The news late last night about the death of Osama Bin Laden triggered a frenzy of online reactions that for a few moments made me wonder if our celebration of unity this week is a just a naive illusion.
On Facebook and Twitter, reactions ranged from gleeful jokes, to political barbs, to conspiracy theories, to patriotism, to pleas for peace, to solemn reflections.
Within hours, conflicting Bible verses appeared across my feed—Ezekial 18:23, 2 Chron. 20:27, Romans 13:5, Matthew 5:43.
My Anabaptist-leaning friends pointed to the unending cycle of violence.
My Calvinist-leaning friends pointed God’s sovereign justice.
My Republican friends downplayed Obama’s role.
My Democrat friends ripped Donald Trump.
Mark Driscoll encouraged celebration.
Derek Webb cautioned against it.
Justin Taylor quoted Romans 13.
Eugene Cho quoted the Sermon on the Mount.
Mike Huckabee declared “Welcome to hell.”
Scores of Rob Bell fans declared “Love Wins.”
And in the midst of our Rally to Restore Unity, I was suddenly reminded of just how divided the Christian community can be.
So what can we learn about Christian unity in the wake of all of this?
The thing about social media is that it captures our first reactions—before reflection, before conversation, before prayer, before second-thoughts.
I confess that I am not proud of my own initial response to the news of Bin Laden’s death. Had I put my thoughts into tweets, they would have gone something like this: “Whew! This will make Obama’s re-election a lot easier,” then “Shoot; now I have to disrupt the rally to write a post about this ( #restoreunity),” then “Wait—what does this really mean to me as a follower of Jesus?”
Fortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to wait before reacting to big news online, and so after some reflection my public response went like this: “Trying to keep in mind that how I respond to the death of my enemies says as much about me as it does about my enemies.”
I think one of the reasons we’re dealing with so much vitriol in the Christian community right now is that social media encourages a reactive style of communication that tends to put our fallen first instincts on display. In this environment, attention goes to the quickest, the loudest, the cleverest, and the craziest. This is fine when we’re talking about American Idol or Harry Potter, but it’s probably not the best medium for discussing the eternal destiny of the un-evangelized or the Christian response to the death of an enemy.
Perhaps restoring unity means bringing back the pause…learning how to wait before we react.
Rather than bidding “farewell” to social media, however, I think this might be a good time to use it as a tool for self-reflection. It is wise to ask oneself—“What do my first reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden say about me and my priorities?” (Clearly, mine reveal that I’m prone to politicizing things and a far too preoccupied with my own blogging agenda.)
The fact of the matter is that few of us have been personally and directly wronged by Osama Bin Laden. As may have observed, he is primarily a symbol….which means he is a bit like a blank page upon which we project our fears, our ideals, our passions, and our hatred. We can learn a lot about ourselves and one another by paying attention to how we respond to the death of a symbolic enemy.
Clearly, the online back-and-forth among Christians had little to with Bin Laden himself and everything to do with conflicting theological positions, competing political agendas, and sensitive personality differences. Some of the deepest divides within Christiandom regarding war, peace, politics, and Biblical interpretation were brought to light last night, and they served as sober reminder of both my own sin and the challenge facing the modern Church.
Perhaps restoring unity means first confessing our sins, our projections, and our collective fallen nature…and then starting from that unlikely common ground in humility and grace.
What was your first reaction to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death? What was your reaction upon further reflection?
And what, if anything, can we learn about Christian unity from all of this?
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