A message from the Bishop on the death of Osama bin Laden

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I was lazing through a late Sunday evening when the surprising news of the death of Osama bin Laden hit the airways. I stayed up much too late watching the breaking news, the President’s statement, and the spontaneous demonstrations in Washington, DC, and New York. As I watched, I struggled with mixed emotions: a sense of surprise and relief that bin Laden was no more; a surge of pride for the skill of the Navy Seals; a sense of foreboding about the likelihood of retaliation; embarrassment that so many demonstrators seemed to treat this military operation as a sort of sporting event; and other, harder to define, feelings. I woke this morning to read that the Portland mosque had been vandalized with graffiti equating bin Laden with Islam – and my harder to define feelings sprang into sharp focus.

As a pacifist, I believe that violence never produces a final solution. Each act of violence provides at best a temporary solution while planting the seeds for retaliatory violence. Indeed the history of the last 100 years is a history of spiraling violence that has led the members of many tribes and nations to be in a state of constant warfare. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

As a Christian, I believe that violence is always an affront to God and a failure to find the way of peace. Even in self-defense, the taking of a life is an act for which we are accountable to God. And it is never appropriate for Christians to celebrate the death of another. Every person, however sinful, is a child of God for whom Christ died. I trust that God is attending to bin Laden in a manner that surpasses my understanding.

The “war on terror” is a strange sort of war. Enemies are hard to define, and warfare no longer takes the form of contests between armies. This lack of clarity, the difficulty in differentiating friend from foe, tempts us to grab for generalizations, to seize on simple distinctions because they are easier to grasp and understand. But the result of such thinking is a great deal of collateral damage. Osama bin Laden, as President Obama noted, was not a leader of Islam, he was a mass murderer Muslims.  He no more represented Islam, than Idi Amin represented Christianity.   Islam, like Christianity, reaches toward a goal of perfect harmony with God and humanity. We must make every effort to see that clearly and to stand in solidarity with the Muslim members of our communities.

We will no doubt learn a great deal more about the death of Osama bin Laden in the coming days. And the response of the world to this event will unfold over many months. As members of the Body of Christ, I invite your prayerful reflection on Jesus’ call to love our enemies. I ask your prayers for peace and for all the victims of the spiraling violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and all across our globe.

Bishop Steve

The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Episcopal Diocese of Maine

17 responses to “A message from the Bishop on the death of Osama bin Laden

  1. Thank you, Bishop, for these important words.

  2. I am saddened about the desecration of the mosque. I may not understand Islam in fact I do not know much at all about it. However I am saddened that a congregation of believers in Portland has been singled out and injured. If it were my church being desecrated I know how I would feel. Is there a way we as a christian community can respond to this together? Are people willing to organize and help clean up the physical destruction? Again I am not sure what I could do by myself but I feel a need to act.

  3. Excellent. While find the verity of the news reports regarding bin Laden’s death to be highly suspect, I myself felt a stab of remorse by the celebration of Americans over his alleged demise. My senior year in college I found myself struggling to understand whether the word needed war, which is just another way to say killing. The love of my life was a soldier in Iraq, yet no matter how hard I struggled, I could not understand his choice to kill another individual. Even in self defense. I discovered that I was a pacifist, and I am still shocked that our answer to murder is murder. It is barbaric, and certainly not Christian. Pacifists are looked down upon in this country, snubbed as being irrational, naive and even unpatriotic. Thus, I sincerely appreciate your take on this issue Bishop Lane. It is not likely to be popular, but is a much needed voice indeed. Thank you.

  4. Sheila Seekins

    Thank you, Bishop, for these words of heart and vision. I too struggle with pictures of joy over yet more violence. And I live with the hope and sobering thought that the Holy One deals with us ( meaning all and each of us) in ways beyond my control and imagination.

  5. Sherri Dietrich

    When I saw the images of celebrations in the streets around the USA I thought, “It looks exactly like all those images of Muslims celebrating the deaths of Americans.” Calling Bin Laden the purveyor of evil etc. perpetuates that unreal distinction between “us” and “them” and tries to make it acceptable to kill. Thank you, Bishop, for your clear vision on this and a beautiful statement on a better path to take.

