Certainly, this man represents radical evil in today's world in a way few others ever could. Bin Laden, most of us would likely say, hates God and all for which God stands, even while mistakenly believing that he is acting in a faithful way. He is, after all, an extremely religious man. He is also responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of thousands, and his actions have been nothing short of satanic.
So...suppose he showed up in worship on Sunday, and claimed to have met Jesus. Suppose he claimed to be completely penitent and that he had received forgiveness in Jesus' name, and now desired to praise the name of the Lord with you. Would you be uncomfortable? Confused? Frightened? Unconvinced? Would you immediately call the police or (for those who believe in "just war") hold him at gunpoint before the altar while waiting for the authorities to arrive? Would you break the bread and share the cup with him? Would you pray with him, anointing him with holy oil? Would you call Bob Zilhaver and ask, "What does the Book of Discipline say about this?"
There are no easy answers to these hypothetical questions. BUT...this is similar to the problem experienced in the first century when Saul suddenly professed to have met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and these hypotheticals suddenly became very real.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of St. Paul's conversion story isn't the blinding vision or the transformed heart...both very impressive, to be sure...but the fact that Saul found a Church which was willing to receive him. Though his conversion (and eventual claim to apostolic authority) met with great skepticism, Ananias, one of the finest examples of a Christian in all of history, set his fears and confusion aside to faithfully answer the Lord's call to minister to this new Christian, and to receive him into the Church of Christ through baptism.
Are we as faithful? If Ananias and the Damascus church could receive a well known assassin, could we do the same? Are we truly "open" to even the most undesirable of persons? Ananias surely didn't agree with Saul's behavior, but was still willing to embrace him, hoping that through the Spirit's power in baptism, the disobedient behavior might change. Are we listening for the Lord's voice, and seeking ways to be faithful even in the midst of confusion and uncertainty?
Are we like Saul, extremely religious and committed to the letter of the law? Or are we like Ananias, moving beyond religious words and forms to a lifestyle of vulnerability, compassion and grace?
"Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision...'Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.'
"But Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.'
"But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.'
"So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' And immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and his sight was restored.
"Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'"
- Acts 9:10-20 (NRSV, adapt.)