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Bin Laden's death a tough subject for the pulpit

 


VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia — The killing of Osama bin Laden, a man who was the face of evil for Americans for nearly a decade, left Christians, Jews and Muslims relieved, proud or even jubilant. For their religious leaders, it was sometimes hard to know just what to say.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Ismail Mcheik, center foreground, and other Muslims prays at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich. The killing of Osama bin Laden, a man who was America's face of evil for nearly a decade, left Christians, Jews and Muslims relieved, proud or even jubilant. For their religious leaders, it was sometimes hard to know just what to say about that. There is at least some dissonance between the values they preach and the triumphant response on the streets of New York and Washington to the death of a human being _ even one responsible for thousands of killings in those areas and around the world.

There is at least some dissonance between the values they preach and the triumphant response on the streets of New York and Washington to the death of a human being — even one responsible for thousands of killings in those areas and around the world.

"Justice may have been served, but we Catholics never rejoice in the death of a human being," said the Rev. Stephen Mimnaugh.

He did not mention bin Laden during Sunday's morning Mass at Manhattan's St. Francis of Assisi, the church of the late Rev. Mychal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and the first recorded victim of the Sept. 11 attacks in the city.

After Mass, Mimnaugh cited comments published in America, a weekly Catholic magazine. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, wrote that "no matter how monstrous" a person is, "as a Christian, I am asked to pray for him and, at some point, forgive him.

Other religious leaders felt compelled to say at least a few words about bin Laden on the first weekend of worship since he was killed. Some focused on moving on and working toward peace, while others spoke approvingly of a death they said marked a blow for justice.

The Rev. David Howard shouted his approval — in a sense — from outside his church in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

"OSAMA BIN LADEN, SATAN AND THE FINAL VICTORY OF JESUS," read the marquee outside Brook Baptist Church, publicizing the sermon Howard started writing hours after he heard that a team of Navy SEALs based in Virginia Beach had killed the al-Qaida leader.

Howard has no doubt that bin Laden was an instrument of Satan brought to justice with the aid of God, who answered the prayers of millions.

"We should pray for bad people, evil people, that when we pray to God he will change their lives. But if he won't change their lives, especially those who have a lot of power to hurt a lot of people, you pray for their end because they're causing so much pain," he said. "You pray somehow God will take them out. The Bible is very clear that God is in control and every person in power is because God put them there. He can put them there, he can keep them there or he can take them out. That's his prerogative."

The leader of one of the largest mosques in the U.S. was equally direct during prayers Friday.

"There is no doubt that this man was a thug, he was a murderer," Imam Hassan al-Qazwini told worshippers at the Islamic Center of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. "His hands were stained by the blood of thousands of innocent people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike."

Qazwini, who delivered his sermon in a large, circular hall filled to capacity, said the Quran is clear that someone who kills one innocent person "is doomed to hell forever." And the imam was particularly incensed that bin Laden "committed atrocities against innocent people ... while he was calling 'Allahu akbar,'" or "God is great."

"He's responsible for tarnishing the image of Islam in this country," he said. "We're happy to see the man who caused so much pain for Muslims in this country is gone ... finally."

Before the sermon, Qazwini said Muslims are discouraged from showing jubilation over death, but cheering the news of bin Laden's demise marks an occasion where "justice was served."

At Armitage Baptist Church on Chicago's near west side, Pastor Charles Lyons told his congregation Sunday that sometimes "evil must be stopped."

"We do not rejoice in the death of the man named Osama bin Laden (but) ... truth provides a platform for justice," he said.

Church member Angelia Parker said bin Laden's death should have been a time for contemplation, not cheering in the streets.

"I think that was kind of weird," said Parker, who was passing out roses to mothers after the service to mark the Mother's Day holiday. "It was like, 'Are you kidding me?' We are celebrating this person's death? We didn't celebrate in the streets when Saddam Hussein was killed."

 

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