By William McKenzie
May 3, 2011
None of us on this panel serves as an adviser to President Obama and/or his national security team, but drawing upon your faith traditions would you have sanctioned the death of Osama bin Laden?
DARRELL BOCK, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
A nation has the power to defend its citizens, the power of the sword (Romans 13:4). This was an act of defense and part of a war we did not seek. So, yes, justified as a part of just war on a figure widely recognized to be an architect of death of innocent people. God sometimes uses nations to judge leaders who are unrighteous as the prophets show.
MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas
No, I would not have sanctioned the death of Osama Bin Laden.
First of all, there was no need to have killed the man, when the Seals encountered Bin Laden they could have released gases or other elements to knock out and capture him alive. We need to hear more about it from the Navy Seals, if in fact they were in danger to have shot him twice in his head?
The right thing would have been to put him on the trial, just as we did with the Nuremberg, Saddam Hussein and other trials. We could have learned a lot more about his other secret plans that may still be attempted by his loyalists. The world would have witnessed that we care about the rule of law and reinforced it through a time honored process.
Secondly, it has set a bad precedent. Even though the end result benefits humanity, the means were not kosher. It has opened up the doors for others to replicate, thus we 'may' have lost the moral upper hand to stop others from extra judicial killings.
Thirdly, no religion permits one to kill the other. Torah and Quran and other holy books do not see any wisdom in killing the other without an imminent threat to one's own life. Both the books say, to save a life is like saving the whole humanity and the corollary to that is to kill a human is like killing the whole humanity. What is the difference between somewhat pregnant and pregnant? Jesus condemned the sin and not the sinner.
I am glad his body was respectfully dropped in the sea instead of a ground burial. If the choice was given to Bin Laden, he would have preferred this over a ground burial which could have become a shrine to his followers, and that is not acceptable to a Wahhabi Muslim. The last rites were indeed handled appropriately and the Muslims appreciate that. God loves the one who forgives and lives in peace with himself.
Finally for the record, I stand opposed to assassinations, killings and death penalty. Unless it was in self defense, we are morally wrong in killing Bin Laden.
However, it feels good that he is not alive anymore. Mind you, that is different than cheering for his death which we should not do.
His end brings a sense of relief and closure to families who have lost nearly 3000 of their loved ones. Muslims have more to rejoice than others; they were not only victims of his terrorism like all of us, but were also subjects of harassment by several governments around the world, in the airports as well as employment and ordinary acts of life. The Sikh community also endured the grief out of mistaken identity. We pray that the Taliban mind set and the oppression of women in Afghanistan also comes to an end.
It is one of the best news items Muslims have had in a decade; it brings a sense of relief and hopefully restores the relationship between Muslim and Non-Muslims in building a cohesive America. Thank God, an evil era has come to an end with the death of this man.
CYNTHIA RIGBY, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
I would have, with deep regret and sorrow, sanctioned the death of Osama bin Laden. I would view my sanction, and the killing of bin Laden, as a violation of God's commandment, "Thou shall not kill." But I would violate the letter of this law as a way of honoring its spirit: that is, believing that the death of Bin Laden is, in a broader sense, in the service of life. In killing Bin Laden we kept him from killing (and inspiring the killing of) a myriad of others.
This is not to say that we can construe Bin Laden's killing as a good. Rather, killing him was simply "less bad" than not killing him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's category of "necessary evil" applies here.
Bonhoeffer, involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, recognized that killing Hitler would not be a good, but that it was even more unacceptable to leave Hitler alive. To kill Hitler or bin Laden is, again, a violation of God's command, a turning away from God's intention for life in this world.
Bin Laden's violent death is to be grieved along with the deaths of the thousands of deaths he authorized, along with a decade's worth of life-affirming energies lost to fear, to hate, and to "smoking out" the terrorists. What a waste of life. And we've all had little choice but to be drawn into it.
Here's to better days, ahead.
GEORGE MASON, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas
Yes. This was not an assassination; it was a carefully planned mission that had rules of engagement in which killing was the last resort. We should note that we did not bomb the house. We did not send an unmanned drone to do the work. We sent human beings who put themselves in harm's way to be as careful as possible in achieving the mission.
The SEAL who killed Bin Laden would not have fired on him if Bin Laden had immediately given himself up. Bin Laden would have had to have resisted with dangerous intent (a firearm nearby, if not in his hand). This is the most we can hope for in minimizing the loss of life and making sure this mission was an act of justice and not vengeance.
The question of what the Christian faith tradition might allow in this matter is one of interpretation. We can certainly take no joy in the death of any human being, including an enemy of humanity, since even Bin Laden, a Christian would say (through gritted teeth), is created in the image of God, and Christ died for his sins as much as for any saint's.
