Upon receiving word from President Obama that the world’s “most wanted” criminal had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, revelers took to the streets in Washington D.C., New York City and on college campuses throughout the country.
Waving flags, shouting chants of American victory and celebrating the death of the man identified as the leader of al-Qaida, the festivities continued long into the night.
Osama bin Laden, convicted in the court of public opinion of masterminding the terrorist attacks on American soil nearly 10 years ago after taking credit for the atrocity, had been killed. The commander in chief announced that justice had finally been served.
What was announced as justice looked a whole lot more like revenge as crowds around the country rejoiced in ways reminiscent of a city celebrating a sporting victory.
Though an American, I was not in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. I know men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but all of them have returned intact and alive.
For those reasons, I don’t pretend to comprehend fully how these celebrations may have indicated “closure,” as some have said.
It always seems like we will feel better if those who hurt us or those we love are also hurt.
Be it a jury of one’s peers suggesting the death penalty for the person who murdered our family member or Special Forces operatives raiding a compound on the other side of the world, doling out death for death feels like it will bring closure.
In some ways, it might. But if it did, would it not immediately bring closure when a murderer immediately commits suicide?
When family members of 9/11 victims went to sleep on May 1, 2011, they did so knowing that Osama bin Laden would instigate no further attacks. Maybe it was the closure brought by this knowledge that led some of them to jump, chant and repeatedly shout, “USA! USA! USA!”
As I watched this response, I could not help but question whether such elation was really the most fitting.
On a pragmatic level, do public celebrations of Osama bin Laden’s death in any way help the military still overseas? Do they dissuade those considering his example of terror?
I suggest that those celebrating, though surely unintentionally, enlarge the target on the backs of our military men and women.
From a human perspective, how do we justify celebrating someone’s death when we recall experiencing what that felt like following Sept. 11?
We were outraged to think that death would be celebrated. Many of us questioned how such a lack of humanity could exist in the 21st century.
Turning on my television Sunday night, I saw in my country seemingly identically inhumane celebration over the death of a fellow human being.
Most significant, for those professing to love the person of Jesus and follow his teachings, where does Christ encourage those who follow him to rejoice at a time like this?
The gospel message seems exactly the opposite.
Be it the injunction in the Christian Scriptures to love and pray for one’s enemy (Matthew 5:44), or the specific instruction in the Hebrew Scriptures not to “rejoice when your enemies fall” (Proverbs 24:17), the way in which we are to respond is made clear.
Though without doubt the natural response, I suggest we can do better than has been portrayed – and that God commands it of us. Celebration might feel instinctive, but it is to consideration that we should turn.
It is time to consider, perhaps again and maybe for some the first time: how policies and practices of our country might make suicide missions appear a preferred alternative to life; how the heart of God breaks to see creation warring within itself; and how we can serve as agents of peace in our families, communities, country and world.
Jonathan Clark will complete his master of divinity degree through Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., in May. He also serves as pastor for Willard Avenue Baptist Church, an American Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan.