“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
Proverbs 24:17

Victims of 9/11 on PosterPhotographs of firefighters killed on 9/11 are seen outside the World Trade Center site after the death of accused 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was announced May 2, 2011 in New York City. Bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

We feel compelled to respond today to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States and to the jubilant response across the nation.

A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense.

But as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.

In that sense, President Obama’s sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.

For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.

This event does provide new opportunities for our nation.

President Obama’s respectful treatment of Islam in his remarks, and his declaration that Osama bin Laden’s body was treated with respect according to Islamic custom, offers all of us an opportunity to follow that example and turn away from the rising disrespect toward Muslims in our nation.

A second opportunity is for the United States to reconsider the questionable moves we have made in the name of the war on terror. From our perspective, this includes the indefinite detentions of scores of men at Guantanamo Bay, the failure to undertake an official investigation of detainee interrogation practices, the increase in Predator attacks in Pakistan, and the expansion rather than ending of the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan.

We also now have the opportunity for national reflection on how our broader military and foreign policies — including the placement of our troops throughout the largely Muslim Arab world, our posture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our regular military interventions around the world, create a steady supply of new enemies.

There can never be any moral justification for terrorist attacks on innocent people, such as the terrible deeds of 9/11. But we must recognize that to the extent that our nation’s policies routinely create enemies, we can kill a Bin Laden on May 1 and face ten more like him on May 2. Might it now be possible for us to have an honest national conversation about these issues?

May we learn the right lessons from the news of this day. For Jesus’ sake.

This statement was originally published on the website of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good on May 2, 2011.

David P. GusheeDavid P. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is the co-founder and board chair of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a columnist for the Huffington Post, Washington Post, and Associated Baptist Press, and a contributing editor for Christianity Today. Dr. Gushee also currently serves on the Church Relations Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has published 12 books, including Kingdom Ethics, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Getting Marriage Right, and Only Human.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you for this thoughtful column. It expresses how I am feeling perfectly. I am a Unitarian Universalist and I really appreciate your viewpoint.

I was happy to post David Gushee's comments on my facebook page - adding only that this is not just a Christian lesson and need not be taken for Jesus' sake alone. Rather Proverbs are situated in the Hagiographa (after Pentateuch and Prophets) - squarely a part of the Jewish Tanakh.

My Thought Last Night Was Just This ...Please Do Not Rejoice In This Death No Matter What!! My Heart Is Sad To See So Many Dancing In The Street So I Pray For Us All..

"When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices: And when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting." Proverbs 11:10
Interesting post--also interesting that Prov 11 seems to contradict Prov 24 on this issue. Are both responses proper in this case?

Thank you, I was beginning to feel like I was the only person in the country that felt this way.

I agree with this coment, I´m catholic and I think, nobody has the rigth to kill anyoneelse and rejoice it. I hate what happen that 09/11, that was horrible, I don´t like any kind of barbarie.

I can not bring myself to CELEBRATE the death of another human being, and I am not a Christian. I do however, hope that regardless of politics, religion, or difference of opinion, we come together today and focus on what's important. It is my hope that those who were victimized by this man, their families, and our nation as a whole can find peace in knowing that he personally, will NEVER be able to hurt anyone again. I also thank those who protect my life, and my ability to live freely every day and put their lives on the line, regardless of my political, ethical or religious views... I truly believe that should be the focus of today. Not so much celebration, but reflection and a a feeling of closure for those directly impacted by this man's actions.

We should always seek improvements but asking why we were attacked is similar to blaming a rape on the victim- perhaps her skirt was too short, too much lipstick? We are way past blaming the victim- there is nothing we could have done that justified such an attack.

