In the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden, many American followers of Jesus acutely felt the disharmony of two kingdoms. OBL's death gave Americans much to rejoice in: the heroism and skill of Seal Team 6, a significant blow to Al Qaeda in the global War on Terror, hope that military activities in Afghanistan can now be drawn down. And yet at the same time, Christians struggled with the morality of rejoicing over the death of another person made in God’s image.
This dissonance was brought to a head this week by the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach FL that chose to honor an anonymous request and include Osama bin Laden’s name in its prayer list. Setting aside the theological question of praying for the souls of the dead, this choice highlights the tension with which many American Christians live.
Consider some of these quotes:
"I think it's totally wrong, he doesn't belong in the Catholic religion. For what he did to Americans, he doesn't belong anywhere," says Lois Pizzano, a Catholic Church member. "It's unconscionable, it's sacrilegious ... If I wasn't a Catholic I wouldn't think it was right. He doesn't belong there, he doesn't belong with the American people"
"If it was one of my loved ones having their prayer session and his name was also included I'd be very upset. I think the people whose names are on it would also be upset," says Andrea Lazarus.
Unconscionable? Sacrilegious? Upset? Are these the values of the kingdom?
It seems to me that both Jesus and Paul could not have been clearer:
You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5.43-45
Do not repay anyone evil for evil … If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12.17-21
By any definition, OBL qualifies as an enemy. He led a military organization bent on the destruction of the United States of America. He orchestrated the murder of 3,000 American citizens. He was actively plotting to terrorize free people around the globe. If OBL is not an enemy, no one is.
And that is why, in the case of OBL, we must force ourselves to cherish and adhere to the way of Jesus … not ignore it because it runs contrary to our Americanism. America is a wonderful country, full of opportunity and freedom for which we Americans should be very thankful. But it is not the kingdom.
Americanism is the way of competition, consumerism, and conquest. It busies our lives, shortens our attention spans, and saps our souls. Americanism may give us something to fleetingly feel good about – an imperial military victory – but it is out of harmony with eternity.
The way of Jesus is much harder and yet more deeply beautiful. When we turn the other cheek, when we refuse to curse our persecutors, when we pray for the soul of Osama bin Laden, we harmonize our lives with the deeper, more resonate strain of the kingdom of God.
I am not Catholic, and as such, I have not practiced the discipline of praying for the souls of the dead. But in solidarity with my brothers and sisters at the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church and in solidarity with the values of the kingdom of God, I will.
Will you join us?
WPTV: Prayer Request for Osama bin Laden at Catholic Church in West Palm Beach