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A Pastoral Letter on the Death of Osama bin Laden – 5/8/2011

Dearly Beloved,

I preached to you this morning that all human beings deserve life and the freedom that gives life meaning, and that these rights are unalienable: they are always with all of us, no matter what anyone does to us, and no matter what any of us do. I come to that position as an inescapable consequence of my Universalism. It follows from my beliefs about humanity and our native sanctity – our capacity to choose life, even in the overwhelming presence of death. Having proclaimed such a high standard of justice, I feel compelled to address the subject that has lately dominated our nation’s debate about what justice is: the death of Osama bin Laden.

A lot has been said in these past several

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days about how we all ought to feel about this event. Public voices have argued for a moral imperative either to feel happy at the fact that this person can no longer inflict harm on others, or sad at the truth that a human being, who breathed the same air and was warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as you and I, has died. I am wary of any message that tries to tell me or anyone else not to feel our feelings. We all feel what we feel – what matters is what we do with those feelings. And to live rightly and justly out of the complexity and confusion of our emotions, we must be able to be honest with ourselves and each other about what truly lies in the solemn sanctuaries of our hearts. So I will tell you that when I heard the news, I was glad; glad that the man could cause no more death, glad that the team that brought him down had suffered no casualties, glad that the government that had ordered the strike had done so with comparative precision, rather than indiscriminate explosives.

But I will also tell you that those are not the totality of my feelings, because when I think about the death of Osama bin Laden – the man who, for roughly a third of my lifetime, has been the incarnate face of evil in my culture – this is what I see: No one, by this event, has gotten what they deserve. His victims deserve life, but his death will not restore it to them. Their families deserve their safe return, but his dying will not reunite them. His students, the people who see him as a symbol of something noble and righteous, deserve an ethos which is life-giving and helps them to accomplish justice for themselves and others; his death, as it stands, will not free them from their loyalty to a hateful

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and self-aggrandizing ideologue. Osama bin Laden, by his actions, robbed thousands of people of the lives that they deserved to live. One of the people that he robbed in this way was himself. His actions demanded that someone stop him, and his choices made it almost certain that he would only be stopped by dying. But the taking of a human life cannot be called justice – for justice is a finer thing than that – so whatever my initial gladness, this has not been a celebratory week for me. The time for celebration will come, I believe, when we as a nation, use this moment to crawl out from under our decade-long cloud of fear, and begin a new commitment to waging peace, to building hope and to serving life. That is the sort of work that I believe our congregation is about, here in our own particular corner of this country. I am grateful to be a coworker with each of you in it.

Yours in faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

 

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First Parish Church

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