Final judgment is up to God. Bin Laden's lack of remorse and continued evil intent to take innocent life in the name of his distorted view of his religion requires that people of faith care for the protection of those who might be harmed by him, as well as seek justice for those victims and their families who already were harmed.
Not to do whatever it took to pursue him would be a failure to join God in the interest of justice and peace this side of the grave. The fact that we are fallible in our own ways of doing justice cannot excuse us from seeking it anyway. To take a life under any circumstances requires human humility if not contrition, even when it may be justifiable. But not to do in some cases may bring into question our love for neighbors in other ways.
ATIE SHERROD, Independent writer/producer, progressive Episcopalian activist, Fort Worth
According to the news reports I have read, the president did not authorize an assassination -- he authorized a raid on the mansion compound knowing there might be casualties, either that of American soldiers or of individuals inside the compound. That is the same hard decision any armed forces commander must made when initiating action against enemy forces.
Also according to news reports, the president had earlier declined to authorize a massive bombing of the compound because it would cause the deaths of all inside -- innocents as well as the guilty -- and most likely would have obliterated things to such a degree that confirming the death of Bin Laden could have been problematic.
These are the kinds of distinctions upon which moral decision-making hangs.
There is no question that going after Bin Laden was the right thing to do. Bin Laden was a criminal, a man who directly ordered the murders of countless innocent people, inspired murderers of many more and made clear his intention to continue doing so. The key for a moral people was to go after Bin Laden without becoming like Bin Laden. I think the president successfully threaded the eye of that needle.
As the president announced Bin Laden's death to the world, he did not rejoice, nor was he triumphant. He was matter-of-fact, even a bit muted. And properly so -- a Christian does not rejoice over the death of any human being. Judaism teaches the same thing. Many, if not most, of those murdered directly or indirectly by Bin Laden over the decades were Muslims. For all who value human life, relief at the removal of the threat this man posed may be an appropriate reaction. Rejoicing is not.
It also appears that Bin Laden's body was treated with respect and buried at sea, following the customs of the religion he claimed while also denying his followers a tomb at which to worship him as a martyr. These are the actions of a moral people.
But as I listened to the president, the overwhelming emotion I felt was grief. It called up that long-standing deep grief over the losses of September 11, 2001, coupled with the pain of the terrible changes our leaders' reaction to 9/11 has wrought in my country. It sent us into two wars, caused my own government to sanction the torture of prisoners, and started an inexorable eroding of our liberty at the hands of our own government. We have become a less free people.
So, yes, while I agree with the decision the president made in authorizing that raid, I can find no peace or joy in the fact of Bin Laden's death.
GEOFFREY DENNIS, Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami, Flower Mound; faculty member, University of North Texas Jewish Studies Program
Judaism seeks peace, but is not a pacifist faith. The use of force in self-defense and the pursuit of justice is not desirable, but it is permissible.
There is no fundamental problem with the goal of slaying or capturing a violent, unrepentant bandit, criminal, or enemy commander, even far from the battlefield (Judges 4). Ideally, capture would by the best solution, but given the complications that might entail, both on and off the battlefield, there is no good reason I can see not to use lethal force.
Being an implacable enemy of the West and a threat to innocents everywhere, I for one am glad he has been stopped. I don't relish the death of any person. I just recognize the necessity of it. I am impressed by the skill and prowess of our intelligence and military in pulling this feat off. Credit to to both the Bush and Obama administration for their steady diligence on behalf of our security.
DANIEL KANTER, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Church of Dallas
The questions to answer now are: Does bin Laden's death solve anything in particular? Or does it increase our blood thirst for enemies in general or for revenge? Or will the closing of this chapter lead us to work harder to achieve peace in the world?
To celebrate this death might only be accomplished by acknowledging how complicated the world can be and to hope that images of ecstatic American's waving flags and cheering in front of the White House do not become the next gallons of fuel poured on the fires of hate. We can only celebrate that a very small amount of justice was done in a world that cries out for a more substantial response to violence, loss, and prejudice.
My faith says that bin Laden's death doesn't accomplish much, only bringing him and his cohorts to justice would. My faith says that this isn't the end of anything but that the real fight will be to not let the evil committed by one person and his network of terrorists become the evil we continue by our own actions like taking pleasure in revenge.
DEAL HUDSON, President, Catholic Advocate, Washington, D.C.
It's the most important responsibility of the government to protect the common good of its citizens, a good that begins with the lives and security of its citizenry. Those who feel queasy at the news of Osama bin Laden's death should not only recall his public claim of responsibility for the 9/11 deaths of innocent civilians but also his equally public avowals of "worse" carnage to come.
There is absolutely no doubt that without the U.S.security efforts prior to his death there would have been more innocent deaths. And there is equal certainty that future attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden would have successfully made it through the security net.
