You are here"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall"

"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall"

By David P. Gushee - Posted on 02 May 2011

Statement by David P. Gushee
on behalf of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
May 2, 2011

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

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.

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I appreciate the comments made in response to my posting, but they miss the point of my questions: how is it right that the U.S. can violate the lawful soveriegnty of another nation and international law to carry out an attack of this nature? Perhaps I have not expressed it well. Here is a link to a comment by N. T. Wright who is making the same point but expressing it far better than I:

I agree with Dr. Gushee that we cannot rejoice in the death of any human being including our enemies, but I have questions about his claim that this was a legitimate act of defense based on just war theory. This assumes the existence of a so-called "war on terror" declared by President Bush after the 9-11 attacks. The validity of a "war on terror" is open to question, but even if it is true, does it justify our violation of the lawful sovereignty of another nation (Pakistan) at peace with us in that without permission, we carried out an attack on their soil? Is this not a unilateral action in violation of international law similar to the invasion of Iraq – if not in size, at least in kind? If we love peace and believe in the rule of law, would it not have been preferable, once we had reliable intelligence on bin Laden's whereabouts, to work with the Pakistanis to apprehend him, and then requesting extradition to the U.S., or facilitating his being tried in a neutral (Islamic?) nation, or some other cooperative approach? Wouldn't this be the action of a nation who, and no matter how badly it had been injured, and no matter how powerful it was, still abided by the law, respected the sovereignty of other nations, and supported due process even for the worst criminals?

And does a state of war actually exist? Who exactly is the enemy? Was it the right thing to do to declare a "war on terror"? Aren't terrorists simply criminals? Didn't such a declaration play directly into their hands by dignifying their acts as "acts of war" rather than the depraved criminal acts? Was it not precisely what bin Laden and the rest wanted – a global war between the forces of "good" and of "evil" as they saw it? Would it not have been better to treat these terrorists, Al Qaeda, and the other groups as criminals? Is this not, in fact, what they are? If the "war on terror" is not a just war, then does Dr. Gushee's argument collapse?

I live in San Diego, CA. Suppose the government of Mexico discovered that the biggest leader of the biggest drug cartel in the world was living in a house on the outskirts of San Diego, running his drug operations from there. And suppose that, without notifying the American government, a group of Mexican commandos swooped in at night, using helicopters, killed the drug lord and a few of his henchmen, and then flew out with a cache of key intelligence for the "war on drugs"? How would we Americans respond to that? We have criticized the Pakistani government for not knowing that bin Laden was in their country, but don't the Pakistanis have a complaint against us for violating their sovereignty and laws?

I am as relieved as anyone that bin Laden is dead and gone, and I do not second guess the actions of the Navy Seals who carried out the mission under enormous risk and uncertainty. But I do question President Obama's decision to do it this way. In the final analysis, is it not simply a matter of might is right? If we had not been the most powerful nation in the world, would we have done it this way? If we were weak, would we have appealed to law rather than force? If we violate the law, how can we argue against the violation of law by another nation for whatever reason they may chose? Am I to believe that if a bad guy is bad enough, or if a so-called state of war exists, any action aimed toward apprehending/killing him is justified? Am I to accept that when you are dealing with really evil people, you just have to "go to the dark side" and live with it, as former Vice President Cheney said? Does unlawful behavior lead to peace? I am not a pacifist. The taking of bin Laden, no matter who carried it out, probably would have required violence and killing. But if we really want peace, should we violate law? (Many of these questions come from my son with whom I have discussed this.)

This was a great post. I am conflicted though. What do you do with verses like Proverbs 11:10,"When the wicked perish there are shouts of joy"?
I found this post by another Christian blogger to be very interesting as well.


Thanks for sharing Pvbs 11:10. Here's Psalm 58:10.
"The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked."

Then there's Psalm 139: 21-22: "O Lord, shouldn't I hate those who hate you? Shouldn't I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred." I also like Psalm 58:6: "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth."

The challenge for Christians is which verses govern? Is it Pvbs 24:17 that started the article, or these three verses that would seem to contradict the first one?

