Posted by: Titus Presler | May 2, 2011

A death in the diocese: Osama bin Laden

It was startling to see the news midmorning today – Monday, 2 May – that Osama bin Laden was killed yesterday “deep inside Pakistan,” as President Obama put it.  Abbottabad is indeed deep inside Pakistan, several hours almost due east from Peshawar and the Afghan border and, as news reports have noted, just about 30 miles northeast of the capital of Islamabad.

It was sobering to realize the raid occurred the same day I arrived to begin ministry in Peshawar in this province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Abbottabad likewise is located.  Said daughter Charlotte in a conversation this evening, “The grace of God will keep you where the will of God has called you.”  And that is sufficient.

I went to Abbottabad during my visit to the Diocese of Peshawar in January as I accompanied Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters to a wedding in St. Luke’s Church at which he officiated and I preached.  Abbottabad is an attractive hill town at over 4,000 feet just off the Karakoram Highway – a tourist destination and a military center that one would scarcely imagine to be the hideaway of “the world’s most wanted man.”

Untold millions of people are watching news reports right now of this event, much of it accompanied by penetrating analysis of its geopolitical implications, and I have little to add to the important things being said along those lines.

I offer a few observations about religious dimensions:

• When grave events occur in various parts of the world, the global nature of the Anglican Communion is such that most such events occur in some diocese or other that is Anglican or, as in much of south Asia, a diocese in which Anglicans joined with others to form a united ecumenical church.  In this case, the killing of Osama bin Laden occurred in the Diocese of Peshawar of the united Church of Pakistan, in a city that has a vital congregation of Christian Pakistanis.  As far back as our visit to Peshawar in 2004, it was commonly assumed by Christian leaders that bin Laden was living in the diocese, and I recall one in North Waziristan pointing to the mountains along the Afghan border as his probable location at that time.  This is to say that the Diocese of Peshawar has been living with these realities a long time, as has the general population.

• In addition to the local expression of the Church of Pakistan, it was intriguing to meet other committed Christians in Abbottabad.  They included, for instance, a north European who shares Christianity in many parts of Pakistan through what he calls friendship evangelism, and a British Anglican who pastors an ecumenical intentional community in the area.  I note this by way of emphasizing, again, that while our tendency is to imagine the site of an event like bin Laden’s death on some outer edge of experience, such things usually occur amid living and complex communities where voices of the gospel of Jesus Christ are rarely absent.

• It sounds like a cliché in the west, but President Obama was quite right for the context of Pakistan to stress that the United States is not and has never been at war with Islam, and to note that Muslims as well as others were victims of bin Laden’s violence.  The specter of irreconcilable conflict between the world of Islam and the Christian and/or secular west will continue to be raised by extremists on both sides.  Our call is to move from the typology of a clash of civilizations to a typology for the dialogue and reconciliation of civilizations.

• So far there has not been public negative reaction in Peshawar about the raid in Abbottabad, though there is talk that some religious parties may stage processions and demonstrations on Tuesday.  As should be well known by now, the majority of Pakistan’s Muslim people aspire to peace and, in fact, live in peace.

• Pakistan’s Christians feel vulnerable in the wake of these events.  Please pray for them.  And I am grateful for the many expressions of concern and prayer that I have received in the last days and today.  They sustain Jane and me in a peace that passes all understanding.

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Responses

  1. […] 2 May 2016, the day of the event in Pakistan, I wrote a blogpost, “A death in the diocese,” in which I discussed not the political dimension of the the event […]

  2. Dear Titus Presler, Hello. I happened to come across your article above today, by chance, looking for some other information about Abbottaabad. As a Muslim who originally belongs to an Abbottabad family but settled in the UK since the 1970s, I am happy to note that you found the people of Abbottabad tolerant. Even following the killing of OBL by American commandos at Kakul suburb, by and large people didn’t react against local Christians as they did elsewhere in Pakistan. I’m happy to believe that this town has certain values and certain traits, as well as some civilised people, still, who represent a certain Pakistani mindset that is sadly now rare. Very best regards.

