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Are Christians supposed to love Osama Bin Laden?

by Dear Jon
December 11, 2001

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Sort 102_Dear Jon-Are Christians supposed to love Osama Bin Laden? ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,
Are Christians supposed to love Osama Bin Laden? If so what would you do if he walked into your church on Sunday morning?
Morally Torn


Dear Torn,

Your letter assumes that I go to church, which means you either know my identity or you do not. In a culture that considers religion absolutely private, this places me in an interesting position. The best way to answer your question regarding Christian attitudes is to resort, as objectively as possible in an online journal that is self-consciously post-modern, to the written texts that Christians claim to be authoritative for belief and conduct, and to historical facts that, at least as I understand them, are beyond argument. Hopefully everything I share will not tip the readers off to anything more than a liberal college education in western civilization. If you ask this same question in the PO's religion/philosophy forum, you will probably get responses much more self-consciously devout and pious.

Let us agree that all Christians value as authoritative the written scriptures of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Already I have crossed an area of sensitivity. The Christian referrent to the Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible held in common with adherents to Judaism. In ecumenical circles, referring to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament is considered insensitive. This should not be the case, since adherents to Judaism themselves treat the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament. What is meant by "Old" is that the cultic observance of animal sacrifice is no longer considered binding to keep the atoning relationship with God in effect. Judaism has elevated a second text, the Mishnah and its commentaries in the Talmud, to interpret the Hebrew Bible so that adherents can be faithful without keeping the specific terms of animal sacrifice. The moral law, as summarized in the 10 Commandments, Leviticus 19 and the "shmah," is still considered binding by adherents to Judaism and Christianity alike. So, being Goy (g-o-y, this is not a typo), I make no apology for referring to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament. If that makes me a jerk, look for me on the religion/philosophy forum.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, there are many terrific and horrifying texts regarding what happens to the enemies of God. Most of these events happen by God's direct action or by agents of God, such as "judges" or Assyrian generals (or Roman troops), who are actors in a history over which God is sovereign. In the prophets and the psalms, we have occasional prayers in which the people of God pray specifically for God to treat their enemies horribly. Anyone who reads Psalm 109 will be hard-pressed to conclude that any love for one's enemy is intended.

It is in this vein, of course, that I wrote my Thanksgiving hymn, "Bomb the Jihad." If Osama turns up dead, I say we ring the church bells and give our choirs copies of the Hallelujah Chorus.

In the New Testament, we have a few texts in which Jesus of Nazareth commands his disciples to "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Jesus makes this statement in the context of a nation under occupation by an idolatrous conqueror.

The implication is that love is redemptive and atoning. Thus the Apostle Peter himself writes that "love covers a multitude of sins," and an apostle who is traditionally held to be the very brother of Jesus, states that "mercy triumphs over judgment." The Apostle Paul writes, "So far as it depends on you, live peacably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirst, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

All of this is an application of the ethics implied in Leviticus 19:18, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." When Jesus was asked, "Who is my neighbor?" he replied by telling a story that demonstrated that a member of a non-Israeli ethnic group living in the Holy Land at the time and typically resented by the Israelites, was nevertheless to be viewed as a neighbor by the Israelites. So Jesus is extending the ethic to include our bitterest blood-enemies.

Two things are clear, as far as the Christian ethic: First, that vengeance is reserved for God. As the Bible shows us in Psalm 109 and Revelation 6:9-11, it is appropriate to pray that God would execute his vengeance speedily, whether through divine hand or the human agents of history. Second, that love has a redemptive effect and may well indeed triumph over judgment. Therefore, if Osama bin Laden walked into your church, Dear Torn, it would not be up to you to kill him, even for 25 million dollars. You would have two responsibilities: First, to contact authorities, and second, to extend to him whatever hospitality your facilities allow so that he meets his immediate needs. If he is thirsty, a glass of water. If he needs the Men's Room, let him use it.

If Osama claims to have repented and is now a Christian and wants sanctuary in your church to protect him from arrest, you have a whole other problem. Basically, though, Christians need to own up and where secular powers demand justice for crimes, new converts need to face that. It would not be for conscience's sake that he is demanding sanctuary, but rather cowardice, so you would not owe him sanctuary. If Osama demanded sanctuary anyway as a Jihadist, or held a gun to your head and your whole church hostage, which I would not put past him, obviously you have little power to do anything except pray silently a whole lot--Psalm 23, Psalm 109, whatever comes to mind.

No sanctuary can ever be used to escape justice. Remember that even Joab, clinging to the horns of the altar, was put to death by Solomon for his underhanded murders.

I promised in Sort 101 that we would get funny again. Well, maybe next time. Meanwhile, don't forget readers, the religion/philosophy forum DOES exist.

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