[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Q Ideas Blog and has been re-posted with their permission]
In the spring of 1999, during NATO’s bombing of Serbia, I was in the “Tent City” in Tirana, Albania. Floods of Kosovar refugees were pouring into the camps, telling horrific stories of rape and ethnic cleansing. Something needed to be done. The Serbs had to be stopped. But as fighter jets roared above and thundering Apache helicopters flew overhead, I experienced tremendous inner conflict. Could I support violence to stop violence?
The truth is, I prefer non-violence. That’s exactly what I mean. I cannot with integrity say I’m committed to non-violence because most of the champions who’ve made this commitment don’t seem to agree on a clear definition of what they mean by “violence.” And, if the use of force to protect a vulnerable child or my wife is “violence, ” then I may not be able to fully commit to non-violence in every situation.
This past weekend Osama bin Laden was assassinated, shot in the head, in what no doubt was an awful, bloody mess.
Immediately after his death was announced, there was a virtual flash mob of social media reactions. It’s not surprising that the collective response was overwhelmingly celebratory; after all, bin Laden was America’s #1 enemy.
But as I started sifting through the Tweets and Facebook status updates from friends, many of them self-proclaimed Christians, I wasn’t sure what to make of the celebration of death.
Sure, maybe the celebration was more symbolic of what bin Laden represents than an actual satisfaction for blood lust. But we all know that violence tends to beget violence. Groups like Al-Qaeda will continue to use violence, and may retaliate for bin Laden’s death. No one is going to argue that this is the end of terrorism. The assassination doesn’t solve anything, and may likely escalate an already bad situation.
The morning after the news I’m left wondering where to find the peacemakers whom Jesus called “blessed.” Can Christians stand above the bloodthirsty calls for revenge and lament all violence? Could we find the imagination to create a new, redemptive narrative of “justice, ” without separating it from grace? I’m hoping that we followers of Christ will find the courage to really learn to “love our enemies”—perhaps the hardest and most implausible of all Jesus’ teachings.
Why? Because we’re better than this. We are better than walking agents who perpetuate violence as retaliation. We are better than those who resort to violence to solve their problems or communicate their frustrations. We’re human beings. We aren’t animals limited to intimidation, fear and violence as a means of getting what they want, defending what is theirs, and keeping what they have. As humans who bear the imprint of the divine, we’re creative, imaginative and hopeful.
The luxury of the non-victim is to externalize victim-hood, to espouse theories without the burden of living with the impact of them. Today we wake up in a new reality, one without Osama bin Laden, a reality that we now have the potential to shape. Without turning it into an externalized abstraction, may we reject the absurdity that violence has solved anything. May we work to create a new future where love is the rule and real peace is the goal.
Should Christians rejoice in the death of Osama bin Laden? Should we condone the use of violence to stop violence?
Christopher L. Heuertz is the International Executive Co-Director of Word Made Flesh, a community called and committed to serving Christ among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. He’s also the author of Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World (IVP, 2008) and Friendship at the Margins: Discovery Mutuality in Service and Mission (IVP, 2010) with Christine Pohl. Follow him on Twitter @chrisheuertz.