May 1 will be yet another day that will make an indelible imprint in minds of our generation – the day that the death of Osama bin Laden was announced to a world who had been terrorized by his image, his words, and his call to incite warfare based on skewed religious concepts and a myopic understanding of the family of humanity. I can still remember where I was when this news of the horrific September 11th attacks broke across the television – 10th Grade English class. Let me be clear, I believe Osama bin Laden was responsible for the death of thousands of Americans as a result of the horrific September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the downed aircraft in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I am clear about the fact that prior to this, Al Qaeda operatives had involved themselves in a war on America which played out in several other terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist plots throughout the world. Let me be clear, I am not making a claim of that Bin Laden be acquitted of these horrific crimes against humanity. With all of this in mind, upon receiving the news of Bin Laden’s demise, a generation took the streets and celebrated, chanting “God Bless America,” singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” hugging, crying, and cheering.
I must admit that this whole image seemed a bit eerie to me. A hodgepodge of Americans descending upon the White House gates in the middle of the night to celebrate. As the news reporters interviewed the celebrators, some made comments such as “I hope he [Bin Laden] rots in hell,” and “now that he’s [Bin Laden’s] finally dead, it feels good.” The former President of the United States, George W. Bush said,
This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.
In his prepared remarks, President Barack Obama echoed this same claim that “justice” had be done to Osama bin Laden. As the rest of my American countrymen celebrated, I began to reflect. Almost immediately I reflected on the sermons that I read from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book Strength to Love. I began to reflect on this whole idea of retributive justice and Jesus’ call to radical forgiveness. I began to reflect on the non-violent Civil Rights movement led by King. I began to reflect on the state of the world and my place in it.
In Matthew 5:43, Jesus says, “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In his sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” King asserts
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows our of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said, “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful to its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. 
As one who is intentional about following the ways of Jesus Christ, I take this command very seriously, the command to love those who don’t love me. By placing these words into their cultural, historical, and social context, we can gain a better understanding of the radicality of this statement. Jesus, a first-century, poor, Jewish male living in Roman-occupied Palestine would have seen and experienced first-hand the brutality, not only of Rome, but of those facets of Jewish society that had allied themselves with empire. As Rome bled the provinces the feed the aristocracy and ruled the fringes of the empire with an iron fist, the space had been created for violent, revolutionary fervor to spring up. Instead of colluding with this cause, Jesus chose a different path – one of radical forgiveness. Jesus called his followers to forgive those who were starving them, abusing them, exploiting them, disrespecting them, and in many cases killing them.
Before I go on to elucidate my claim regarding the fallacy of retributive justice and the need to pursue forgiveness, let me first state that the actions of the United States of America have created the same environments throughout the world that I briefly explicated above. The American consumption machine has siphoned resources from the rest of the world to fill out SUVs, grant us the rich variety of food we believe we are entitled to, and provide us with an endless supply of “disposable” material goods that we feel we “need.” The American political machine has sought to impose American ideals upon a world that is struggling to maintain its own autonomy and rich diversity. The American religious heritage has sought to polemicize any religious tradition that is not Protestant, White, Middle-class, and Evangelical and has exported this myopic theological tradition into many cultures which has resulted in the destruction of ways-of-being for many peoples. With these and more, America has waged war on the world, a war that created the climate for the rise of an “Osama Bin Laden.”
Earlier I mentioned the fear and hatred that the name “Osama Bin Laden” connoted. We have been made aware of his disdain for Americans. We are all aware of his role in the September 11th terrorist attacks. We are all aware of his role in other terrorist attacks; however, this does not comprise the totality of who Osama Bin Laden was. King claims, “We must realize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemies.”  As Americans, and to some degree the rest of the world, we attached so much “evil” to Osama Bin Laden that, to us, he ceased to be human. Instead, he became the latest of an incarnation of evil that needed to be eradicated.