  3. […] own. Titus Presler, an American Episcopal priest currently serving with the church in Pakistan, put it this way: “While our tendency is to imagine the site of such an event as bin Laden’s death on some utter […]

  4. Hi, Titus, My brother Jon sent me the link to this. Woodstock ties are wonderfully enduring. I so appreciate the balance and equanimity you convey in your writing. Sending you and your family Light and blessings for your work there in Pakistan

    • Hi Esther! So good to hear from you. Greetings to Jon and Jim both. Hearing from you puts me in mind of the return to India in 1963, when, as I recall, you were the in-charge for us young ‘uns!

  5. […] Bishop, Elizabeth Keaton, Barbara Crafton, Titus Presler, and Jim Wallis have all written blogs that are articulate, thoughtful, and compassionate.  I […]

  6. Dear Titus and Jane,

    Prayers from quiet Vermont… so weird to know someone so close to where such a world-important event took place. I have been deep in thought and prayer all day, trying to figure out what to think. Prayers for the Christians that they may not be harmed in whatever reactions there might be. Be safe and peace be upon all of you. Lee

    • Thanks so much for being in touch, Lee. Your time of deep thought and prayer is precious. I’m reminded of Becky Michelfelder’s time of prayer, meditation and quiet conversation at her parish in New Jersey (see below somewhere, I think). That seems a good model for such a time as this, and it echoes what so many congregations did on 9/11 itself and in the days following. What we may think may not be as important as how we pray, and our prayers will doubtless guide us in our thinking. After, lex orandi lex credendi. Blessings, Titus

  7. Titus –
    I regret that I have kept in touch, and did not realize that you and Jane were once again on a journey for God. May God bless and keep you both. I look forward to reading more of your “On the Road” reports from the mission field.

    God’s peace,
    Mark Abdelnour

    • Thanks so much for being in touch, Mark, and for your good wishes. I recall fondly times together at General. Blessings.

    • I should have said, “I regret that I have not kept in touch…”

  8. Wow…I hadn’t been keeping in touch and did not know you were in Peshawar. The peace of the Lord be with you, and the good news of the kingdom of God flourish there.

    • Thank you for your prayer and care.

  9. Dear Titus and Jane,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to send this post. I am currently the interim in Middletown, NJ and I am opening the church tonight for prayer, meditation and quiet conversation. Thirty-three people from Middletown died in NYC on 9/11. Everyone at church knows our Jr. Warden only escaped death as a member of the financial firm whose offices were on the top floors of the WWT because his mother died earlier that morning and he didn’t go in to work. I will read your letter to those gathered tonight to help give us a broader perspective. Peace and blessings. Becky Michelfelder

    • Thanks for writing, Becky. I am moved by the response of yourself and your congregation at this juncture. Prayer, meditation and quiet conversation seem just right – in contrast to the somewhat unseemly jubilations and recriminations being heard and seen elsewhere. Even when we’re not sure how to analyze events, how to apportion blame and responsibility, we have recourse to prayer, meditation and quiet conversation. You have blessed me in raising up that trio.

  10. Titus and Jane, how exciting to be God’s instruments WHEREVER He plants us and for you, at this time, it happens to be where the eyes of the world are focused. As we well know, from growing up in India, the position of Christians is a very vulnerable one, yet their faith is so vibrant and I rejoice that you are there to stand with them and support them in their growth – as they support you both, in yours! You summed it all up well when you said, “Our call is to move from a typology of a clash of civilizations to a typology for the dialogue and reconciliation of civilizations.” As humankind, we have a lot more in common than that which serves to divide us. My Mom used to say, “No safer place to be than in God’s will” and Charlotte phrased it so beautifully too! God keep you in His care.

    • Thank you so much, Mary, and it is so good to hear from you. You rightly strike the note of solidarity that is at the heart of the mission enterprise – standing with people wherever they are and sharing both what they are enduring and what they are celebrating. Blessings, Titus

  11. Thank you for your reflections. Prayers for you and Jane and your work at Edwardes. I hope that Pakistan can find that peace which passes all understanding.

    • Thanks so much, Elizabeth. I’m grateful for your prayer for us and for the work at Edwardes, and for God’s peace in Pakistan.

  12. Keeping all of you in prayer. Glad you are able to send us the Christian perspective from Pakistan as we try to make sense of this in our own American context.

    • Thanks so much for your prayer and care, Stacy and Rich!

  13. Peace be with you, Titus and Jane. Keep in touch; you do us who are homeside a service to help us see the ‘view from there.’

    • Thanks so much, Maureen. It’s good to hear from you, and thank you for your prayer and care.


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