Thursday, May 5, 2011

osama, obama and jesus

The death of Osama bin Laden is now old news. The US Government's wish to eliminate him is understandable. Whether it will change the terrorism equation much is questionable, but beyond my ability to answer. But what should be a christian's response to these events?

what does the bible say?

The Bible doesn't speak unambiguously about killing. The Old Testament is very different to the New. And even within the New Testament there are differences.

The starting point should surely be the teachings of Jesus, which condemned revenge (Matthew 5:38-42), and promoted love for others (Matthew 5:43-44), a willingness to not take offence but to forgive (Matthew 5:23-24), a respect for life (Matthew 5:21-22), and even a willingness to die for one's beliefs rather than retaliate.

Paul likewise condemned revenge, urging us to leave it to God (Romans 12:17-19), and followed Jesus in loving our enemies (Romans 12:14). Yet he also acknowledged that governments had the right and responsibility to prevent evil, which he suggests might entail judicial killing (Romans 13:4).

Overall, we can sum up the christian position as one which avoids anger, conflict and especially taking of life, but which recognises that in this imperfect world, sometimes taking of life may be necessary. But this should be a last resort, a terrible option, and one only taken with a right attitude - not lightly and not out of revenge.

assessing recent events

The execution of bin Laden was understandable, but very questionable legally. It was an assassination, not a legal execution, for there was no trial. Perhaps that was justifiable in a situation of war, although the "war on terror" was hardly a legal and declared war. Pakistan's sovereignty appears to have been violated in a way that the US would never allow for itself, but seems willing itself to commit without qualm - and never notice or care about the inconsistency. Truly a matter of might, not right.

But this has been the pattern all along. After the September 11 attacks, "christian" America with its christian President seemed to put the words of Jesus out of its mind and focus only on revenge. The resulting ill-conceived invasion of Iraq may have removed a despot, but it cost tens of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, yet probably assisted the cause of terrorism more than it helped. Certainly the money could have been better spent on assistance to poor Middle Eastern people groups. The war in Afganistan seems likewise to have been less effective than was hoped, especially if bin Laden had been in Pakistan for years. Questionable legality, questionable morality, doubtful effectiveness, all apparently motivated as much by revenge as justice.

It could be argued that fighting terrorism is a lot more complex than US foreign policy statements have sometimes suggested, and that addressing the root causes of terrorism (addressed in passing in does religion cause terrorism?) might have entailed less shooting and more assistance and generosity.

a christian perspective?

But these international legalities are beyond my competence and scope. I am interested here in christian ethics and following Jesus.

The US is a supposedly christian country, yet I cannot recall anyone expressing any christian concern for Osama bin Laden at any time in the last decade. He was a person made in God's image, an imperfect person who needed to seek God's forgiveness - just the same as you or I. But I don't recall anyone ever praying for him. It as if there are some people beyond God's love and forgiveness - a very questionable theological assumption. And few seem to have questioned whether christians should wholeheartedly support the "war on terror", which despite government statements, became a war on Islam for some.

Few seem to have remembered 2 Corinthians 10:4: "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world."

Instead, it seems we have revenge, joy in a person's terrible death as if it were a Saturday matinee western, and unconcern for collateral damage. There seems to be little love for enemies. It seems that patriotism was more important than the words of Jesus. I cannot help thinking - this is not what Jesus would think.

None of these comments should detract from the bravery, skill and dedication of the military team which carried out its orders.

president obama

Barrack Obama seems to have behaved with sober judgment and wise sensitivity towards Muslim people. He has made the decision he felt needed to be made, tried to mimimise loss of other lives, and has not publicly exulted in bin Laden's death. He seems to have viewed it as a nasty job that nevertheless needed to be done. There is some debate in the US about Obama's birth and faith, but in this matter, he seems to have behaved more christianly than many of his critics.

Let us hope we christians can leave this sorry episode behind us and move forward with greater love, wisdom and humility.

1 comment:

  1. There was actually a row related to this in Germany:


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