Bono’s “homily”

bonoI’m waiting for some smart person out there to dissect Bono’s sermon Thursday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast for its theological implications and political ramifications.

I somehow ended up at the event along with Bono and his red-tinted sunglasses. I was hoping against all hopes that President Bush or his wife Laura would ask to try them on. I sure wanted to. All I can say is that Bono is a rock star for a reason. He certainly knows how to capture an audience at a charge of nearly $100 a pop.

The event garnered little attention in The Washington Post: this Associated Press report was turned around into a Reliable Source note that included this quote and a “tithing” explainer:

If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It’s certainly not because I’m a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I’m here because I’ve got a messianic complex.

It’s easy to cast doubt on Bono’s sincerity. Celebrities are easy to criticize for lacking genuine motivations. But what person that has reached an international stage other than Mother Teresa can claim genuine sincerity? Can any of us truly do a work of charity out of a pure heart? Bono certainly does not shy away from admitting that he is using his rock star status to get into important people’s faces about international problems (thanks to this website for providing a transcript:

Well, I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural … something unseemly … about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert … but this is really weird, isn’t it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned — I’m Irish.

I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws … but of course, they don’t always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.

And with that, Bono launched into his “homily” on how the laws of the United States should be in line with what he believes are God’s laws: justice and equality. Last time I checked there were more like 10 laws and the concept of loving your neighbor. Bono said to do this the United States should tithe an additional one percent of the national budget towards international aid:

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America: I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing … Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

Sounds nice, but 1 percent is something like $26 billion and what international aide organization is going to manage that type of cash? Certainly not the United Nations. Maybe Bono’s up to the challenge.

This speech wasn’t destined for the front pages. The Washington Times sent a reporter to the event and Christianity Today produced a thorough report.

But at an event that was purposefully interfaith for the first time in its history, the speech kept the audience that included senators, Congress members, ambassadors and foreign dignitaries spellbound. Bono provided the message with which everyone could resonate. And did anyone there remember a word President Bush said?

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  • Ted Olsen

    I think Bush is these days depending on the idea that “they’ll remember it better if I just keep repeating it.” I could have sworn he gave exactly the same speech at last year’s breakfast.

    Also, “interfaith for the first time”? Really? Perhaps “most interfaith to date,” but The Fellowship, which puts on this annual shindig, is remarkably “interfaith” for an organization that’s largely seen as orthodox Christian. All you have to do is like Jesus. You don’t have to believe all that creedal stuff. You just have to like him.

  • dk

    I got the whole thing from spellbound Jim bleedin-heart Wallis’s Bobo-mail newsletter a few hours ago. Pretty good speech up until the part where the Bonobo starts talking about going beyond “charity” to “equality” and “justice” on a cosmic scale. I thought it was interesting that he uses these words with the same expansive vacuosity as the POTUS in SOTU flagrante delicto. So in addition to the grand ol’ USA’s mission to remove all tyrants from the face of the earth, if Prez. Bush heeds the rock-star, the mission is also to raise all Africa to material “equality” with the USA as a matter of “justice.” (Including “environmental justice?”)

    Maybe there would have to be exceptions to keep terrorists and tyrants from getting some of those justice dollars. Just the thing for a UN led by Bill Clinton as recently suggested in Harper’s Magazine. Mr. Pulliam’s lack of faith in that august restributor of wealth strikes me as extremely cynical. The only thing I’d be worried about is redundancy between Bono’s Africa initiatives and those of Rick Warren and various Hollywood actorvists.

    The possibilities here are truly breathtaking. Our grand welfare state could become truly global in its clientele, and during a “conservative” ascendancy! The White House could actually become a global Plantation house to suit Hilary, with social justice dollars flowing out to all the serfs and share-croppers in an increasingly dependent world. After exporting our domestic economy to Africa and other economically challenged parts of the globe, we could become a country of social workers and social justice administrators. Perfect fit for our “knowledge” economy, which today has brought together such great minds as those of Banana Vox and Bush II.

