The Appropriate Response to the Death of bin Laden

I’ve had a couple of different questions directed at me after the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Let me use my post today to give my perspective on these questions.

One of the questions is ancient—not new at all—dealing with the concept of a “just war.” There has been a strand of Christian thought that rejects the idea that any war is just. This viewpoint, normally labeled pacifism, says it is always wrong to take up arms regardless of the situation. We are supposed to let God be the one to carry out any necessary vengeance, according to this philosophy. Mennonites, Amish, and Quakers are the strongest in this belief.

While I can respect their desire not to hurt another human being, this view is not Scriptural. When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, in context, He was saying not to return an insult for an insult. But didn’t Jesus allow His persecutors to kill Him rather than strike back? Yes, but He had a specific purpose; He was on a mission to lay down His life for all.

Throughout the entire Old Testament, God commanded His people to defend themselves, and He even used them militarily to destroy some civilizations that had completely defiled themselves with child sacrifices and other horrors. In the New Testament, he told a soldier to continue in his job. Wouldn’t that have been the perfect opportunity to declare he should walk away from the military?

One of the biggest problems I have witnessed in those today who espouse this view is that they posit a moral equivalence between opposing sides. In other words, they don’t seem to think that one side is actually more evil than the other, and they equate mass murder of innocent civilians (September 11, 2001) with a legitimate response to exact justice upon the evildoers. Our move into Afghanistan to take out the Taliban who were harboring Al Qaeda was the proper response of a government tasked with the responsibility of protecting its people. That’s the primary purpose of government. What took place late Sunday evening was not the murder of innocent civilians (in fact, no one else was hurt at all) but the carrying out of a justice supported by Scripture.

I might add here that when Quakers ran the government in colonial Pennsylvania, they refused to protect their citizens from cruel attacks by Indians who sought to kill all the settlers. Because of their pacifist approach, the attackers were emboldened; the Quakers eventually had to relinquish control of the government so others could take that governmental responsibility seriously.

The other question raised had to do with the celebratory mood of crowds in New York City and Washington, DC, among other places. Was it unseemly to rejoice in the streets over bin Laden’s death? Was this a Biblical response? How do we manifest a true Christian spirit over this outcome?

First, I presume that many of the revelers were not there out of any Christian conviction. Personally, I cannot conceive of going into the streets to dance and cheer over this. Some of that may be my personality. I’m rather subdued outwardly. However, I can rejoice inwardly that bin Laden is dead. I won’t condemn others who show their joy more openly, but we do have to be cautious. I would urge Christians to make sure their response is measured and appropriate. We should be leaders in manifesting gratitude and humility even when rejoicing over a victory in the war on terror.

Here’s where that foolish moral equivalence again rears its head.

Some have said that the street celebrations over bin Laden’s demise are no different than what has taken place in Islamic nations when terrorist acts are successful.

The difference is vast: they celebrate when innocent people are killed; we celebrate when killers are killed.

They rejoice over towers plummeting to the ground with thousands trapped inside; we rejoice when the mastermind of that evil receives his due.

Not long ago, some Palestinians sneaked into an Israeli settlement and murdered a family, cutting their throats, and even beheading an infant. The Palestinian streets erupted in jubilation over the act; people were even handing out cookies to the celebrants. Please don’t try to convince me that our response to bin Laden meeting his Maker is equivalent to that moral depravity.

Before closing, I’d like to make a comment or two about Obama’s role in this. First, I must say that he acted properly in giving the go-ahead to the operation. For that action, I am grateful.

Also, the announcement he made had elements of rhetoric that were nearly inspirational; someone penned a good speech for him. Yet buried in the middle of that speech was a comment that rankled. I’m not sure how many caught it. He deliberately made a point to say that when he took over the Oval Office, he called in Leon Panetta, his CIA director, and told him that finding bin Laden was now the highest priority. Some may think I’m reading something into this, but to me it came across as if this were practically a new idea, as if the Bush administration had never seriously crossed that bridge or made such a commitment.

Pardon me, but that came across as rather smug and self-important. He said nothing about the previous administration’s efforts to capture the Al Qaeda ringleader. Yet now we know that the trail to bin Laden began in 2007, not under the new administration. It simply took nearly four years to complete the scrutiny and come to a place of certainty that led to action. I think the president needs to publicly recognize his predecessor’s achievements. That will be hard for him, I know, but it’s a reality, and he should show gratitude for those who came before him in this struggle.

That would require humility of course, which has been sorely lacking in this president. He could use a little tutorial from Ronald Reagan, who famously noted,

There’s no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

Reagan always had that attitude, never taking credit for himself for the achievements of his administration, but constantly praising the American people for their character and initiative. The current White House needs to recover that spirit.