Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Post 4 – Loving Our Enemies Has a Context

“What does it mean to love our enemies?” is the question I have been grappling with.

Let me begin to identify what I think it doesn’t mean.
When Jesus instructs us as followers to turn the other cheek, I don’t think it means if your younger sister/daughter is sexually assaulted, give them your neighbor’s sister/daughter. When Jesus says to pray for those who persecute you, I don’t think it also means to aid them in more efficient means of harming you. And I don’t think when he prays to the Father to forgive the crowd at Calvary that He is asking to also keep them free from justice and keep them blind in their ignorance.

I know even those who disagree with me here will agree that we need to appreciate the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus is talking to Jews whose land is being occupied by the Romans. Further, their religious leaders are not looking after the people’s best interest but rather many are not only not defending them but actually exploiting them. So as a young Jewish man gets pushed around while looking for work, Jesus is telling him to not retaliate. Because in so many words, when you do, you yield your control to your enemy/persecutor. So after being slapped in the face, instead of pulling out your dagger and defending your honor, demonstrate your resilience by offering them the other side of your face. This is similar to the idea of the second mile. When forced to carry the soldier’s gear, volunteer your kindness by walking another. You are demonstrating your freedom that God Himself has given you. This is in part what Jesus is saying.

We as 21st century Christians “occupying” the United States have a different perspective in contrast to the aforementioned first century Israeli. I firmly believe that while Jesus’ words still carry much essential relevance to us today, He would have said something different had He been preaching to us now. (I also think He would have said something different had He had the platform to speak to the Romans of His day but that’s another story).

From where I sit, loving our enemies includes many things including: praying for them, expressing kindness to them when possible, seeking resolve, offering peace, etc. I think it’s worth asking, “What does praying for our enemies actually mean?” Am I praying they enjoy a long healthy life, enjoy the love of a good woman, well-adjusted children and the adoration of their grandchildren? Am I praying the Lord will make their paths straight. Am I praying their mission of my destruction be accomplished?

I’ll tell you what I am picturing when I pray for my enemies. That their hearts will be changed by the Holy Spirit. I know how that sounds. But I pray the violent will lay down their weapons and schemes, accept the nearness and love of God Himself. May they also enjoy the benevolence of the world and I pray the world would be generous in loving, giving, and forgiving and may it begin with the Church.

And what about ourselves and others? Loving ourselves, our families, the strangers in our midst also means those things and includes self-defense, standing up for the weaker, taking the plight of the oppressed and seeking the discernment between selfless kindness and moral justice in all situations. Because we cannot enable or cheer on our enemies as they destroy the weaker. In fact, we must act decisively to stop them.

Loving our enemy also brings the notion of correcting our enemy (depending on the position of course). Just as we correct those we love, when our motivation is not rooted in selfishness, correcting our enemy is an act of love. In this way, we are to rebuke our enemy, forgive our enemy, do whatever is appropriate to convert our enemy to our friend. But it also means disciplining our enemy. But this works both ways. We too must be willing to be corrected by our enemy, rebuked, and forgiven by them.

I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be helpful here. His participation in the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler bears great significance to me. In Ethics, Bonhoeffer makes a theological case for human rights as God’s will and as His gift. “Since by God’s will human life on earth exists only as bodily life, the body has a right to be preserved for the sake of the whole person. Since all rights are extinguished at death, the preservation of bodily life is the very foundation of all natural rights and is therefore endowed with special importance” (p. 154). Thus he argus that Hitler’s euthanasia policy is a violation of God’s will and the basic right to life.

Later he creates an analogy that if a plague broke out on a ship that had no facilities for isolation, the healthy could only be saved by the death of the sick. “In this case, the decision would have to remain open” (p. 154). History tells us the decision he went with. (I have borrowed and paraphrased this section from the recent book Bonhoeffer and King edited by Jenkins and McBride.)

I think of other villains like Joseph Kony, human traffickers, the Somali pirates and terrorists in general. It’s nearly impossible to tolerate an argument that says, “We are turning young boys into child-soldiers because of Western Imperialism” or “We are selling young girls and boys as prostitutes because of our poverty” or “We are strapping bombs to ourselves and jumping on buses and trains because we are offended by your materialism and hedonism.” Sometimes propaganda is another person’s gospel and sometimes it’s just deceit.

