SPEECH FROM BONO (U2's frontman)
Remarks at an U.S. National prayer breakfast
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 messiani complex. Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation. Well, i'm the first to admit 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.
You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. I remember how my mother would bring us to the chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that i picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God. I became cynical... not about God, but about God's politics. Then in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millenium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chroni debts of the world's poorest people. They had audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paull II, who, from an irish half-Catholic point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.
There it was in Leviticus (25:35)... 'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself... you shall maintain him... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.' It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, his first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has annointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of the Jubilee (Luke 4:18). What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.
So fast-forward 2,00 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow the convictions with actions... making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people. But then my cynicism got another helping hand. It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest WMD of them all : a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that did't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behavious. Even on children... even (though the) fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.
Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back! But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this leprosy of our age. Love was on the move. Mercy was on the move. God was on the move. Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet... conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS... soccer moms and quarterbacks... hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens! Popes were seen wearing sunglasses! Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster! Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.
It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks. When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organizing, petitioning and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying... on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted. I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well with us in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."
It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.
But there's also bad news. We in the West have not moved from charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There 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. Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.
And that's too bad. Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it. But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs as we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.
Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa 150,000 lives are lost every month. A Tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.
It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain. You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposturous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal.' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in theimage of God." And eventually the Pharaoh says, "Ok, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks. Not the women. Not the gays. Not the irish. No way, man." So on we must go with our journey or equality. On we go in the pursuit of justice. Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market... that's a justice issue. Witholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents... that's a justice issue.
God will not accept that. Mine won't, at least. Will yours? I close this morning on... very... thin... ice. This is a dangerous idea i've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God... vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.
'Do to others as wyou would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that. 'Righteousness is this: that one should... give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).
Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dwan and your recovery will speedily spring forth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.
A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was aying, you know, I have a new song, look after it? I have a family, please look after them? I have this crazy idea... and this wise man said: stop.
He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing. Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed. Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what he's calling us to do.