In other words, the killing of Osama bin Laden by 28 courageous Navy Seals has saved lives and bolstered our nation's security. They are true heroes -- for putting their lives on the line in a high risk military operation -- though in the fashion of our military culture they will never seek to gain either credit or notoriety.
The White House, sadly, has emphasized the tense and emotionally draining atmosphere surrounding Obama's decision process, which culminated in limiting his weekend golf game to nine holes. Sending soldiers into harm's way is admittedly a difficult responsibility, but it's unseemly for the nation's chief executive to have his sweaty armpits praised in place of his soldiers' courage.
The question that should be addressed by religious leaders in the months to come is whether or not they want to retract their hysteria over 'enhanced interrogation tactics' which cost no man his life but have led to the death of the world's most wanted man.
RIC DEXTER, Nichiren Buddhist (Soka Gakkai lay organization)
This question has for millennia been debated among different Buddhist schools. The only point of universal agreement is that one should never take another's life in revenge.
If vengeance was the motivation for the decision then the answer is simple.
I am uncomfortable seeing the public displays of joy. They remind me of the demonstrations we despise when our enemies perceive some sort of victory. This dancing on the grave makes it appear that in some ways we are not that much different from them. Vengeance is a great evil which only brings about greater evil.
We are informed that this person had no real power or control over the operations of the Al-Qaeda organization. Any power he held was mostly symbolic. You cannot kill a symbol. Killing one who is seen as a symbol often has the opposite effect. It makes them stronger.
Osama bin Laden has held for years that his death would empower his movement. In this outcome the killing again brings about greater evil.
We have all been affected to one degree or another by the evil perpetrated by this criminal. Many of who lost loved ones to his crimes say they feel a sense of closure. Any relief in their grief is certainly a good, even if a lesser one.
There clearly are more things to consider in response to this question than can be covered here. There is, however, a story of a man, known as "Necklace of Fingers," who had killed 999 people and for the final trophy on his necklace tried to kill the Buddha. He failed and the Buddha taught Angulimala to kill within himself the will to kill.
There is no doubt that bin Laden caused the death of thousands. There is little doubt that he would continue to try to spread his darkness in the world had he continued to live freely. Those facts notwithstanding, I could not have acted with any less compassion than the Buddha. I could not have issued orders to take his life.
JAMES DENISON, Theologian-in-Residence, Texas Baptist Convention
President, Center for Informed Faith
Should our government have sanctioned the death of Osama bin Laden? At least three options exist within Christian theology. One is "total pacifism," building on the words of Jesus: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). Most interpreters, however, believe that his words had to do with personal slander, not self-defense or war.
A second could be termed "pragmatic initiative," building on the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 6). When an enemy threatens us, we are sanctioned biblically to defend ourselves even if we must initiate aggression. Most interpreters, however, see the conquest of Canaan as a one-time necessity rather than an abiding biblical principle.
A third approach builds on "just war" theory. Used for sixteen centuries, this theory states that war is justified when it meets seven criteria:
• Just cause --a defensive war, fought only to resist aggression.
• Just intent--fought to secure justice, not for revenge, conquest, or money.
• Last resort--all other attempts to resolve the conflict have clearly failed.
• Legitimate authority--military force authorized by the proper governmental powers.
• Limited goals--achievable, seeking a just peace.
• Proportionality--the good gained must justify the harm done.
• Noncombatant immunity--civilians protected whenever possible.
By these standards, it seems that the death of Osama bin Laden was "just."
Whatever our view, we should never forget Jesus' admonition to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). In response to an essay I wrote last Monday on our subject, a reader shared his eight-year-old son's reaction to Sunday's announcement: "That's sad because now he will never get to know Jesus." Another reader quoted a ninth-grader's response: "Why do we celebrate the death of someone who did not know our Savior?"
AMY MARTIN, Executive Director, Earth Rhythms; Writer/Editor, Moonlady Media
Taoists are pacifists. The religion arose in reaction to the constant feuding of Chinese warlords. The taking of life is sanctioned only in defense with attitude of great sorrow.
Lao Tzu stated in the Tao Te Ching: "The skillful commander strikes a decisive blow then stops.
When victory is won over the enemy through war it is not a thing of great pride.
When the battle is over, arrogance is the new enemy. "
Sadly, now the cycle of retribution will begin. American military bases that are dotted all over the Middle East will continue to fester that hatred. Endless war.
"He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still," says Lao Tzu. Let us bring the troops home now and spend the billions currently showered upon Middle East dictators instead on manifesting peace and strengthening the American people.
LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin
In the best of all possible worlds, Osama bin Laden would have been captured alive and tried in an international court with due process of law. It is clear he was not willing to submit to such justice, making violence by those sent to capture him necessary for the protection of their own lives.
Americans rightly feel relieved that the self-confessed perpetrator of such crimes against humanity, the symbol of an organization committed to taking American lives as a means of creating terror and fomenting war between the West and the Middle East, between Christianity and Islam , is gone.
