which celebratory actions embody its ideals. So, as an American, I found some relief in his death. But is life really that easy? Is it really that violent? Is life actually that flat?
As a Christian, I cannot accept this because Jesus could not accept this. The narrative that Christians should be living out of has a Jesus at the center of it who tells us odd, countercultural, non-instinctual things. He tells us that when we are hit to turn the other cheek. He tells us that when someone takes away our shirt, we should offer them our jacket as well. Jesus takes things even further when he tells us that we are to love and pray for our enemies. Sure, says Jesus, most people will do this for their friends and family, but, if you are going to follow me, you will go the extra mile and will do this for your enemies.
And why should we do this? Because this is what Jesus did. He turned his other cheek when he was hit. He offered his jacket when his shirt was torn from him. He loved his enemies to the point of actually dying. And in the midst of taking upon himself the violence of the religious, political, social, and supernatural of the world, he humbly forgave the ones doing this to him.
Therefore, I can’t take pleasure in the death of an enemy. And, to be quite honest, as a Christian first and foremost, was he an enemy of Jesus and the Church? Or was he an enemy of the country I just happen to find myself in? A huge problem I see this event pointing out is the true allegiance of people. For quite some time I saw myself as an American Christian, emphasizing the nationality aspect of my identity. The truth is my allegiance is to Christ and the kingdom he brings, which includes loving my enemy. This is the challenge I try to make small steps towards every day.
As Stanley Hauerwas has said,
“I have argued that Christians’ first political responsibility is to be the church, and by being the church they should understand that their first political loyalty is to God, and the God we worship as Christians, in a manner that understands that we are not first and foremost about making democracy work, but about the truthful worship of the true God.This is a deep misunderstanding about how Christianity works. Of course we believe that God is God and we are not and that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit but that this is not a set of propositions — but is rather embedded in a community of practices that make those beliefs themselves work and give us a community by which we are shaped. Religious belief is not just some kind of primitive metaphysics, but in fact it is a performance just like you’d perform Lear. What people think Christianity is, is that it’s like the text of Lear, rather than the actual production of Lear. It has to be performed for you to understand what Lear is — a drama. You can read it, but unfortunately Christians so often want to make Christianity a text rather than a performance.”
Perhaps part of the problem in our world is that we have mistakenly separated out the beliefs of Christianity with the embodied life and practices of Christianity. We all seek peace, regardless of ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, but how can a world believe in a Jesus whose church doesn’t embody its ideals?
Perhaps speaking about loving an enemy, like an Osama bin Laden, seems rather outlandish. And perhaps it is since, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t have had a great influence on our day to day lives. So, for me, I have to wonder how this is actually lived out in my day to day life. It makes me wonder about the reality that there is a convicted felon in my neighborhood. He moved in, fixed up a house, and seems to be contributing to our small neighborhood. Then everyone found out that he is a convicted pedophile who committed an atrocious crime. In many ways, he could possibly be my enemy. Yet, when the rest of the neighborhood has been attempting to evict him from our community, how am I to apply Jesus’ command to love my enemy?
How am I to love a pedophile? Or what about the known drug house down the street? Or the kid who speeds past my house when my daughter and I are outside playing? These are questions I must wrestle with in light of Jesus’ high call to love them.
Can we imagine this? Can the church really be a people that loves that those who are different than us? Are we Americans first and then Christians or Christians first and then Americans? What would it look like if we had actually loved Osama bin Laden? When was the last time you prayed for Osama bin Laden?
How do we come to grips with the reality that Jesus loved Osama bin Laden?