The Solemnity of Death

It’s been a few days now, but I wanted to express my utter surprise at the responses to the death of Osama bin Laden I have seen in the last few days.

When I heard the news, my first thought was, “Well… now what?” I didn’t feel any different. I’m sure the soldiers in the operation felt different, but I wonder how that long that lasted until they went to sleep and woke up the next day, still in a war zone, still fighting the same battles they’ve been fighting for the past ten years. Did anything really change?

It was inevitable that celebrations would rise in the streets. We Americans are nothing if not fanatics when we put our mind to something, and this is something we have put our minds to for the last decade. Politics were abuzz with statements from Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, and everyone in between trying to get into the spotlight.

What surprised me, however, was the Christian response. I woke the next morning to find Facebook inundated with quotes from the “Prayer for Our Enemies” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. In case you are unfamiliar with it, it goes like this:

Gracious God, your Son called on you to Forgive his enemies while he was suffering shame and death. Lead our enemies and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

It was quite the shock indeed. My friends and colleagues all had the same thought. I used this prayer in Morning Prayer on Monday. Dr. Feyerherm preached its idea at Tuesday night’s Anglican Eucharist; which, to my surprise (and hers) elicited a cry of AMEN! from the assembly. Dr. Schroeder mentioned it again today.

Today, I checked the websites of the ELCA and its full communion partners. The ELCA, ECUSA, and UCC had all released official statements calling for the same sense of solemnity around the occasion (links below). Others had links to blog posts with the same message. The Vatican released a similar statement.

For comparison, I attempted to find statements from well-known right-wing evangelical leaders, such as Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Billy Graham, etc. If they are talking, they aren’t doing it in a place where I can find it.

Can it really be that the dominant American Christian response to this event is a call for reflection, contemplation, and love? It may be too good to be true–there will be plenty of people “on the ground” who will disagree with their church’s position, perhaps even more than agree. But on a church level, Christians have stood up and denounced the celebrations of human death. I find this extraordinary.

Maybe there is hope in this world after all.


Bin Laden death calls for ‘solemn remembrance,’ says ELCA presiding bishop
Episcopalians contemplate implications of Osama bin Laden’s death
Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden?
A call to prayer for the pathways to peace
Vatican Statement on Bin Laden’s Death


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