Now to OBL. Does loving our enemies mean enabling evil-doers? Does praying for enemies mean pardoning a man who killed thousands and ruined the lives of countless more? Like I keep saying, I’m wrestling with the thought of killing an unarmed man. It does frustrate me that the initial reports have changed (from shooting an automatic weapon to being unarmed). There is goodness in bringing such a villain to trial.

That didn’t happen. So what is my response?

In an attempt at being consistent, as I do not believe in theocracies, my posts are geared towards us as a church (in America) should respond. Thus I mourn the evil of that makes such decisions necessary. I pray for the remainder of my enemies that they will allow the Spirit to change their hearts before it’s too late.  May me and my community do our part and may we be faithful with the opportunities the Lord has entrusted us with.

As always, know that I welcome the push-backs of my loving sisters and brothers.

Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Post 3 – What Does it Mean to Love Our Enemies?

I have obviously hesitated in posting recently. Not out of fear, I am entitled to my opinion but out of sensitivity. I’ve been mentioning in my previous posts that I found some reactions to the death of OBL to be too jubilant. In others I’ve questioned the practicality of some of the very spiritual updates/tweets/sentiments. And I want to be sensitive to some measure. I’ve also been dialoguing with my high school students regarding this. We even had a discussion night about it. So, I want to be pastoral, wise, and helpful to them and of course, to you as well.

First, thank you to those who commented on the previous post – really appreciated reading your thoughts. It’s always interesting to me that I think I get as many (or even more!) emails and Facebook messages than I do comments. Which is fine – it’s probably wise for some of you to not say some things in a public space. I would encourage you though to share your thoughts every once in a while here – it may prove to be beneficial for us as a whole.

If this is your first time reading this blog, you should know a couple things. I am not a pacifist though I prefer the path of non-violence. Most importantly, I am a Christian and since I see myself as a Christian first and an American second (tI feel this would be consistent with New Testament teaching), I am more interested in how the Church (specifically the conservative evangelical church) should be responding than how our government/president/military does. Hope that makes some sense.

And so because I foremost seek my identity in God and not the State, I hope the Church contributes to counter-balance some of the perspectives found in society. Further, I am grateful and proud to live in a country that values open society and the freedom to express one’s voice in a manner that does not harm others. I try to never take this for granted.

All week, I’ve been wrestling with the question of “What does it mean to love our enemies?”. Now, I have a lot of faults and shortcomings so know that I am aware of this but every so often, I practice my Christianity and among those practices is praying for my enemies. Ultimately, I do not believe that a war will solve our differences and as naive as it sounds, I believe peace can only be achieved when hearts and minds change and that includes ours. That’s the big picture.

I pray that my heart changes and that the hearts of my enemies change. But that does not mean that all I ought to do is pray. Wisdom and practicality are also needed, otherwise you might be accused of being indifferent to living which is poor stewardship because God is the giver of life and He expects to be faithful with it. So to be blunt – There is a time to lock the door. There is a time to barricade the door. And because of the world that we live in, there is a time to kick down the door of the evil doer. I do believe in self-defense, I do appreciate “just war” theory, and I support the troops. But there is also a time to turn the other cheek, there is a time where “just-war” theory must be tempered and I support the peacemakers. Many things are situational, the world is gray in some parts, and life is lived on the slippery slope.

That said, Osama Bin Laden was evil. And I know we as Christians are accustomed and theologically correct in saying that we too are evil and depraved, there are different kinds of consequences for different kinds of evil. Society has always understood this and that’s why we are not sent to the electric chair for speeding. We do need to recognize that there are thousands if not millions of people who hate us (and others) so much that they would kill you (again, and others) if they had the chance. They would kill you even if it meant they too would be dead. We call them suicide bombers, they call themselves the” righteous”. It’s good to remember the context.

People will be quick to say that treating OBL will only empower our enemies and reinforce their hatred towards us. That may be true. Some have said that we should have arrested him and brought him to trial – that may be true as well (as in it may be “more moral” but I am wrestling with that one). People have said that we need to be careful of the slippery slope – that’s true too. But in my opinion, all of these excellent thoughts only point to how difficult the question is, how complicated the world is, and among many things, the need for humility and prayer before a loving and just God. And it’s good if we pray and dialogue in community so thanks for reading.

