I woke up this morning wrestling with the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. Special Forces. The responses in my Twitter and Facebook feeds varied. Some rejoiced. Some were disheartened that others would rejoice at yet another act of violence in defense of justice. And some were in the middle…they just didn’t know how to feel.
I think I fall in the middle. As someone who was at the Pentagon Metro station 10 minutes before a plane plowed into the side of a seemingly impenatrable building, I realized how monumental this occassion was for many. It helped close a chapter to a very difficult period in our nation’s history. On the other hand, as a Christian, I have to ask the obvious question that continues to resurface when violence in defense of justice is the issue.
Is violence in defense of justice okay? Is it always necessary? I don’t think the answer is very clear. Try telling the Japanese-Americans held in concentration camps in the Pacific Northwest after Pearl Harbor that it’s okay. Try telling the Japenese women and children killed by nuclear weaponry after Pearl Harbor that it’s okay. Try telling the Muslim-American citizens who suffered discrimination and violent retaliation from ignorant Americans that it’s okay.
Have we just continued to perpetuate a cycle when we sought out and killed the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks?
A group of people wrestled with violence in defense of justice question 50-plus years ago. They had family members that had been maimed, hanged, abused, spit on, and downright treated like trash. Four little girls were killed in a senseless bombing at a local church in Birmingham, Alabama. The prevailing notion was retribution. It was time to push back. But a group of men and women decided to use a different approach. Borrowing heavily from the teachings of Jesus (and Ghandi) the Civil Rights Movement was born. This movement was to be a non-violent resistance for equal rights/treatment. Regardless of the evil acts committed, they chose non-violent resistance. Ultimately, it led to their freedom.
Is non-violent resistance necessary in all instances? Is there a different way? Often, the Christian community is not so sure. Religious zealots of Jesus’ day certainly believed there was a different way. They felt that the only way they would know a Messiah had come was through violent resistance. And you can’t blame them for hating Jesus’ approach. He taught things that opposed what they believed. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Don’t repay evil for good. This challenged the very laws that they lived by for hundreds of years. What would Jesus do today? Would he rejoice at this news? Probably not. He’d likely reflect on this text…
“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…” (Proverbs 24:17)
Before I’m called un-American for this post, I reiterate that I understand how much this means to the people who lost loved ones on that horrible day in September. I continue to grieve the loss of life on that day. Still, yesterday’s announcement served as a reminder that we live in a fallen world. I’m grateful to know the one person who redeemed this fallen world through his unselfish act. He refused to overthrow the powers that be. He refused to violently resist the Roman government. Instead, he established a kingdom. A kingdom of believers who grieve when lives are lost. A kingdom of believers who continue to look for ways to live at peace with others and challenge/encourage others to do the same. May God grant each of us the grace to live at peace with one another.