If we expect them to ask why bombs are falling on them  why can't we ask the same when they fall on us?History did not start on the glorious morn as we were innocently"minding our own business"  though that is our false narrative-we meddled and propped up dictators where we rendered people to be tortured and murderedAnd we supported the dictators' torturing of all dissidents-left wingers in the cold war or religious ffundamentalists who were against our dictatos. All for cheap oil, military bases and cold war purposes.Two wrongs never make a right but we can't claim to value human life when we supported iraqs' war gainst iran ,when we imposed sanctions on iraq knowing a million iraquis would die, and when we propped up murdering dictators for our interests!They brought us to the knowledge -for the first time-that there were consequentes to US for our policies toward THEM. That is the source of our anger-they momentarily upset the power relation -where we could act in the world with impunity.Our wars now are to reassert our position that we can act in the world with impunity [by killing and torturing all  uppity saudis[alquada] made our future in arabia uncertain we needed a new supply of oil and military bases. Iraq which was not fundamentalist hence those iraqis might not object to us being there erroneeosly surmised[alquada's problem with us was not about our religion]-looked promising for us so we resorted to mass murder and occupation  of iraq to satisfy our interests. Considering we spent the whole 20th c and now21st c ,dropping bombs on men women and children -our righteous indignation is about the fact they did to us what no one else had done and we never expected would or could do. How-dare they-didn't God tell these people that when we kill it's good but when they kill it's bad. Didn't God tell these people that only americans have the right to drop bombs on people?How dare those uppity indigenopus muslims[alquada] victimized by our policies against their people believe otherwise and make us aware that our policies towards them could acturally cost us at home! Welcome to the 21st c - the century of the the people,all people, not regimes,nation states or even militay superpoweres but people -launched by Osama on 9-11!.Our narrative that jihad is about religion and they attacked us because we're not muslim-is a false self serving narrative to hide our unjust meddling policies in the mid east. Their" jihad" is political-only in the fact that their identification is primarily as muslims is it religious. Osama supported the arab uprisings against dictators .He died believing in his heart that he did not start this war .He died believing he was a freedom fighter for his people[muslims] who the west had harmed by our policies. Yes he was guilty of mass murder -but so are we -whether directly or via proxy dictators or our  support of wars between iraq and iran]. May he rest in peace and may God have mercy on his soul. 

Bin Laden killed more of his own people than we ever will. He was a coward who sent others to do his dirty work. His movement has achieved nothing- no Noble prizes, no inventions, no positive contributions to society. He and his movement are on their way out to the ash heap of history and he will rot in hell for what he has done along with his buddies Hitler, and Stalin. Sorry that you had a bad day.

try the following: as the names of the 3000 victims of 9/11 are read today say " You (insert victim's name) deserved to die on 9/11 because (insert reason (s) possibly including race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc.)

I just posted something very similar and agree wholeheartedly with your take. I found myself feeling ashamed last night as I watched the jubilant cheering from the news desks and city streets.

No just war exists. An individual has a God given right to protect him/herself but war is as you know especially today is indescriminant..innocents die and are called collateral damage. Pray then for God's War at Armageddon to cleanse this earth of all governments (Dan.2:44) and "Let thy (God's) Kingdom come in the safe hands of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ and until then a true Christian 'listens and obeys"; Matt 5:43 “YOU heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 However, I say to YOU: Continue to love YOUR enemies and to pray for those persecuting YOU; 45 that YOU may prove yourselves sons of YOUR Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous. 46 For if YOU love those loving YOU, what reward do YOU have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? 47 And if YOU greet YOUR brothers only, what extraordinary thing are YOU doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? 48 YOU must accordingly be perfect, as YOUR heavenly Father is perfect.

Perhaps in your tradition there is no just war theory but there is one in my mine and I assume you respect the inclusiveness and diversity of religious thought promoted by “On Being”?

"war is as you know especially today is indescriminant..innocents die and are called collateral damage." Actually, war today, as waged by modern armies (excluding savages like the LRA in Uganda), is far less indiscriminate than it ever was in the past. Through history, war has rarely respected the concept of "non-combatants"; rape (literal as well as metaphorical), pillage, and plunder have been the typical standard of conduct for soldiers since before history began to be written. American armies go to great lengths, at sizable risks to themselves, to avoid civilian casualties. But the reality is that wars will happen; it only takes one armed side to have a war, and any country not prepared to defend itself is a sitting duck for those with fewer scruples.