How does a Christian respond? Some have responded by sharing the faith and hope of Jesus Christ with them. That is beautiful. Some of have responded by suggesting the entire Middle East be bombed – that is regrettable and frankly, embarrassing. It’s not just middle ground that is needed, but goodness tempered with justice anchored by love would be a helpful start.

This post has gotten too long so I am breaking it down. I’ll be continuing soon with question “What Does it Mean to Love Our Enemies?” In the meantime, feel free to dialogue here.

Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Part 1 – My First UnEdited Thoughts

Like everyone, I’ve been asked and have been asking others on their thoughts about the Osama Bin Laden’s death. When I first found out, here were my first unedited  thoughts – 1. “Wow, I didn’t think we’d ever go through the trouble of actually finding him”. If I had to articulate my first non-verbal emotional thought, I think I would describe it as “relieved satisfaction”. 2. “Wow, no trial like Saddam, they just killed him.” (non-verbal emotion – the shock meeting instant rationalization) 3. “Wow, he’s dead.” (Reality settling in). In no way am I saying that these are the right thoughts, I’m still working on that, I’m only saying these were my first unedited honest thoughts.

Then I saw the tweets. They expressed a range of many emotions from somber and reflective to jubilation and giddiness. Then I went turned on the tv and saw people celebrating in New York and DC, my immediate thought was surprise. That’s a tricky word, let me unpack that. I’m not sure I felt that it was awful that people were celebrating in the streets but my first thought is that it was odd, especially since the college students were barely 10 years old on 9/11.  More on celebrating an enemy’s demise later this week.

Later that Sunday night, I had a couple other thoughts – “This must be help offer closure to the families who lost someone on 9-11 and the families of our service men and women who have been fighting the war on terror.” It didn’t take long for me to catch a news clip of a 9-11 father expressing that it was bittersweet and that it did offer closure. I had a prayerful moment there. I was also impressed with Obama, his speech and the execution of his plan.

I’m not sure I can high-five the killing of OBL but it would seem appropriate for the Navy Seal Team to do that. And I find a discrepancy there. And after a day’s worth of thought, it would seem to be more “moral” to bring him to trial. The idealistic part of me wonders how humbling that would have been for him. I also wondered if its “government’s” obligation to confront one with their moral trespasses. This thought was a luxury I had while sitting in my safe and comfortable church office. Then there’s what I would call the realistic part of me that thought, “I’m sorry but I’m not going to give sympathy to the killing of a terrorist responsible for the loss and ruining of thousands of lives.” Further, from watching Saddam’s trial, while I will never know what he truly believed in his heart, he came across to me as delusional to the end. Looking back on it, though there was a sense of justice that he was captured and brought to trial, I don’t think it would have bothered me had he been executed in the same manner of Osama. I say this because in some sense, when does a trial really begin? I think I could make the case that Osama’s trial began September 12, 2001 and the final result of the verdict on May 1, 2011.

This is among a few very difficult issues for me. Like many, I hate the idea of war and violence and much more prefer the path of non-violence. I like reading about pacifism but ultimately reject it in its purest form. I even struggle with the idea of whether you can actually be a pacifist and still live in America. If you are in my youth ministry or in my church, you know that I pray for our enemies, you also know I pray and fast for our troops. I can’t wait for our troops to return home, I pray for their re-entry and I cringe every time I think about it because the words of theologian Stanley Hauerwas haunt me, “The worst thing we do to our troops is not that we ask them to kill another man but after they do, we ask them to return to normal” (a paraphrase I heard from a lecture given).

While part of me does not want to give this terrorist the honor of having any more of my time, words or attention, there’s another part of me that finds the great importance of us as Christians to process this in community. In a time of prayer yesterday, it seemed clear that we should talk about this at youth group this week. (It will also be a “God at the Pub” discussion in a few weeks too).  I invite you to pray specifically for teenagers as they try to make sense of all of this as well.  These moments can have profound effect on the soul.

Over the years I’ve learned “everything spills over into everything”. And when we talk about things like patriotism, we are also talking about things like family, morality and faith. When we talk about peace, we are also talking about war, government and justice. And when we talk about all these things, we also talk about forgiveness, love and God. Based on my social media experience, more and more will regulate this conversation out of Twitter and Facebook and I think it’s going to take me a while to reflect. So I invite you to reflect with me here. What were your first unedited thoughts upon hearing that Osama Bin Laden has been killed?