In her book, What’s Faith Got to Do with It?: Black Bodies/Christian Souls, Kelly Brown Douglas highlights the effects of the dehumanizing persons. She claims, “Christianity’s classical atonement tradition makes Christians at least open to the notion that humans can serve as ‘sacrificial mediators’ between God and humanity – either as a way of exorcising evil from a particular community or as a way of pleasing God.”  With America’s “platonized-Christian center” (a collusion between early Christian theology and Platonic philosophical ideology) it is not far-fetched to believe that Americans could openly celebrate a death with religious impunity, especially if the death was believed to “exorcise evil” from the community or “please God.”
It’s ironic, then, that Douglas claims that this notion is one of the underlying ideologies the motivated White Americans to undertake the diabolical task of lynching Black men and women. As American’s celebrated the death of Osama, I reflected on the White Americans who celebrated the death of Black men and women who were believed to be threats to their community. As American’s chanted “God Bless America” upon hearing the news of Bin Laden’s death, I couldn’t help but reflect upon those White Americans who would leave their churches, go out and lynch Black people, and then go back inside as if God not only condoned, but celebrated these ghastly events.
Let me make one thing clear. The vast majority of Black men and women who were lynched were innocent of whatever crime they were “convicted” of. Even those who were “guilty” of looking at a White woman, “talking back” to a White man, or posing any threat to White power didn’t deserve the death called for by the retributive justice of their day. On the contrary, I believe Osama was indeed guilty of orchestrating terror plots throughout the world which resulted in the death of thousands; however, does his guilt make him less human and less worthy of forgiveness? At what point does one no longer become worthy of forgiveness?
I understand the lofty, almost elusive, quality of this question. Osama was imaged as the total, unrepentant, incorrigible, Anti-American and, with the collusion between Americanity (American civil religion) and Christianity, Anti-Christ; however, in the words of Dr. King, Bin Laden’s “terrorist” image does not comprise the totality of who he was. Let us not forget, even the most incorrigible criminals are Children of God and thus our brothers and sisters.
We have many modern examples of humanity’s attempt to live up to Christ’s mandate of radical forgiveness. One of the greatest examples of intentional and radical forgiveness took place in South Africa after the dismantling of the Apartheid system. Under the leadership of Archbishop Demond Tutu, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took on the noble task of reconciling the White, Colored, and Black sects of South African society into a more cohesive, united, and communal society. In her book, Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, news reporter Antjie Krog recounts the testimonies of those who were both victims and perpetrators of the Apartheid regime. In one testimony, Krog recounts the words of Thomzama Maliti who was recalling the brutal, burning death of Nombulelo Delato. Maliti says,
The word “reconciliation”… is my daily bread. Compromise, accommodate, provide, make space for. Understand. Tolerate. Emphathize. Endure… Without it, no relationship, no work, no progress, is possible. Yes. Piece by piece we die into reconciliation. 
Despite the hurt, pain, and disillusionment caused by centuries of brutal mistreatment on the part of Europeans, Archbishop Tutu and his Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to create space for the building of the human family through forgiveness and reconciliation. This was a difficult task, to be sure; however, it is a task that was necessary to create a society in which “the lion can lay down with the lamb.”
Having said this, I will end by elucidating why I did not celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden; rather, I took the time to reflect and pray. I did not celebrate because I am believer the all life is a sacred gift from God. I did not celebrate because a community that believes that death is the only way to bring closure, is a community that will eventually implode on itself. I did not celebrate because retributive justice posits a way of being that would leave the whole world “blind and toothless.” I did not celebrate because Jesus Christ invites me to participate in radical forgiveness, forgiveness that necessitates reconciliation and when reconciliation is not possible, I mourn the break in human relationship and respond by reflecting. I did not celebrate because I am fully aware that America’s idea of justice is still being reframed and restructured in an increasingly pluralistic and diverse culture. I did not celebrate because Osama Bin Laden was my brother and I am called to be my “brother’s keeper.”
I will conclude this reflection with words from Dr. King’s sermon entitled, “A Good Neighbor.” King states,
Too seldom do we see people in their true humanness. A spiritual myopia limits our vision to external accidents. We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made form the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image. 
The Word of Marcus for the People of God…
 Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1963), 44.
 Ibid., 45.
 Kelly Brown Douglas. What’s Faith God to Do with It?: Black Bodies/Christian Souls (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 60.
 Antjie Krog. Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 50.
 King. Strength to Love, 24.