  • dk

    Re. Ted Olson’s comment: does “largely seen as” imply The Family is “not really” “orthodox Christian?” I sense sarcasm, but I am not sure. As an evangelical lifer this sounds like the practical manifestation of ‘mere christianity’ as I’ve known it. If you like Jesus, the rest is incidental. If you are into “doctrine,” you can join a group for that or go fundamentalist and/or join some old school denomination.

  • David Buckna

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    By David Buckna

  • dk

    Rick Warren says “assist news” is essential reading. Does that go for the U2 Quiz too?

  • Stephen A.

    This event looked interesting, but kind of bizarre. I know where Bono’s heart is, but he seems to think we’re just one big wallet.

    What did Bush say at the event? After listing the numerous ways our money is already at work (including billions for AIDS victims in Africa) he said: “In millions of acts of kindness, we have seen the good heart of America. Bono, the true strength of this country is not in our military might or in the size of our wallet, it is in the hearts and souls of the American people.”

    Amen. ..Not to say the money’s not important, too.

    Bush’s full comments, including a funny few comments about Bono, whom Bush called a “good citizen of the world” and a “great guy,” Bono let his pic be taken shaking hands with Bush, and it looked like he was being forced to shake the devil’s hand.

  • Tope

    I didn’t agree with everything Bono had to say, but I thought it was, on the whole, a wonderful speech that most Christians should have little trouble agreeing with and acting on. I’m surprised that no one has pointed out the positive things he had to say – about the working of the Spirit, about how God views rich and poor as equal, that God is among the poor and the vulnerable. I think Bono waters down his theology for his audience – or at the very least is rather vague about it all – but that doesn’t take away from the truth of many of his statements. Anyway, his speech certainly gave me a lot to think about, if no one else.

  • David Buckna


    Bono commented:
    In fact, you have double aid to Africa.  You have tripled funding for global health.  Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

    Outstanding human achievements.  Counterintuitive.  Historic.  Be very, very proud. 

    But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come.  There’s is much more to do.  There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

    And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it?  It’s about justice. 
    However. . .

    “Drug companies have a massive influence on many governments, especially the USA, where the Republicans received approximately $20 million in donated funding in the last electoral cycle. The pharma company Bristol Myers Squibb alone spent an additional $4.6 million on lobbying the US government in 2000. Randall Tobias – the former chairman and chief executive officer of Eli Lilly
    (a US pharmaceutical giant) – was appointed head of Bush’s AIDS programme in 2003. Drug companies also spent $78.1 million on lobbying the US Congress in 2001 (the most recent year for which lobby disclosure reports are available),bringing the total pharma lobbying bill for 1997-2001 to $403,071,467. The brand drug companies employed 623 different individual lobbyists in 2001 – that’s more than one lobbyist for every member of Congress!”
    I’d like to see this interview broadcast on U.S. television–Canadian Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, telling interviewer Evan Soloman (Hot Type, CBC Newsworld, Nov. 12/05):

    Lewis: “The United States is further from reaching the target of 0.7% of GNP [money used to fight global poverty] than any country in the world. . ..and unless the United States is prepared to give significant additional amounts of money, I don’t think we’ll ever get to the millennium development goals, certainly not for Africa, where the goals are constantly sabotaged by the presence of the HIV/AIDS virus anyway. In addition to that, the United States is giving a paltry sum to what we call the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is the best international financial facility for getting money right to the ground where it is needed.

    Solomon: They’re giving their _own_ money. Now George Bush has a different program.

    Lewis: Well, George Bush has a program of $15 billion over 5 years, and I wouldn’t be so curmudgeonly as to deny that that money has an impact. You see it’s so interesting, you announce a vast program—$15 billion—hosannas on every side. It’s like the G8. Everybody is hypnotized by the illusion of the figures, and then you start examining them and you realize that there are prejudicial components that frustrate the work that has to be done.

    Solomon: What’s wrong with the Bush initiative?

