I do not support the death penalty, and I suspect that makes me part of the minority view here in North Carolina. I don't support it for multiple reasons, some based on practicality and some on my faith which is rather complicated given my religious background. Boiled down to its base my belief, a belief that is rooted in my interpretation of what I've been taught about Christianity in multiple churches, is that you can't justify the taking of one man's life because he took others' lives.
As with so many things it's much more complicated to apply such a belief in real life than in a church on a sunny Sunday morning, and it's especially complicated when you're talking about a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. When one man is responsible for the death of thousands how can you not be justified in taking his life? In bin Laden's case I don't think we really had to struggle with that issue because according to all the news accounts I've seen he went down fighting. If he'd been captured alive we'd have had a debate about the proper course to take, but I don't think there's any doubt he'd have been executed and the only questions would have been about the process of getting him executed – where he would have been detained, how he would have been tried, how he would have been executed. I'm not going to say that I'm feeling regret that bin Laden was killed, I'd be lying if I did, but I will say that I'm relieved that we don't have to have the spectacle of a trial and a debate about the propriety of execution. I was struggling with these thoughts this morning when I read Esbee's post sharing a letter from her priest about bin Laden and I have to say he's expressed exactly what I've been feeling. I'm going to share it here and I hope she'll forgive me for lifting it in its entirety (I think it's important that it be read by as many people as possible):
Some years ago, our national conscience was pierced with a dagger that penetrated our hearts, our minds, and our lives. Lives lost in New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania touched lives of people across this nation and around the world. The voids left in so many lives will never, never be filled or replaced. One can merely pray that those who suffered loss might someday know peace, and that those who died will find eternal rest in the arms of their "Creator, Redeemer and Friend," to quote from our cherished Anglican hymnody.
This evening we heard the news of the death of the mastermind and chief perpetrator of that assault on human life and the aspirations of so many to make this world a better, safer, and more godly place. Whilst, I admit, I will sleep perhaps more restfully this evening, it brings me no great joy to celebrate at the death of someone, however evil, who, from his birth was created in the image and likeness of God (even as I grapple greatly with that concept).
I recall 11th September 2001. The images of the towers collapsing, heroes, preserving our national monuments proclaiming , "Let's roll," and the sound and the stench emanating from the Pentagon into our home (in Old Town, Alexandria, at the time) will never be forgotten. The images of those in other parts of the world who would call themselves our enemies, rejoicing in our shock, sorrow, and loss are also still clear and vivid.
That said, the words of our Saviour are also enduring, "Love your enemies," "Pray for those who persecute you." We are called to be a "A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light." In the spirit of him who died for us and was raised from the dead to bring us life eternal, my prayer is that we might all marshal that which is good and salutary within us so that the image which others may have of us is not one of gloating over the death of one individual, but, rather, how we might employ this incident to be for us a new beginning so that all of God's creatures might now know precious they are not only in God's eyes, but in our hearts as well.
I remain, as ever
St. John's Episcopal Church, Georgetown Parish