As I watched my Twitter Timeline grow exponentially with news of Osama Bin Laden’s death last night, I noticed the comments went from questioning the validity of the announcement to questioning the actions of fellow Americans. Members from all faith traditions and world views all seemed to respond on one accord; “why are Americans celebrating the death of a man?” These comments ranged from eloquent personal reflections to quotes from sacred text and non-violent leaders in history. As an interfaith pacifist, who constantly preaches messages of social justice and liberation theology, I was moved, dare I even say proud, that my network of peers responded in such a positive manner.
That was, until I switched over to my Facebook News Feed and saw a very different reaction.
I grew up in some of the most, Republican, and Evangelical Christian parts of our country; suburban Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. In fact, these places hold those titles so tightly I've often had to defend my political and religious beliefs, not just in the communities I grew up in, but in the communities I've since moved to. After all, “liberal, vegetarian, pacifist, African Methodist Episcopal women from Texas don’t exist.”
When I looked at my Facebook News Feed last night, I saw celebratory messages from my friends from these so-called “conservative” communities. Normally, I’m off put by messages that praise war and combat, but instead of seeing these messages of celebration, I read what these messages meant.
“YES! SO proud to be an American & granddaughter & daughter & sister to brave men who fought and will fight for justice & peace in this world!! I will ALWAYS celebrate when courage, sacrifice, & love of our troops bring ends to evil and beginnings of LIFE and PEACE!!!”
This status, written by one of the strongest young Christian women I've met, caused me to second guess my thoughts about the celebrations. Sure, not every celebration that’s happened since the announcements broke came from soldiers or their families, but many, many of them did. It might sound like I am “weak in my theology” or “not staying true to my beliefs when it comes time to practice the hard lessons,” but I wonder, just how many people would have the courage to tell this fabulous, beautify, intelligent, and strong woman of God, that her celebratory messages, inspired from generations of family devoting their lives to service to our country aren't ethical?
If you can, perhaps you have stronger convictions in your social justice or theology than I do. As for me, I find it hard to expound even my most affirming and loving views in the midst of someone else’s pain.
I've learned enough about trauma, mourning and loss from my own life to know the best thing you can do in these situations is express your love for the other, and let them grieve, mourn, and heal in their own way. There are always two sides of a story. No matter how just, ethical, and loving you may think your story is, there is some else with a different story that has those same convictions and their differences don’t necessarily make them your enemy. Is it not possible to celebrate this victory in the "War on Terror" without equating it to hatred, or assuming those celebrating can't also believe in non-violence?
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the dichotomous messages I received from my social networks last night was the visual image of just how far we really are from truly being #BetterTogether. I firmly believe that any interfaith movement that excludes or is not actively accepting of the all types of people, their beliefs, and their axiology is destined to fail. The messages I saw last night expressed that which I've long since feared. My interfaith network, while beautiful and accepting would not be well received by those who taught me to believe in Jesus Christ as my LORD and Savior. Not because any of these people are staunchly opposed to the common action, but because it’s clear that actions speak louder than words, and unfortunately, the actions of my interfaith friends spoke a message of having theological and moral authority over those who celebrating.
How is quoting scripture implying how someone should respond in a time like this, any different than the scriptural based implications we’re often trying to change?
I’m not saying it’s wrong to write and express your thoughts about the status quo (clearly, I’m doing it now), I’m merely questioning why we have to write in such way that suggests an appropriate action? And, if we’re going to suggest an appropriate action, why are we writing it instead of living it? It’s time we stop looking at the great leaders of our past, reiterating their messages, and start living them.
Don’t tweet that “love your enemy,” do it. Don’t tweet “hate cannot drive out hate,” stop hating.
And, if you must quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, remember; “Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; he waited until one of them turned to him."
A 2009 Syracuse University Alumna, Nikole is currently serving an AmeriCorps term with New Sector Alliance, Inc. as a Resident in Social Enterprise. Her interfaith work is focused on fostering religious pluralism through simultaneous efforts of common action, policy engagement, liberation theology and hermeneutics of social justice.