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Osama bin Laden is dead

May 2, 2011

As I lay in bed reading last night, my wife called up to me from downstairs, “Osama bin Laden is dead!”  Being as tired as I was, I didn’t have a lot of emotional reaction at the time.  My only question was a bit mundane, “I know he was sick, did he die of kidney failure or did they get him?”  “They got him,” came the reply.

And with that, I went to bed.  Getting up in the morning, I checked out the news, which had developed more over night.  You all have read it or heard it by now.

On facebook this morning, the newsfeed was awash with differing reactions from the jubilant to the prayerful.  One thing I noticed in particular was that the clergy were all, sometimes amid other comments, reminding the faithful that Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies.    When I saw some of those comments, I thought to myself, “I’ll pray for him, but I can’t say I’m sad that he’s dead.”

Then I saw another clergy’s post.  It was simple and to the point: “Jesus died for Osama bin Laden.”  True enough, but it still made me a bit squirmy.  Why?  I wondered why it made me squirmy.  Truthfully, throughout this day I’ve been having such a wide range of emotional reaction that it’s hard to categorize it all and I suspect this is true for many of you as well.

One commentary I read, by a rabbi, re-called our attention to the book of Ecclesiastes where it says, “There is a time for love and a time for hate.”  He went on to write, “I hate Osama bin Laden but I will not rejoice in his death,” because seeking revenge and rejoicing in the death of another human is against scripture.

A friend of mine, a laywomen, reminded me of Martin Luther King’s words, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

[Correction: See next post for full details, but the above quote, attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. was partially misattributed.  Only the last two sentences are King’s.]

Likewise, a clergy colleague, in her wisdom, said, “rejoicing in the death of any human takes away from our own humanity and makes us more like the evil we have fought to eliminate. May God bless the world with a mature understanding of love and justice, and may we enact God’s peace in the world.

At Morning Prayer today, I prayed silently, “for Osama bin Laden.”  But then I added, “God, I’m not sure what I mean by that but you can figure it out.”  I don’t rejoice in his death; I am not jubilant nor am I caught up in a jingoistic fervor.  At the same time, I am proud of my country, thankful for the servicemen and women who answered the call of duty, and relieved that an evil that once was is no longer present in the world in the same way, in the same person.  I think today that I am prayerful.  I pray for my enemies and our nation’s enemies as I am taught, even while I am not sure what I mean by that.  I pray for our country, that it may be guided by wisdom, justice, peace, and love.  And I pray for the future, that the systems and events that “created” an Osama bin Laden may not be repeated, and that our country’s mistakes of the past may not be repeated as well.

What is your mood today?  How have you thought about this event?  Will you pray about it, and how?

God bless you!

Fr. Ryan+

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2011 3:39 pm

    A fair comment. I think that it is probably most appropriate to be conflicted about the whole thing.

  2. Liz Havens permalink
    May 2, 2011 3:50 pm

    I pray for his soul, I never rejoice in the death of any person

  3. Randall permalink
    May 2, 2011 4:25 pm

    I like your perspective. I am also a bit confused on my position with the whole thing. I don’t really understand the jubilation because the cynic in me believes his death is not the end of the terror. However, today I am very proud of our military’s skill, hard work and dedication.

    • Lisa permalink
      May 2, 2011 9:45 pm

      Randall, I don’t think you have to be a cynic to see it that way. Just a realist. And thank you for your other perspective. In all the hoopla, I hadn’t previously considered that a prayer of gratitude for the intelligence, courage, and technology we have protecting us would also be in order.

  4. Lizz Ward permalink
    May 2, 2011 4:33 pm

    Thank you Ryan for putting it this way. I have been struggling with it all day but you made it make sense.

  5. May 2, 2011 6:18 pm

    This reminds me of your experience when Saddam Hussein died and he was included in the prayers of the people.

    • May 2, 2011 6:25 pm


      I’ve been thinking about that experience all day and the question of if and how to address bin Laden’s death in the prayers of the people this coming Sunday. I think I’ve come up with a fairly good set of prayers, but this might be an altogether new post tomorrow. What/how are you doing it?

  6. May 3, 2011 8:28 am

    May I ask where you got “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”? It’s been spreading around the internet like wildfire, but while the rest of the paragraph is in one of his books, that particular sentence is proving harder to find.


    • May 3, 2011 9:02 am


      Hah! I grabbed it off facebook too, just like a bijillion other folks did apparently. It seems you are right, MLK did not say exactly that. I will put up in just a few minutes what he did say from which whoever authored/paraphrased this “false” quote gleaned their material.

      It is interesting to me that someone wrote this sentence, which seems so apropos, and then did not take credit for it. Perhaps, as the author of the Atlantic article you linked to said, they knew it would spread faster if they attributed it to someone famous. Which is a shame, really, if not unheard of. Thanks for the correction!

      Fr. Ryan+

      • May 3, 2011 9:35 am

        There were so many comments on the post in The Atlantic that I hadn’t got to the end before commenting here. It seems the source has been found, Jessica Dovey on facebook: She had only put quotes around the actual quote, but I suppose that the lack of paragraph break made it easy to take it all for MLK’s. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, as it’s a good sentiment that might not have spread so widely if it hadn’t been misattributed.

        I found your post via tumblr, where the MLK quote, both “fake” and real, and your colleague’s quote are spreading. Your post is lovely.

  7. May 3, 2011 9:10 am

    I appreciate your conflicted feelings & I think it’s appropriate for Christians to be honest about it being hard to sort out. The link above is my own attempt yesterday.

    • May 3, 2011 10:33 am


      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own thoughts, which I appreciated. How much are we Americans, now seen dancing and singing in the streets, like the ancient Israelites who sang the Song of Miriam? And how appropriate is that or isn’t that? Very tough questions.

      I think one of the things I was reacting to yesterday was a perceived disconnect between what I saw my fellow clergypeople posting – some derivation of “love and pray for your enemies” – and what I saw a lot of other people posting – some derivation of jubilation and rejoicing. I felt confused and I felt it important to acknowledge that inner conflict. If we as Christians, particularly Christian leaders, aren’t honest with our feelings how can we expect our people to be honest with their feelings with us?

      @Mollydot – thanks again for your comments, your links, and your help! Also, thank you for your kind words.

      Fr. Ryan+

  8. Brent permalink
    May 3, 2011 11:30 am

    Hi Ryan!
    I fully agree with you that we are to pray for our enemies. I have prayed that God would stop the work of Osama Bin Laden, and that He would bring him to justice. I have also prayed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the only means of salvation, would be brought to Him and that the Lord would work in his dead heart (Eph 2) and that he would turn to Jesus Christ and be saved by his grace. It appears that the first part of my prayer happened, but not the second. According to the Scripture, it is appointed once for men to die, then the judgment. Bin Laden will be judged by God, as will all others outside of Christ, and face eternal punishment for his Sin. I see no merit in praying for a dead person, because there is no promise of second chances after death in the Scripture. I do not pray that God will have mercy on His soul. I pray that God would show him His justice, as He will. I thank God that God poured out his wrath and justice that I deserved already on his Son Jesus Christ, and saved me from the same destiny that awaits Bin Laden and all others outside of Christ. I pray that all people who are lost in their sin will be saved before it is eternally too late, and that the church will be faithful to share the Good News (matt 28:19-20) with a lost and dying world.

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