Not our way? Love and patriotism in the wake of Bin Laden’s assassination

Last night, President Obama announcedthat a team of Navy Seals had infiltrated Pakistan, stormed a compound in Islamabad, killed Osama BinLadenand taken possession of his body. (Facebook and Twitter actually had the story almost an hour earlier).What followed in the streets of Washington, New York, and across the mainstream mediawere scenes of patriotism, joy, even revelry.  People took to the streets raising American flags.  They cheered, they hugged, they burst into songs like The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America.  A few cynics jeered, but by and large social media were flooded with messages of jubilation bluster, images of exuberation and pride .  However, quietly, in thoughtful corners some raised questions.  I was one of them.

To be clear BinLaden was a terrible man who brought violence and death not only to his enemies, but also to his followers.  He was a focal point for a poisonous movement whose very existence diminishes the human race.  His specter has haunted American thought and discourse longer than most of our children and youth can remember.  I am glad he is neutralized; I am thankful for the closure (real or illusory) and I honor the risk and the bravery of the young men who entered that house.

But if our only response is to dance upon Osama’s grave, then we are blind and foolish.  Men and women died last night; young men where asked to murder.  Whatever the reason–or necessity– these things should be mourned.  And they should be discussed, especially in Christian homes.

First, what happened last night was not justice; it was vengeance.  Whether or not this was right, it wasn’t good.  And, in the ensuing media dissection,  many will proclaim this a life for a life, but that is not our way.  God does not rejoice in these deaths, nor should we.

There is an apocryphal story that says after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, when Pharaoh’s men were half-way across, God brought down the water drowning all the Egyptians and the angels in heaven cheered.  But God turned to them, and whispered through tears, “Can you not see, some of my children are dead?”  Our God is a God of mercy, and love.  Perhaps Bonhoefferis right, sometimes loving your neighbor does mean killing, but even then there must be compassion.  And humility.

Second, this changes very little(and nothing immediately).  We are still at war.  And, if this is truly a war on terrorism–on BinLaden’s goals and ideology–, then we are losing.   We are colder than we were ten years ago.  We are sadder, more jaded, more vicious. We now publicly and collectively endorse assassination.  We are afraid.  We fear our enemies, our allies, and one another.  Everyday we’re taught to treat our neighbor with suspicion, but, as Christians, that is not our way.

What BinLaden’s death will mark historically cannot be known for years (maybe deacades).  Immediately, it should mark a time of prayer for peace and reconciliation of both our nation, and humanity.  But more than that, I hope this death can mark a time to teach–to show our children how to love an enemy, how to pray for those who hate you, and how to heal and seek good on the other side of grief.

God is present in this time, as in all things.  May God guide and teach us, may God lead us to love more deeply, and may God bless us each and everyone.

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