Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden?

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Upon hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden, the Rev. Ken Ehrman of Minnesota sent an email blast to members of his local church inviting them to come that evening to discuss how they felt about it.


Given such short notice, he had no idea how many might respond, but 20 people came. They discussed the ambivalence a lot of us are feeling at the awkward celebration of the death of another human, even one so infamous as bin Laden.

Beyond a remarkable testament to Rev. Ehrman’s pastoral leadership, I think his act also points to something I felt need of but was missing in my own reaction to this news–a way to process my feelings, to deal with great uneasiness.

There is something that says I should not be dancing and singing in the street in the face of loss of life. The whole of the Christian story is about renewed, redeemed and restored life.

Bin Laden’s actions and words were utterly evil. He was an instrument of death. He spoke for death. And this is an offense to all that is decent and good and uplifting. It stands in stark contrast to all that we hope for and believe we should pursue as people who follow one who said, “I am come that you may have life and may live abundantly.”

There are some who will contend that in killing bin Laden, redemption is completed. And others will make the case that vengeance is justified. Many will make a biblical case for it.

But there is that lingering, haunting passage of scripture in which Jesus tells Peter to keep his sword sheathed when the soldiers come for him. His way is not to exact vengeance nor to live by the sword. But to lead toward life.

What, then are we to make of our ambivalent feelings? And how do we come to grips with them?

I think Rev. Ehrman got it right. We come together as a community of faith. We pray. We share honestly and openly our humanity, our doubts, our fears, our frustrations, and we lay them before God. We ask for strength and wisdom. We seek to support each other. We seek understanding. And we seek to learn more about The Way, as the early Christian path was known.

I think a faithful response is reflective and prayerful. Humble. Life seeking. For we have within us the same passions and hubris that can lead us to take as well as give life. And this capacity should make us very humble and cautious of our driving emotions.

Above all, unlike bin Laden, I believe as followers of Jesus we must seek the leading causes of life, a phrase my friend Gary Gunderson has popularized, lest we behave with the same disregard for the sacredness of life that we so deeply and strongly reject.

15 Responses to “Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden?”

  1. Hannah May 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Thanks for giving words to my thoughts. Even in a seminary crowd the responses have been varied, and there is fear in saying that I am uncomfortable with a man’s death–even one who is responsible for so many others deaths. I was grateful to see that can be navigated.

  2. Pat May 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    I think Jesus told Peter to put his sword away because he would just be a casualty, and because Jesus had a destiny to fulfill–extra bloodshed was unnecessary. It was practical. Jesus knew he was on his way to death, in fact he was waiting for the call.

    I am not ambivalent about my feelings about bin Laden’s death, any more than I am ambivalent about the death of Hussein or Hitler. I am glad bin Laden is out of the picture. He called for the deaths of ALL Christians and people who are not Moslems, as well as for Moslems who are not devout. He would have had no problem sending a person onto your kid’s school bus with a backpack full of explosives.

  3. Rich Buckley May 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Rev. Larry Hollon, you have become a personal hero of mine for your work in enabling communications among Methodists. Thank you. The importance of what you have guided into being for the church, will eventually build a stronger church, I believe.

    Perhaps Bin Laden’s death will serve as a point of reflection and new beginnings in more than as the church realizes http://tinyurl.com/3qo8crm

    I wrote a post before I read your blog. Funny you should discuss this as I too wrote on the same subject but a different perspective: http://tinyurl.com/3qzxrvh

  4. C. Don Ladd May 4, 2011 at 7:59 am #


    Well spoken,written and hopefully we as a church live!

  5. I am both an ordained minister and retired military. I served as both a combat officer and as a chaplain. At the same time I am a peace and justice advocate. As a military (Army)chaplain I taught the soldiers killing is always wrong but sometimes the necessary answer to world problems. Romans Chapter 13 states: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” As concerns Jesus statement about “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” it was pointed at a disciple who was taking the law into his own hands. Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. Exodus 21:12 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. There are also many other passages in scripture that will support this stand.

  6. Ammon May 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Well said Rev. Hollon.

    I thought that I would share a link to a related post by a fellow United Methodist on on discussion group’s blogsite: http://pqexchange.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/reflections-on-the-killing-of-an-enemy/

  7. Margaret Novak May 4, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    Thank you for this, Larry. Being able to process all of this in the midst of community helps one align one’s faith with one’s feelings and then to act in accordance with the best of both. Thanks for being a part of my community.

  8. Susan May 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    This is so wonderfully written and expressed what I had been feeling. Thank you for voicing them.

  9. Jason King May 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Bin Laden, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, et al, was evil and chose death himself. It is sad whenever somebody has the option of knowing Jesus Christ and decides to follow the devil. We are not accountable for the path he chose and should be glad that he is now gone.

    When it comes to how Jesus told Peter to sheath his sword, I believe He meant that Jesus’ own destiny was to die for us on the cross, and that Peter’s action would have served no good. Taking up the sword and perishing by the sword is about making revenge and warring the focus of your life, serving it instead of the Lord. I don’t believe that we are to let evil exist; we must confront it and work to defeat it. Sometimes this means by being forceful.

    The difference in killing evil ones, when they chose their path, as opposed to just being vengeful is that we should eliminate problems, thereby to protect the innocent, weak, and future generations. Killing bin Laden was not unprovoked, it was defense. He took the initiative and ultimately paid for it. There are consequences to actions, and he would have caused harm again.

  10. Vance P. Ross May 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm #


    Very simply-thank you.

    Vance P. Ross

  11. Vance P. Ross May 9, 2011 at 9:20 am #


    Very simply-thank you.

    Vance P. Ross

    By the way, above, the note that “Your comment is awaiting moderation” does not belong to Vance P. Ross. I know not how it made it to my post.


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