  6. Thanks, Bishop Steve. Beautiful.
    M L King’s words are going round the internet:
    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. 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.”
    ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

  7. Wayne Rollins

    Thank you, +Steve. I’ve been wrestling with contradictory teachings ranging from “an eye for an eye” to “if your right hand offends you, cut it off,” to “pray for those who persecute you” and forgive “70 x 7”. That is enough to fill several weeks’ discussion for any group that wants to tackle it. It helps to hear those most immediately touched by loss on 9/11/2001 to say they felt relief, and I sensed a sigh that really was too deep for words on Sunday evening. After the Virginia Tech shootings, I realized that many of our domestic terrorist events (Columbine, OK City, etc.) occurred in April, during our proclamation of resurrection and new, changed life. How we respond is, I believe, part of our outreach and evangelism into a community that finds us increasingly suspect and irrelevant. So, I guess part of me wants to know where we go from here. It’s a question posed at every death by those who remain, even in the midst of celebrating new life and, yes, in the relief that suffering is over for the deceased. And as at those times, I’ll have place it in God’s hands, along with my own mixed feelings and incomplete understandings. And also trust that some answers will come at the right time.

  8. Rebecca Grant

    Thank you for these important words and the responses that they have stimulated. Understanding that one form of evil no longer is present in this dimension of our world brings relief and sadness in the loss of human lives. May we all find ways to respond appropriately in this time. Peace.

  9. Deborah Schock

    Thank you, + Stephen. for your message. I echo the other responders with the mixed emotions of “I am glad he is gone” to “this is not an appropriate way to feel’. I can pray for my enemies as a duty but not with integrity. God will have to help me with that as with all things.

  10. Thank you for your words. I plan to use them as the subject for the Adult Forum this coming Sunday, along with some of the most common scriptures quoted in relation to violence. Violence is certainly part of human existence, how do we deal with the violence inside our own minds and souls? I appreciate George Swanson’s quote from MLK as well. I’ll let you know how those in the adult forum here at St. Peter’s choose to deal with this. Thanks for your sincerity in making a courageous Christian statement. You are bearing the cross of the good news of Christ for all to see!

  11. Thank you +Bishop for your thoughtful and moderating words. I found the graffitti on a downtown mosque a painful message sounded from so many around us as we try to live peacefully together.

    Let love over come hatred, and at the same time be comforted That God’s love is a justing love, not only for Bin Laden, but for all of us. Therefore let us work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

  12. Patricia Robertson

    Thank you, +Steve, for articulating what has been rolling around in my own heart. At our alumni gathering here in Cambridge, many are saying similar things. We become what we most hate and this is an opportunity to once again practice forgiveness for all perspectives.

  13. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I think the struggle for us all is how to address the reality of evil without resorting to actions that are indistinguishable from the evil we abhor. In part I suspect that means reaching across barriers to build relationships at times when there’s not a crisis. We can cry out against the defamation of a mosque when it happens, but we need to building relationships with the Islamic community the rest of the time. We can protest the tactics of terrorists, but we also need to ameliorate the conditions and the injustices which produced them. Jesus’ command to love our neighbors is an admonition for our shoulders as well as our hearts.

  14. So true, Bishop Steve…the mixed bag of feelings and thoughts abounding and then nonstop coverage of what happened to what may happen is deafening. Love you shared ”An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Each of us can strive to live and learn as God’s creations in hopes that all life on this earth will be valued and treated with respect.

  15. Osama bin Laden was not only a mass murderer of Muslims he also hijacked the Islamic religion. As Christians we should not use the words “Islamic terrorists” because when bin Laden declared vengeance on Americans he was not speaking for all Muslims he was speaking for himself and his followers.

    Quoting from the Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon “All praise is for God, the Lord of the Universe. We seek his help and we seek His Forgiveness for all our sins and we submit our regret and repentance before him. We seek his protection from the malice of our hearts and from all evils that we have committed. Those who are guided by God to the right path, none can lead them astray; and those who are denied guidance by God, no one can guide them to the path of truth.” and “O People! Beware of Satan, (the evil one), for the safety of your religion.

    There seems to be so much misunderstanding between religions and that misunderstanding paralyses people with fear. As we travel through the Easter (Alleluia) season with refreshed joy in our hearts it would be well for us to pray for all people who have been harmed by bin Ladin and be ready to reach out our hands in peace to all people. It is my prayer that the victims and families of 9-11 will somehow find closure, justice, and hope for the future. Most of all, may we place this world in the hands of our loving God and let go of any hate or hostility we have felt by reexamining our hearts striving to live by the example of Jesus Christ. Amen

  16. Thank you, Bishop Steve. You statement that exemplifies the moral courage that we in the religious community are called to exhibit.

  17. Bishop Steve,
    I share your thoughts and feelings about the military mission and the end of Osama. Complex value struggles ensue. Capturing Osama probably was not an option as a fight to the death would have been highly predictable. Yet seeing the mass celebratory responses from the crowds was a bit frightening. I appreciated President Obama’s calm, serious demeanor during his TV appearances with no “whoopee, we got him” message. It would have been more civil to see that demeanor among his colleagues and his constituents.
    Jane Fairchild of St. Augustine’s in Dover-Foxcroft, ME

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