Magazine article The Christian Century

Religious Leaders React to Death of Bin Laden

Magazine article The Christian Century

Religious Leaders React to Death of Bin Laden

Article excerpt

After President Obama announced that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been shot dead in Pakistan, ebullient crowds gathered outside the White House and at Ground Zero to cheer the demise of the world's most wanted terrorist, smoking cigars and breaking into chest-thumping chants of "USA! USA!"

Watching from her home in suburban Virginia, Christian ethicist Diana Butler Bass felt a growing sense of unease."What if we responded in reverent prayer and quiet introspection instead of patriotic frenzy?" she posted on Facebook. "That would be truly American exceptionalism."

At the Vatican too, where church leaders had just wrapped up celebrations elevating the late Pope John Paul II to one step below sainthood, officials urged caution. "A Christian never rejoices" in the death of any man, no matter how evil, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, but instead "reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us has before God and before man."

For many Americans, bin Laden's death on May 1 was quite literally an answer to prayer. Muslims who saw bin Laden as an apostate breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Ethicists and pastors searched for the appropriate space between vindication and vengeance.

"As Christians, we believe that there can be no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden," Christian ethicist David Gushee said. "In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall." Indeed, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel warned that our enemies are not necessarily God's, who takes "no pleasure in the death of wicked people," preferring only that they "turn from their wicked ways so they can live."

For many, what set bin Laden apart was his defiance, unrepentant violence and coldly calculating designs to rain destruction upon Americans, innocent civilians and even fellow Muslims. "While vengeance is not a responsibility of us mortals, the pursuit of justice is," said a statement from Agudath Israel, an Orthodox umbrella group. "As believing Jews, we see in bin Laden's demise the clear hand of God."

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"It is a sad truth that one man's death can represent a step forward in the progress of human relations," said Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the Washington-based American Islamic Congress. …

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