On May 2, 2011 President Obama announced the death of America's number one enemy: Osama bin Laden. The face of evil. Poster child for the "Yes... but" clause, as in "Yes, I know that Jesus tells us to love our enemies... but he couldn't have meant Osama!" Within minutes the celebration began. Outside the White House. Ground Zero. Neighborhood blocks and city squares. Pastor Joe's living room.
The days following the death of Osama bin Laden felt like a hangover in the American Christian world. Like the guy who had a little too much to drink the night before and finds himself hugging the porcelain god the next morning, a lot of American Christians were asking themselves, "Did I really react the way that I did the night before? Shouldn't I have been more Christ-like in my reaction to Osama's death?"
Understandably, Christian blogs and websites were ablaze with reminders that followers of Jesus are not supposed to rejoice over the death of their enemies. Christian media personalities unanimously agreed that our number one priority should be about saving souls, and since Osama bin Laden is likely facing a Christ-less eternity, that should make us sad, not glad.
Now that the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 has passed, I think that followers of Jesus should take the reflection further. If we stop the reflection at let's-not-rejoice-because-our-enemy-is-in-hell, we miss out on an opportunity to put one of the hardest teachings of Jesus into practice: removing the planks from our own eyes.
Let's go a little deeper.
Within minutes of the announcement my email was ablaze. Some of my friends reminded me that as followers of Jesus, we're supposed to love our enemies and that the tendency to do evil is in all of us. Another friend reminded me of a famous Martin Luther King quote, "Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate." But the one that caught my attention the most was something a British scholar friend of mine wrote:
"How is God's justice advanced by foreign troops acting as vigilantes in someone else's sovereign territory? Whose justice? Which rationality? All my instincts were, and are, to sigh with relief; even, in a measure, to celebrate. But my mind warns that this is a dangerous precedent in principle and an extremely dangerous action in terms of possible unintended consequences."
That took me aback a little.
How would Americans feel, my friend asked, if the U.K. decided to send their helicopters and special- forces to kill an Irish Republican Army terrorist on American soil without asking permission first? The Irish Republican Army has been responsible for numerous attacks on civilians in Great Britain and America has been cozy with the IRA in the past, even allowing their terrorists to live in America without extraditing them back to Britain. How is America's harboring of IRA terrorists (albeit with a wink and a nod while maintaining good relations with the U.K. outwardly) different from what many suspect Pakistan has done to us? And how would we react had Britain decided to violate our sovereignty in the same way we have done to Pakistan?
This is where plank removing punches you in the gut. Whether you agree with my friend's comparison or not, the question remains: How many times do we as followers of Jesus refuse to apply the same standards to ourselves that we demand of others? It's easy to talk about this on a personal level. Not so easy to talk about on a national level. Because then we have to talk about drone attacks that kill a disproportionate amount of civilians, we have to talk about invasions and occupations and whether we apply the same standards to "us" as we do to "them?"
What does this have to do with making disciples for Jesus?
Consider the following scenario:
When a militant Palestinian Muslim becomes a follower of Jesus, the American evangelical community welcomes him or her with open arms. But unless the new disciple renounces every act of violence against Israelis, including violence thought to be in self-defense, the welcome doesn't last long. But if an Israeli Jew decides to follow Jesus, very few Christians in the American evangelical community expect him or her to equally renounce violence against Palestinians. In fact, in some circles, they expect the newborn follower of Jesus to be even more militant than he or she was before. Why the double standard? Is it because it's only wrong when "their" side does bad stuff to "our" side -- or is it because we don't really believe that following Jesus means an actual change of heart towards people we think of as enemies?
Breaking out of the "us" verse "them" mentality is difficult, painstaking work, but it's what Jesus calls us to do. Otherwise, we may think we're making disciples for Jesus, but what we're really doing is helping people leave the Crypts and join the Bloods. The body count doesn't change; it's just a different god that justifies the killing.
Prayer-minded evangelicals like to say that the battle against evil is a spiritual battle against principalities and powers in the heavenly places. That may be true, but I think that kind of reflection lets us off the hook too easily. The real battle is against the hate, the hypocrisy, the self-righteousness, the narrow-minded, tribalistic, let's-twist-the-Bible-to-justify-our-prejudices monster that lurks in each of our hearts.
I am Osama.
Carl Medearis is the author of "Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism"
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more