Monday, May 9, 2011

Osama bin Laden Is Killed

In an effort to provide different CBF voices in the Christian response to the death of Osama bin Laden, a significant current event, we're providing another post from a CBF minister. Below this post are links to other voices in the CBF network, all with different responses and perspectives.

by Dr. Don Gordon

I found out at the gym this morning that Osama bin Laden had been killed Sunday night (EST). The master-mind of the 9/11 attacks which killed more than 3,000 Americans was shot by Navy Seals in a daring move against his heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad, just inside the eastern border of Pakistan. Bin Laden was true to form in this final assault, using one of his wives as a defensive shield when the bullets started flying. He never regarded the lives of women and children as deserving of special protection during his reigns of terror. They continued to shield him from the consequences of his assault on humanity. Bin Laden’s dead body was buried (dumped?) within 24 hours into the sea. President Obama made the announcement to the American people and the international community in a nine minute televised speech not long after the assault took place. The President offered assurances to families who had lost loved ones in the 9/11 bombings, applauded the skill and courage of those who organized and carried out the raid, and concluded that justice had been done.

In the streets outside the White House and along the pavement of Ground Zero in New York, Americans spontaneously erupted in celebration at bin Laden’s capture and killing. The ten year hunt for bin Laden was over. Two wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—had begun as a response to his actions and influence. For young Americans who have never known a time when their nation was not under terrorist threat, this death is especially satisfying. A sense of justice has been achieved. An evil man has been eliminated. The death of innocent lives has been has been met with some retribution, albeit a belated case.

How are Christians supposed to respond to the death of bin Laden? No doubt, the reaction is shaped by our proximity to those who have been killed, injured, and made sacrifices in these wars on terror. Our reactions are also shaped by our nationality and geography. American Christians will no doubt react differently to bin Laden’s death than Iraqi Christians or Pakistani Christians. There are Christians in those countries even though they live precariously as minorities. Acknowledging the impact on so many variables in our lives, are there any Christian principles that should shape our own response to the death of a merchant of evil? Fully aware of my own biases and limitations as a Christian who is also an American, I offer a few principles that come to my mind.

First, earthly justice is inferior to divine justice, but it is the means we have to limit the emigration of evil to the four corners of the world. Dietrich Bonhoffer, the Lutheran pastor who participated in plans to assassinate Adolph Hitler, didn’t start out wanting to kill Hitler. Eventually, however, he came to believe that the assassination of Hitler would save a nation, and much of the world, from horrendous evil. Sometimes the imperfect justice meted out on earth is better than unmitigated evil set loose on innocent people. Simply put, the killing of one man is sometimes the lesser of two evils.

Second, killing and death are never times of celebration except to the extent they are precursors to resurrection. I don’t presume to know with divine certainty the eternal destination of any man, but the evidence of bin Laden’s life doesn’t lead me to believe he is "bound for the promised land." In that case, we are faced with the stark reality of a lost, evil soul bound for hell. Christians don’t rejoice that people go to hell. We rejoice that God is the good, just, eternal judge of all people, and that his judgments are expressions of his perfect love and holy character. We rejoice in a holy, perfect God even while we lament the sinfulness of humanity and the terrible consequences that are deservingly received.

Third, Christians are called to be peacemakers in a broken world. This brokenness leads to the need for policemen, armed force, and legitimate authorities using appropriate means to protect the masses. Yet, Christians are called to be different than others. We’re called to turn the other cheek, walk two miles when asked only to walk one, and to love our enemies. This radical ethic should be driving us to make peace, absorb evil, and suffer patiently in obedience to the model of our Savior Jesus Christ. This does not mean we have to become doormats to the world (which is broken), but it does compel us to seek peace more than war, pray for our enemies more than plot their demise, and cooperate with others in promoting goodwill toward humanity.

This is not a recipe for every individual Christian’s response to the news of Osama bin Laden’s capture and killing by the authority of the government of the United States of America. It is simply my effort to offer a word I hope is pastoral, thoughtful, and most important, faithful to the guidance of the Good Shepherd, who came to take away the sins of the world.

Don Gordon is the pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham, NC.

Other Responses:

Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University:

Rev. Amy Butler, Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.:

Dr. Tim Moore, pastor, Sardis Baptist Church, Charlotte (scroll to page 2):

EthicsDaily Staff (Baptist Center for Ethics):

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