I received a New York Times news alert saying that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Within minutes, parishioners were emailing me to confess some pleasure in learning of Bin Laden’s death, asking if it was wrong to be glad, and further asking how we should pray in response to this situation.
Here is my response:
The psalmist wrote, “With a complete hatred I do hate them. They have become to me real enemies” (Ps. 139.22). I don’t think the Psalmist is speaking as an ethicist, a behavioral scientist, or even necessarily as a religious leader; rather, he is simply acknowledging, without judgment, how he is feeling in a particular moment. Some feelings simply show up for us and the first task in dealing with them is to acknowledge them. I think that is what the Psalmist shows us.
Of course, we aspire to be people of love, forgiveness, goodwill, and compassion, and yet we are complex beings with a wide range of emotions. Bin Laden orchestrated an act of terrorism in our country a decade ago that killed over 3,000 and wounded and terrified countless more. He has been accused of being the architect of many other acts of violence. Regardless of what we believe about violence or vengeance, we are entitled to our initial flood of emotions and we need not be too harsh with ourselves for experiencing some sense of closure at hearing the news of his demise.
Bin Laden may have been the face of organized Terrorism in recent years, and we may feel relieved that his involvement in terrorism is now over, and we may have concerns that more violence could follow. But we should be very clear that Bin Laden did NOT represent Islam. Bin Laden did NOT represent any nation or region. Whatever we feel about Bin Laden, we must be very careful to not transfer those feelings onto any group of people or religion. We must never use our feelings toward Bin Laden the individual to justify feelings of bigotry toward others.
So, how should we pray? Pray with gratitude that no Americans were killed in the operation. Pray with gratitude that special care was taken to not harm civilians. Pray to bless those who operated couragously from the White House to the battle field.
Pray also for healing in the human family. Pray for violence to be reduced in our world. Pray for the divine Presence to be made manifest in our midst: “Thy kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And pray as we do every Sunday, “May peace prevail on earth.”
Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.