Question of faith: Was celebrating Osama bin Laden's death appropriate?

Traffic stopped in Morgantown, W.Va., when a crowd held up John Flowers, a graduating West Virginia University basketball forward, as he waved an  American flag during a celebration of bin Laden's death on May 2.
Traffic stopped in Morgantown, W.Va., when a crowd held up John Flowers, a graduating West Virginia University basketball forward, as he waved an American flag during a celebration of bin Laden's death on May 2. ASSOCIATED PRESS

When President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, celebrations erupted across the United States and around the world.

Syndicated columnist Clarence Page says we were celebrating justice, not death.

But a University at Buffalo faith leader, Mike Hayes, had a different take. He told NPR, "I don't think that the celebrations in the streets were our finest moment as Americans, and reminded me much of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets at the fall of the towers on that dreaded day."

The Roman Catholic Church issued this statement: "Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace."

Was a celebration the appropriate response to bin Laden's death? Was his death an "eye for an eye" or martyrdom? What about forgiveness?

That's what we posed to the Question of Faith panel. Here are some of their responses.

Anthony Everett, associate director for African-American ministries, Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church: In times like these, when it is easy to hate our enemies and celebrate death as victorious, I remember the 1970s television series Kung Fu and one line stated by the main character, Caine, after he kills an attacker during one program. Humbly he states, "The taking of a life does no one honor."

President Obama realizes that this is not a time to celebrate or even claim victory, and all other people of faith should follow suit.

Bin Laden's death does not bring back the lives lost on Sept. 11. His death does not eliminate the tension between Arab ethnic people and Americans of all ethnicities or the terrorist acts against the United States.

Instead, we have the opportunity to reflect on the senselessness of all war and make a change, for no war is just. We must see the death of Osama bin Laden as senseless as we should the deaths of the Sept. 11 victims and American soldiers returning in body bags because "the taking of a life does no one honor."

Bob Evely, pastor, Grace Evangel Fellowship, Wilmore: While bin Laden did much evil and our government terminated his life, our response should not be one of celebration.

The apostle Paul was a terrorist, yet God turned his life around. But for God's grace, Paul could have suffered the same fate as bin Laden.

Thankfully, God's word assures us that one day all mankind will be reconciled back to him — those coming to faith in this present age and all others once God's process is fully complete and every knee bows. One day, bin Laden's knee will bow before the Lord, perhaps after experiencing the lake of fire for a time.

That should give us cause to celebrate, not the sorry end to any one of God's creation, despite the destruction they may have created in their short time upon the Earth.

Roger Bruner, deacon, Mill Street Church of Christ, London: Opinions of men will be as various as noses; what does God say in his word about this matter?

From Ezekiel 33:11, "Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"

The rejoicing I witnessed on TV was of people celebrating while indulging in alcohol. This is not how the children of Israel rejoiced. God promised to give them victory over their enemies on the condition that they keep the commandments given to them at Mount Sinai by Moses.

The Rev. Jim Sichko, St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, Richmond: Osama Bin Laden was always easy to condemn into the darkness. It's easier to rejoice than it is to follow the words of Christ. But I'm going with Christ.

Bin Laden was, as best we know, a lost soul. This is no way a defense of the man. He chose to live in the darkness. Any condemnation comes not from God but from his own choosing, just like the rest of us. He got what he chose, life in the darkness.

When Christ wept for Lazarus, I'm betting he wept for bin Laden and people like him as well as for all of us who ultimately face death. I bet he wept for them because of the terrible pain caused by their own choice to remain in the darkness. Do I feel a change now that this murderer has been found? Yes, but it's not that false "closure" stuff, but rather a deeper look at my own life and all of lives as we examine the light and darkness within.

Joseph N. Greenfield, pastor, Help Me to Live Again Ministries Inc., Wilmore: How a person responds to an issue or an event such as the death of Osama bin Laden is a personal matter. Despite what we would like to think, there is no right or wrong way to respond.

More important is the event itself. I would like to remind readers of the following Scripture: "Man makes his plans, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21) We often forget that all people, Christian or non-Christian, are under the authority of the God of the holy Scripture. In all our lives and in his time, justice will be done.

The Rev. Melissa Bane Sevier, Versailles Presbyterian Church: I really had no impulse to gather with others, but I admit to being glad this page has been turned, even if the chapter isn't fully over yet.

Maybe we can come together on one point at least: The end of a life whose singular purpose appeared to be creating fear and terror makes us focus once again on how destructive and viral such values are.

The virus of terror tends to be less obvious and, if we let it, will infect every nation, political party and human heart. If terror engenders hatred, violence or injustice, it will have accomplished its vile purpose.

A life that lived by the sword has been ended by the sword. Let us take a moment, recommitting ourselves to ending the need for swords.

Kory Wilcoxson, senior minister, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington: Bin Laden was an iconic figure who generated such hatred that his death was akin to popping a balloon full of vitriol. An explosion of pent-up emotion was understandable.

Still, Christians are not called to celebrate anyone's death, but to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. Of course, that's a lot easier preached than done. We should pray for forgiveness, even for (or especially for) those we deem unforgivable, while recognizing that we can never escape our human desire for vengeance. Then, we pray that God's forgiveness is extended to us, as well.