Letter to Congregations on the Death of Osama bin Laden
The events of the last week have weighed heavy on my heart. Last Sunday night as I was watching the announcement by President Obama that Osama bin Laden, leader of a terrorist organization, had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. In the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the responses of individuals came rushing into the world. The responses were varied, some well thought out, some very visceral. One thing was clear, a chapter in our history had just been closed.
In reviewing responses of people on Facebook and Twitter, and seeing images on the different news stations, the overriding response was joy, celebration, and pride. As I sat there something didn’t sit easy with me, I honestly felt sick and had to sit in silence for a few moments. There seemed to be something wrong with this type of response from the masses. I was most troubled by those who would claim a blessing from God upon our nation by providing the death of this man. The thought that God has played a part in any of this was not isolated to a few zealous Christian fundamentalist, but people I know very well who many would classify as very devote Christians who follow Christ closely. (Some would even be called left-wing crazies!)
I do not want it to be thought that I look past the teachings or actions of Osama bin Laden throughout his life, nor do I think that it is realistic that he would ever be brought to a courtroom alive, it is the response of so many people that has lain heavy on my heart. Is celebration of any death a Christian virtue? There is nothing in any of my study, prayer, or faith experience that can comprehend that celebration of any killing is a faithful way to serve our God. Some claim the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of God’s judgment and wrath as precedent for this type of celebration, but I must say this is a strong misreading and interpretation of God and Jewish practice.
I share with you the practice of the Seder Meal during Passover. During the meal the Ten Plagues on Egypt are recounted that lead to the freedom of the Jewish people. With the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup and places it on the tablecloth. Although this night is one of salvation, the Sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God’s creatures had to suffer. So even though the deaths were needed for the freedom of Israel from slavery, mourning is still the proper response to those deaths. We can mourn for the systems in the world that create violent behavior and thought, that create people like bin Laden, but celebrating the death only continues the cycle. Celebrating this death with such joy only perpetuates the things we find so disturbing about terrorist like bin Laden.
I leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. from his writing Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?(1967):
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes… 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.