hating your enemy: the bin laden episode

In the hours following the announcement of the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, it takes but a few mouse clicks to peruse countless comments on Twitter and Facebook by Christians who unashamedly celebrate his death.

I will do you a favour and not publish some of the awful comments I have read, some from well-known Christian pastors and authors.

The pictures are enough. In the news we have seen images of celebrations pouring into American streets, assumedly including Christians. These are a sad reflection of how far many Christians have moved from the teachings of Jesus, having replaced them with nationalistic zeal.

This is in now way intended to defend the past action of bin Laden. It is however to say that Christians need to rethink what Jesus might have to say about our enemies.

Amidst the quoting of Exodus 21:24 (“an eye for an eye”*) and related verses, there should resound the powerful words of Jesus as he directly challenges and extends the Mosaic Law:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not violently** resist the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

More than that:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

For Jesus, to be like God means loving even those who do injustice. In fact, according to Jesus we are not really being children of God if we do not love our enemies.

This does not mean refraining from resisting their evil; the examples of nonviolent resistance in Matthew 5:39-42 directly imply that is not the case. Resistance against evil is necessary, as Jesus’ life demonstrates, though it is undertaken nonviolently.

We should note that, for Jesus, continuing the cycle of violence in our world is not a kingdom option. Additionally, celebrating the violent death of our enemies is not only to refuse to love them (and thus refuse to be a child of God…), but is also that sad prioritising of nationalism over-against the anti-imperial kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurates.

In the end this kind of nationalism looks awfully similar to the ideology of those whose deaths are being celebrated.

I think that Brian McLaren summed it up well:

Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence? … [quoting from a friend’s email] Perhaps everyone is right. Perhaps the death of Osama Bin Laden has made this world more safe. I do not believe, however, that his death has made this world more beautiful.

Ultimately I don’t think Jesus’ command to love our enemies was simply about a nice sentiment or gesture. Rather I think Jesus’ teaching here is genius; loving our enemies is the only way to break the cycle of violence…

… it is the only way to finally end it.


* In my view this verse does not serve as a prescription to execute people, but as a limit on retribution that will most likely be sought in the honour/shame system of the ancient Mediterranean.
** There are no English translations who translate the Greek antistemi as “violently resist”, though this is literally what the word means. Indeed, antistemi was a military term. For more on Jesus’ nonviolence see my Good Friday post, “The Crucified (Nonviolent) God“.

Posted on May 3, 2011, in Biblical Studies, Conflict and Nonviolence, Culture & Art, Current Events, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Same debate is raging on my facebook statuses. Right with you there brother. And you’re not about the word ‘resist’ is extremely helpful. Thanks for that!!

  2. Hi Matt

    Thank you for your recent posts on non-violence. Last night even my teenagers expressed abhorrence seeing the celebrations of Osama’s death and were amazed at our prime minister announcing she was “pleased to announce the killing of Osama”. This moment adds to my list of “ashamed to be a Christian”.

    Something about all of this makes me cringe and want to cover my eyes and ears. I guess that’s what many Christians must do when they hear Jesus’
    invitation to “love your enemy”. They way of Love is never popular. In fact, it can get you killed. Just ask Jesus. But it seems that being crucified for Love and Peace can still invite others into personal transformation over 2,000 years later.

    Attempts to break the cycle of violence with Love and Peace, offer the
    same invitation Jesus offered. It won’t stop the violence but it offers ‘heaven on earth’, which can make earth more beautiful for those who seek it to be.

    Keep up the good (God) work, Matt!

  3. I think you articulated for me:
    1) Why I felt rather sad when I heard Bin Laden had been shot, as well as his wife and sons
    2) Why I felt rather sad reading likewise, the many comments from people I know on facebook (albeit however, many many non-christians instead) – which celebrated his death.
    All of which seems rather murderous and bloodthirsty to me anyway. I mean, who does that? (Rhetoric statement)

  4. Unless you have lost a loved one through a terrorist attack I don’t think you have any right judging how people show their feelings.

    Unless you have been where those people have been maybe keep your opinions to yourself.

  5. Matt I agree totally with what your saying! good on you for having the courage to post this, i was going to post this same view on my fbook but wanted to avoid judgment and accusations of being pro-terrorist. So thank you, im sure i speak for alot of people when i say your and inspiration to fight the good fight! Evil persists when good men stay silent.

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