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