The Sermon on the Mount is not a treatise on government. Governments have rights and responsibilities that individuals do not. Should we have no police force as well, and take the locks off our doors? Governments have a divine mandate (see Romans 13) to restrain evildoers, both internal and external, and sometimes deadly force is necessary. That doesn't mean "all's fair in love and war"; the Geneva Conventions, for instance, describe limits. But at the same time I don't believe it is fair to our military to expect them to mourn when they do their job right and accomplish their mission. And I don't think we should mourn, or even be indifferent, either. The SEALs did a truly remarkable job--and, by the way, there were no deaths of women, children, or people outside the compound.

"The Sermon on the Mount is not a treatise on government. Governments have rights and responsibilities that individuals do not."

 But what is government other than a conglomeration of people? Why is there one standard for individuals but another for governments? If one believes in the Sermon on the Mount then why wouldn't one insist it apply to groups of people (i.e. governments) as well as individuals? You've described realpolitik and I understand that, but I think what Dr. Gushee describes, and what many posters on this board felt, is that we are called to forgive our enemies and mourn all destruction, no matter how justifiable. This is extremely difficult, maybe the hardest part of being a Christian, but certainly it is worth valuing.

Excellent excerpt that ties in our shared humanity and discusses how our actions must be guided by our values and traditions.

Proverbs 12:7 "Wicked men are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous stands firm."

I'm a very strong Christian, and feel you are WAY off base. Your Proverb is noted, but last I checked, Bin Laden and the Muslim extremists didn't "stumble". He was the mastermind behind murders, and denounced Christ. He wanted the slaughtering of Christians. Curious if you'll have the same "Proverb" point of view when the anti-Christ makes himself known.

Thanks to my Facebook friend M. Gregory I get to know such a balanced line of thought and emotion as yours. I am European born in a catholic country where there is a clear differentiation between religion and state for historical reasons. I just want to underline that, as I see it, your position over Bin Laden death issue even if I choose to put between brackets God' law, makes a big difference for the better regarding the ongoing one..

You read all through the Old Testament how God used war to bring about His plans..and show His righteousness. God hates sin, and there are consequences to that sin. Osama killed people, there are consequences to this action. Additionaly God destroyed the sinful world in Noah's time - again an example of consequences b/c of sin. You also failed to note the verses following... please view your opinion on more than one verse.. and its context.
Proverbs 24:20 For there shall be no reward to the evil [man]; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.

In regards to your comment about the Great Flood; God also vowed never to destroy his people in such a way again.

Genesis 9:13-15 (New International Version, ©2011)
13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

And regarding the candle of the wicked being put out, is not life and death as spoken in bible a reference to the life that is given by God and taken away by Him? Let's read it context:

Psalms 24:17-20
17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.

19 Do not fret because of evildoers
or be envious of the wicked,
20 for the evildoer has no future hope,
and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.

Also, King David would typically have a set number of days to mourn the loss of his fallen enemies after battle. This blog was titled after a scripture from Psalms written by David. Just thought that I'd throw in that as human as David was, as much as he had sin in his life, and fought many battles, he did also mourn for those lost and set it as a standard for his people as well.

2 Samuel 3:30-39 (New International Version, ©2011)

30 (Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.)
31 Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” King David himself walked behind the bier. 32 They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also.
33 The king sang this lament for Abner:

“Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
34 Your hands were not bound,
your feet were not fettered.
You fell as one falls before the wicked.”

And all the people wept over him again.
35 Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!”
36 All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. 37 So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.
38 Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? 39 And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!”

I am reminded of Saul/Paul in Acts Chapter 9. What would have happened if Paul had not converted his ways? He was a murderer of Christians, one of the biggest catalysts for the termination of the growing followers of Christ. Thanking God alone, he was not only saved, but used his great skill at leading people to drive the Christian faith throughout the world. Can you imagine what it would be like if someone with the means to influence so many radicalists could have been changed in the same way? THAT is the loss that I mourn. THAT is what I continue to pray for.

Can you imagine Jesus whooping, singing or dancing in the streets over the death of any sinner? Moreover, I doubt that God rejoiced at the destruction brought about by the great flood. He probably mourned the abject loss of his children who turned away from Him.