    Lewis: For example, they buy brand-name pharmaceuticals with their money. You could treat 2, 3, 4 times as many people if you bought the prequalified generic drugs that are coming from India. The other thing about the Bush iniative which is not widely known is that it only deals with 14 or 15 countries, not all of them in Africa, whereas the global fund deals with 127 countries. Now, think of what that means: Lesutu has the highest prevalence rate [of HIV/AIDS] of any least developed country in the world. It’s not part of the Bush iniative, so. . .”

    Solomon: Why not?

    Lewis: You want to know why not in the case of Lesutu, although this is now being held otherwise on the continent. Lesutu was required to sign an undertaking that no American citizen or military personnel would ever be taken before the International Criminal Court. They [Lesutu] need the money desperately, they needed the money desperately, and they are very principled. It’s a little country of 2.2 million people, a lovely bright cabinet, and they decided “no”—they would give up the money before they would give up their essential sovereignty. They didn’t feel they should be complying with those requirements.
    Listen (requires RealOne Player)
    CBC Radio’s provocative interview with Stephen Lewis [Oct 19th, 2005]

    Discuss Stephen Lewis’ new book “Race Against Time” at the House of Anansi online forum

  • Stephen A.

    Only a UN bureaucrat can sniff at $15 billion and say, in effect, “Not enough.” Amazing.

    Problem is, for some, “enough” will only be when America divests itself of it’s alleged “ill-gotten” wealth (built over generations of non-socialist prosperity) and become “equal” in wealth with the nations seeking the aid, which is, of course, as worn-out a theme as a Midnight Oil single or Castro’s weekly 6-hour rant.

    Guilt and shame serves to promote more than compassion, it seems. Much of this aid talk is simply redistributionist nonsense masquarading as Christian equality, and the left should be ashamed using out-of-context fundamentalist style proof textings to promote it.

    It’s pure politics, and in politics, nothing the GOP, Bush or conservatives can ever do will silence or appease the viscious critics in the media, politics and academia.

    I do wish there were more news reports on these politicized preachers (and the occasional preaching leftist politician,) pushing redistributionist views and exposing the political philosophy and the out-dated liberation theology underpinning those views.

    Maybe when Rolling Stone gets done it’s Jihad against conservative politicians, they can take on that series.

  • Molly

    Really, Stephen, everything Bono had to say was “all politics”?

  • Pen Brynisa

    Much of this aid talk is simply redistributionist nonsense masquarading as Christian equality, and the left should be ashamed using out-of-context fundamentalist style proof textings to promote it.

    Of course they should be ashamed. Using out-of-context fundamentalist style proof textings to promote their political views is the right’s shtick.

  • Stephen A.

    Molly, never say “everything,” but yes, much of what he had to say seemed to be rooted in a certain socio-political viewpoint of portraying the West as greedy and ucaring, as well as an obviously sincerely held religious worldview.

  • Stephen A.

    Pen: When the right does it, it’s wrong, too. That was my point.

    Your point was…? or was it more of a jab?

  • Pen Brynisa

    Yes, it was only a jab.

    It’s interesting to note which parts of Scripture different people take literally, and which parts people decide require interpretation.

  • Stephen A.

    “It’s interesting to note which parts of Scripture different people take literally, and which parts people decide require interpretation.”

    VERY interesting. And it’s no wonder that most reporters are confused when viewing groups arguing about such things from the OUTSIDE.

  • chutney

    To everyone here who is dissing Bono for “socialism” and “wealth redistribution,” I’d encourage you to go and read the biblical prophets. Like, all of them. Make a project of it.

    And then go read the stories of biblical prophets. Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, etc. Whose side were God’s spokepeople on? Honestly.

    And then come back and tell me that concerns about big “welfare states” and “UN bureaucrats” and the US “not being a big wallet” are God’s concerns.

    Really. I dare you to read them all, word by word. I think the biblical prophets make it pretty clear what God thinks of the rich and their injustice toward the poor.

  • http://Oddment dogwoman

    And Bono is one of the poor? Please.Fat men and needles my friend.His sentiments are understandabl, his actions misguided.


    I’ve read that Bono promotes “the message” bible translation but I had no idea he was also a spokesman for “god laws.”