How much celebration is too much over bin Laden’s death?

My son’s 4th-grade class spent some time yesterday discussing how much gloating and celebrating one should do over the killing of Osama bin Laden.

It’s an interesting question.

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from religious groups asking the same thing.

The National Council of Churches offers: “Osama Bin Laden is dead. Just as Christians must condemn the violence of terrorism, let us be clear that we do not celebrate loss of life under any circumstances. The NCC’s 37 member communions believe the ultimate justice for this man’s soul — or any soul — is in the hands of God. In this historic moment, let us turn to a future that embraces God’s call to be peacemakers, pursuers of justice and loving neighbors to all people.”

An Orthodox (Chabad) rabbi says: “So there’s the irony of it all, the depth and beauty that lies in the tension of our Torah: If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care.”

The Rev. Doug Leonard, former pastor of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown, is now director of the Al-Amana Centre, an interfaith center in the Sultanate of Oman, a Muslim nation. He sent me an email early today that included this:


The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death spread quickly yesterday morning in the coffee shops, streets and offices of Oman and was accompanied by cheerful talk and a sense of relief among Omanis.

Here are two representative quotes I heard yesterday as I spoke with Omani government officials, business leaders and people on the street about the news: “This is a day to celebrate.  Justice has been done today.”

As the day turned to evening in Oman, morning came to America.  I was sitting with some friends from Oman drinking spiced coffee.  They were surfing the internet on their laptops, following the tweets from America and watching You Tube videos of the demonstrations at the white house and ground zero as Americans began their day.  My Omani friends became saddened and confused by as they saw Americans linking the death of Osama bin Laden with a victory against Islam.

One of my friends whose cheer turned to dismay as he saw the American response on line, said, “If a man commits a crime, we punish the man, not his family or his town or the people of the nation he comes from.  Why are so many Americans holding all Arabs and all Muslims in suspicion?”


Now get this.

An email I got this afternoon from the United Methodist Church noted that a British Methodist and hymn-writer has already written a hymn about bin Laden’s death.

It’s called “We Cannot Gloat: A Time for Grief.”

I can’t seem to get the plug-in to download it, but if you go here, you can try or simply read the lyrics from a PDF.

The writer is named Andrew Pratt. According to a bio, he has written several hymns about 9/11 and other tragedies. It notes: “He lost his only son (age 22) in an accident. He feels empathy with people caught up in tragic situations.”

The hymn begins:


We cannot gloat; a time for grief, another mother’s son is dead, and

if that son has killed and maimed, it is the better least is said; but

let us mourn for all the loss, and stand in shadow of the cross.


(AP Photo/Andy Colwell)

‘Testifying’ about the BP oil mess

A coalition of 13 religious leaders has traveled to New Orleans to “bear witness” to the BP oil disaster and “testify” about what they have seen.

The outing appears to have been organized by the Sierra Club, which sent out a press release. I don’t see anything about it on their website (which is tracking the amount of oil leaked in real time).

A group called Interfaith Power & Light, which calls itself “a religious response to global warming,” is also involved.

According to the release:


Leaders of different faiths will join together to reflect, restore, and renew. They will highlight the moral dimension of our costly dependence on oil, call for restoration of the Gulf communities and ecosystems, and begin to envision a future based on clean energy, to help us all renew and protect creation.

Leaders will take a boat tour of the affected region, hear from local residents, and will then join a press teleconference to share their experiences with the media.


Here’s a list of the participants:

The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham – Founder, Interfaith Power and Light
The Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor, Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Fr. Dan Krutz, Episcopal Priest and Director, Louisiana Interchurch Conference
The Rev. Jim Wallis, Editor in Chief, Sojourners Magazine
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Progressive National Baptist Convention
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed – Islamic Society of North America
Lynne Hybels – cofounder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (of White Plains/that’s her) – Rabbinical Assembly
Pastor Chris Seay – Senior Pastor Ecclesia Church in Houston, TX
Susan Stephenson – Executive Director, Interfaith Power and Light
Tom Costanzas, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice, Catholic Charities
Rev. Gilbert R. Washington, Louisiana Home and Foreign Mission Baptist State Convention

Speaking of religious perspectives on the oil leak, the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten muses about the meaning of “acts of God” and whether there is some sort of divine role in a man-made disaster like the oil spill.

He quotes Edward Hugh Henderson, professor of philosophy at Louisiana State University, as saying: “God does not smash in from outside to overthrow creatures, to put out of gear the order of nature that God has over eons of evolution brought to its present state. What the oil is doing to the Gulf and its denizens is what oil, being oil, would do.”