The US needs to support our ally and the most stable democracy in the Middle East, Israel, with determination and a strong presence in the area. This can not be sacrificed on the alter of peace with some who do not like us in that area. Our subservience to their demands will be seen as weakness and exploited. The goal of the radicalized Islamists is the destruction of all "infidels". We can not appease those motivated by that warped way of thinking. We have to remain strong and stop them at every opportunity. Evil only grows when it is not confronted. If evil people oppose you then you must be doing something right.

Thank you, David.

Did not Jesus command us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us? These are hard sayings and surely not easy to carry out, but since when can we simply ignore them and indulge that primitive (and sinful) desire to "get even"?

Thank you sir, I will pass this onward to my friends in the hope of deeper understanding, and loving progress to the Divine's love in actin which is not to make war. Love thy neighbor as thyself is a hard charge.

I remember how horrified I was when I saw pictures of people in Muslim countries dancing in the streets on 9/12. What must they have felt on Sunday night?

Completely different set of circumstances. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives on 9/11. There is and was no innocence with Osama.

Be kind to everything that lives.
Native American Proverb

Denver Colorado

Today President Obama will be at Ground Zero for a ceremony. I hope that as we properly mourn American deaths, we will also think about civilian and military deaths in Iraq, Afganistan, and elsewhere. One source puts that count at over 900,000. (http://www.unknownnews.net/cas... Even if that count is too high, it's clear others have paid a far higher price than Americans. A Muslim youth in Thomas Frieman's documentary "Searching for the Roots of 9/11" asked, "Is our blood cheap?"

When I hear that someone has been arrested or killed, I think that could be one of my children. When someone else's child is killed, I feel grate pain and sadness. After all  I am a mother and all children are my children. Please know that in this heart "there is love and prayers for all."

i believe in forgiveness from the first moment , and in the second moment
healing is the vital act . unsubverted , it is instinct .

Though I have read many columns about Bin Ladin's death and the manner in which it happened, this is really the best one! It is never right to rejoice over the death of someone, but it is right to encourage the conversation so that the work of peace will just that--- the work of peace.

I agree with everything you say. I am a proud American and an Orthodox Christian from the Middle East. May God bless our country with wise people like your.

I think it's alright to rejoice when a mass murdering psychopath falls.

We react according to our nature. Many different people, many different reactions.

 While I appreciate Dr. Gushee's sentiments, I think a more fundamental question has to be addressed, and that is What were the conditions that created the sentiments of 9/11 in the first place. Lest we forget, Arabs throughout the Mideast rejoiced at the 9/11 attacks. While not the only reaction in predominantly Muslim countries, the rejoicing sprang from long-held resentment and frustration. We as a nation have never fully grappled with the why so many supported the attacks.

I am an American.  I was raised Jewish.  I have lived in Germany and I now live in Japan.  I realized recently how odd it is that just two generations ago my people were murdered in mass by the Germans and dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese.  Now we are are friends...

People will not feel safe when we build a higher, longer, motion detecting fence to keep the bad guys out.  They will feel like they need a fence to keep the bad guys out, and fear the fence is not tall enough.  People will not feel safe when someone listens to every phone call, reads every email and video monitor every street corner for signs of terror.  They will feel like there is a real threat out there and fear what will happen if no one was listening and watching.  People will not feel safe because they are defended by the worlds best trained military with the worlds biggest military budget and billions of dollars worth of high tech guns,  gps guided missiles, and other brilliantly designed tool of destruction.  As long as the military is out there, fighting, killing and dying, people will fear for their loved ones in uniform.  People will fear that the enemy might get one...

People will not feel safe when we hunt, capture, torture and kill our enemies...People will fear retaliation.  People will feel safe when there is no  need for a wall, phone monitoring, and billions of dollars worth of military to hide behind...We've tried killing the enemy for over 8 years and as long as they are the enemy people will live in fear of them...

Well said! Thank you for sharing. Now the question is, which wolf would this country feed? I, for one, will share this wonderful story with others.