Thanks for your good question. It cuts to the central question of Biblical interpretation. For me, I would simply say that the whole Bible should be viewed through the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. This does not allow us to sort through scripture and say, "this is loving, so I'll keep it," and "this is not loving, so I'll toss it out," but rather compels us to view ALL of scripture through the lens of love of God and neighbor. It's not easy, but that's what I think we must do.

First a word to appreciation to Dr. Gushee - The message here is one of moderation and timeless, biblically-based wisdom, especially as it relates to just war theory. I consider this emphasis one of the author's 'thematic gifts' to the present Evangelical dialog on American foreign policy. There is little for me personally to disagree with, particularly the spirit in which it is written. I suspect for this audience, however, it's not far from where the 'choir' is situated in its general understanding of empire and subsequent military actions that expand or defend it. I sense a hesitancy to challenge in a deeper fashion the timing and legitimacy of the news broadcast 'narrative' as it is presented to us in mainstream media.

I'll take the risk and challenge the audience further, if I may. Certain theologians have reasonably argued that 'empire' by definition encapsulates a certain form of 'evil', a kind of eating machine that is ceaseless in its quest for power, hegemony over global resources, its equating of earthly military power with the divine (or divinely ordained), and its reckless placing of material concerns above the preservation of the local tribe or clan in a given region. We tend to either deny that the United States is a global empire, or that is somehow entirely benign. Likewise we tend to see mainstream media locally or nationally as somehow fulfilling its self-proclaimed mandate of critical "fifth estate" truth seeking or truth telling. In fact it has not proven itself to be reliable in this sense; quite the opposite. Released FOIA documents, for instance now reveal that the famous "dancing Iraqis" event (2003) whereby Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled, shoed and draped with flags was in fact a stage "psyop"("a target of opportunity") planned in advance by a well known U.S. public relations firm. This is perhaps a minor example compared to the news hype preceding the invasion and subsequent occupation that led to an additional million casualties in that nation.

Thus, a word of caution is in order here regarding the spin (and counter spin) regarding the Bin Laden assassination. Evangelical Christians ideally should be courageous enough to be the first to say among peers, "this does not pass the smell test". In the case of today's Bin Laden media phenomenon, there are as many or more questions raised as there are answers given. Why was the biggest "boogey man" in recent American history/mythology not captured alive and interrogated, or put on trial? Why was the body hastily buried at sea and not allowed to be verified by independent forensic analysts? Why was the American public never delivered the "white paper" promised by Colin Powell shortly after 9/11 that would provide definitive proof linking Bin Laden to the event? Why was Bin Laden allowed to escape at Tora Bora when fully surrounded by U.S. military in 2002? Why did the FBI not formally indicted him for the same (for other terrorist events, yes), admitting on record that "there is not enough evidence" to do so? With wry irony it is occasionally quipped that two can keep a secret if one is dead.

As we speak, the Pakistani people continue to protest the use of U.S. military drones, the repeated violation of sovereignty within its borders. The Pakistani ISI (intelligence agency) of course has substantial, verifiable ties with al qaeda operatives, as well as with U.S. intelligence. Do we as christians not have a duty, "a mandate" to comprehend such anomalies, and if realizing them, to speak up concerning them? Yes, we should openly demand that principles of just war be upheld. But there is scant evidence that an entire Middle East or Central Asian foreign policy has been properly narrarated to the American public through commonly accepted media channels. There is ample evidence that trillions of dollars have been spent, defense related industries fattened, millions have died needlessly, many more millions have been displaced and have suffered grieveously, especially children. Jesus, I don't believe, said "war is terrorism", yet I don't think this realization is any less crucial for the serious disciple of Christ. He did say "as you have done to the least of these, so have you done to me".

Critical thinking, especially as it relates to media, to news, to "narrative" (mythology) is indeed a family value. It is a Christian value. It is essential for getting closer to the truth.


Phillip Block

David, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have already recommended them to others and will make a link to this article in my blog posting on Thursday (at

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