Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Morality of Killing bin Laden

As I was reading the opinion section of the Strib this past Sunday night, my wife, Amy, called out that the media was reporting that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I don’t function well after ten at night, but I stayed up to watch President Obama’s speech. Ever since I’ve tried to keep abreast of this extraordinary event.

Since Sunday night I’ve been thinking about the morality of this action. I was blessed to sort through some of my thoughts yesterday with a group of Presbyterian pastors at a pre-arranged gathering.

With all the humility I can muster I’ve come to these conclusions: 1) as a citizen of the United States I believe the killing was just; 2) as a follower of Jesus Christ I’m torn, but ultimately do believe that the killing of bin Laden was just; 3) as a one human being living on the earth I believe the earth is safer today than it was 48 hours ago; 4) this could be a kairos moment where everyone—particularly those of us in the church—can re-commit ourselves to creating and living out the Kingdom of God--especially the values of peace--here on earth; 5) I mourn that our world is in a place where killing an enemy of the United States is necessary; 6) violence does beget violence, and I pray and will continue to pray that no one else will die.

I wasn’t surprised that bin Laden was eventually found and killed. I didn’t wake up on Sunday morning thinking that bin Laden would be killed on May 1, 2011. But ultimately I believed that the United States would find and punish him for masterminding the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001.

I’m amazed at the operation that the Navy Seal team executed. Though our ends are obviously different, I wish that teams in the church could operate at that level.

As a follower of Jesus Christ I’m torn about whether the killing of bin Laden is just. I have committed my life to living out the commands of love and peace that Jesus taught his followers. I am passionate about creating and living out the Kingdom of God and its values—especially of peace—here on earth, and I believe that the church is the best institution in the world to cultivate the Kingdom.

However I am not a pacifist. I have reluctantly come to believe in the principles of the Just War Doctrine. I believe the war that the United States declared on Al-Qaida was just. If that war is just, then a logical conclusion to the declaration of war on Al-Qaida is the killing of bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaida.

A strong case can be made that over the long-run the capture of bin Laden and a proper trial (like a Nuremburg trial) possibly could have been better for the world. But telling the Navy Seal Team to capture and not kill bin Laden would have put members of that team at risk, and no certainty exists that a trial like a Nuremburg trial could be properly and peacefully pulled off.

I am mortified that anyone would proclaim that bin Laden has gone to Hell. We humans have no authority to make that judgment. Proclaiming that bin Laden is in Hell is an affront to God. Only God is capable of that decision and none of us—obviously!—is God. Sharing our misguided opinions that someone is in Hell can create terrible damage. I am not a Universalist, but I trust God in making all decisions about a person’s eternal fate. Ironically I shared these thoughts in a sermon on heaven this past Sunday. Watch it at: http://www.blip.tv/file/5091714

Furthermore I believe that violence begets violence. Already the expectation exists that Al-Qaida will attempt attacks to retaliate for bin Laden’s killing. Violence should only be used carefully in limited means. The sooner that the United States leaves Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya the closer we all will be to a time of peace. I can find no relationship between NATO’s attempt to kill Muammar Gaddafi last weekend and the United States killing of bin Laden.

We live in an imperfect world. It is sobering that bin Laden was killed last Sunday. No "U-S-A" chants will be coming from my mouth. My hope is that this event will cause all citizens of the earth earth and especially people in the church to re-commit to creating, developing, and sustaining institutions and practices of peace.

1 comment:

Dan Graham, Honorably Retired Pastor said...

This was very well written; good work, Pastor Paul! I share your ambvivalence over the whole thing, your amazement at the courage and efficiency of the speacial forces who did the work, your prayer that no more need die, and your sense of partiotic pride. I do hesitate to say, however, that in this age there can be anything called a just war. (Are there NO alternatives? How can we minimize "collateral damage" harming or slaying non-combatants?)