Nevertheless, his organization remains, and to the degree that we are turned into a people who celebrate violence and speak hatred, Osama bin Laden's program succeeds.
The Bible warns, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17). In the New Testament Jesus commands, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). Jubilation over a human life taken by violence reflects a sickness of the soul with which the terrorists have infected us.
The president of the United States has national security responsibilities which led to a risky but, in my opinion, necessary decision to kill Osama bin Laden. But he had the right spirit in his speech to speak of justice and not revenge, to speak of security and not victory, to remember the victims of 9/11 and two wars and their families, whose grief is not healed by bin Laden's death.
The victory will not be ours until we learn again to prefer peace to war, and understand than even the death of an enemy, while arguably necessary, is a human tragedy that should lead us all to reflect on and return to our deepest values.
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
If I were affiliated with a church or a religious tradition that had a more precise ideology, this would be an easier question to answer. That is, if I were Amish or Mennonite or Buddhist, I could readily cling to my religious roots by asserting that violence which leads to the taking of human life is always wrong, and that killing Osama bin Laden represents the kind of act that simply perpetuates a cycle of destruction which is avenged by destruction which then necessitates further destruction in pursuit of justice.
On the other hand, if I were an adherent of a religious tradition inseparably aligned with the systems of national government---such as the Church of England---then I could readily celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden as an act of appropriate justice not only in punishment for the evil that he so egregiously perpetrated but also in prevention of the violence that he planned to unleash in the future.
Unfortunately, at least for the purposes of the Texas Faith question this week, I am a Methodist. Although our denomination has adopted social positions that affirm the pursuit of peace and that condemn the destruction of life, Methodist bodies are not "peace" churches. Our members cannot cite the official texts of the Methodist tradition as a foundation for claiming conscientious objector status in times of war. Our members have participated in war. Our congregations have posted billboards and plaques of honor for their members in military service. Our pastors have conducted worship including prayers for the safety of members in uniformed services.
So I am among the millions---if not billions---of Christians who occupy that uncomfortable place of Christian discipline which finds violence an unacceptable form of human behavior that is so evil it must be avoided except for situations that sometimes require resorting to violence in order to prevent even greater evil.
Bill Clinton, who attended United Methodist Church worship when he lived in the White House, has said that his greatest regret was failing to intervene in the violence in Africa between the Tutsis and the Hutus. A Christian missionary serving in Cambodia explained at a recent conference that the Khmer Rouge conducted a killing spree that targeted anyone who wore eye glasses, because they were probably persons who read books. As a result, only three Methodist preachers are left in Cambodia today.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an opponent of violence, still found himself aligned with those who sought to assassinate Germany's Adolf Hitler in an effort to forestall further violence.
There are circumstances and situations when human beings must engage in horrific and violent acts in order to preclude even more heinous acts of violence. Perhaps the death of Osama bin Laden is one such action. What must, nevertheless, be remembered is that the justifiable act of violence to take a life will not end the cycle of violence? It participates in the very behavior that we find reprehensible. To take a life---even the life of Osama bin Laden---is not grounds for celebration. It is grounds for confession that evil sometimes requires us to do less than the good in order to prevent greater evil. It is a human conundrum.
JOE CLIFFORD, Senior Pastor and Head of Staff, First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
Drawing upon Christianity, it is difficult to justify the sanctioned death of Osama bin Laden. The cross of Christ asserts that God's power for new life comes through self-giving love, not violence.
The death of Osama bin Laden will not bring peace, it will bring more death.
Having said that, his life brought so much death in this world. So his death may mean the preservation of life for some in our world.
When considering his participation in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer consulted with Karl Barth about the sin of participating in such a plot. Barth responded to Bonhoeffer that it would be a sin for him to participate in the plot to kill Hitler, but doing nothing would be a greater sin. Our hope is that such is the case with Osama bin Laden.
MATTHEW WILSON, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University
While I think the raucous public celebrations of bin Laden's death are a bit unseemly (if understandable), I don't think that there is any serious doubt that the U.S. government made the right decision in targeting him for elimination. Bin Laden had spearheaded the planning of multiple incidents of mass murder (the September 11th attacks, the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, etc.), and had publicly "declared war" on the United States. He presumably continued, up until the moment of his death, to encourage and facilitate attacks against American interests and citizens, to the extent that he was able.
Eliminating an enemy "general" in time of war is an accepted practice within the Christian Just War tradition, and the United States is certainly at war with Al Qaeda. Moreover, the strike against bin Laden complied with other Just War principles as well; force was deployed in a measured, proportionate way, with a strong prospect of success and concern to minimize collateral damage, against a target who posed a proven and ongoing threat to the lives of American citizens. From a moral standpoint, the case here seems pretty unimpeachable.
Source: Dallas News