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Bono Lauds, Prods Prayer Breakfast

U2 activist reaffirms call to fight AIDS, poverty before audience including President Bush.

Bono, keynote speaker for the 54th National Prayer Breakfast at the Hilton Washington Hotel on February 2, urged American leaders to follow through with promises to aid the world's sick and impoverished. He lauded the audience of national and foreign government, military, and religious leaders for their efforts to fight AIDS and grant debt relief for Africa. But Bono also prodded them make harder sacrifices.

"After 9/11, we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. We were told that America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. … But America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors." Bono said. "You have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. And Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support of the Global Fund, has put 700,000 people onto life-saving antiretroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria. … But here's the bad news. There is so much more to do. There is a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response."

Event planners had tried to keep the U2 frontman's appearance a carefully guarded secret. He co-founded the Washington-based humanitarian organization, DATA (Debt. AIDS. Trade. Africa.). He has been recruiting churches and American politicians in the battle against the AIDS pandemic. He said treatable diseases cost Africa 150,000 lives every month—a "completely avoidable catastrophe." He also chastised those who champion free markets while preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products.

"While the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject," Bono said. "There are the laws of the land, and then there is a higher standard. We can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so that they say it's okay to protect our agriculture, but it's not okay for African farmer to protect their agriculture to earn a living. As the laws of man are written, that's what they say. But God will not accept that."

The advocate also called again for the U.S. government to increase its foreign aid contribution by 1 percent of the federal budget. Bono said, "It sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1 percent is the best bargain around."

Bush Stresses Unity

President Bush followed Bono to the podium and reaffirmed his thanks and respect for the faith of the American people. "Over the past five years, we've been inspired by the ways that millions of Americans have answered that call [to love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself]," Bush said. "After Katrina, volunteers from churches and mosques and synagogues and other faith-based and community groups opened up their hearts and their homes to the displaced. We saw an outpouring of compassion after the earthquake in Pakistan and the tsunami that devastated entire communities. We live up to God's calling when we provide help for HIV/AIDS victims on the continent of Africa and around the world."

The President also stressed unity before the interfaith gathering. "We share one thing in common," Bush said. "We are united in our dedication to peace and tolerance and humility before the Almighty." The event featured remarks from some Jewish lawmakers and a prayer from Jordan's King Abdullah II. Bush said, "[Prayer] reminds us that when we bow our heads or fall to our knees, we are all equal and precious in the eyes of the Almighty."

The prayer breakfast, begun during the Eisenhower administration, historically draws 3,600 attendees from 155 nations, including heads of state. A low-profile group commonly known as Fellowship Foundation sponsors the annual event. The group's well-connected members around the world work behind the scenes to provide members of Congress and foreign dignitaries with spiritual encouragement and fellowship. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, who co-chaired the breakfast with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas, is the event's first Jewish chair.

Abdullah Addresses Luncheon

King Abdullah II also spoke at greater length during the National Prayer Luncheon. He said that Christians, Jews, and Muslims betray the victims of terrorism if they succumb to intolerance and ill will. "In every generation, people of faith are tested," he said. "In our generation, the greatest challenge comes from violent extremists who seek to divide and conquer. Extremism is a political movement under religious cover. Its adherents want nothing more than to pit us against each other, denying all that we have in common. We must therefore heed the words of the New Testament: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" [Romans 12:21].

"The violence unleashed by terrorist groups, and the few who follow them, stems from hatred," he further argued. "Theirs is a repugnant political ideology which violates the principles and statutes of traditional Islamic law. No matter what grievance one may have, or what evil one confronts, the Qur'an commands us: 'Let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice.' Extremists of any religion who teach intolerance and violence mutilate Scripture to advance their cause."

Joseph Lumbard, special adviser to the king on interfaith affairs, said the king wants to engage in a deeper dialogue with Catholics and members of other Christian traditions.

"We all have an interest in a secure and just peace in the Holy Land," Lumbard said. He added that the king has also been trying to "help evangelicals come to a more thorough understanding of the traditional teachings of Islam" and address misunderstandings resulting from the claims of extremists. Following the luncheon he met with a select group of evangelical leaders.

While King Abdullah II has met privately with individual evangelical leaders in Jordan, Lumbard said he had never before addressed a largely evangelical gathering in the United States.

"He wants to begin a long process of relationship building," Lumbard said. The spokesman added that despite multiple threats on his life, Abdullah would not be deterred in his approach. "His majesty knows that for true peace, all parties must be involved."

Related Elsewhere:

DATA has more information about Bono's trip to D.C. and a transcript of his National Prayer Breakfast remarks. CNN has video. AmericanRhetoric.com has a complete transcript and audio.

Press reports from the National Prayer Breakfast include those from The Washington Times, Associated Press, and ABC News.

The White House website has the text of Bush's speech, but not Bono's. C-SPAN similarly only has video of Bush's speech.

Other Christianity Today articles on Bono and U2 include:

Bono's American Prayer | The world's biggest rock star tours the heartland, talking more openly about his faith as he recruits Christians in the fight against AIDS in Africa. (Feb. 21, 2003)
Calvin College on U2 | College class on U2 explores religious influence of a rock band. (Feb. 23, 2005)
Pop Love for a War-Torn World | Atomic Bomb is classic U2, with a prescription for healing the world. (Nov. 23, 2004)
The Dick Staub Interview: Exegeting U2 | Get Up Off Your Knees preaches U2 from Boy to All that You Can't Leave Behind. (April 20, 2004)
'Pop Music with Brains' | From the beginning, U2 has engaged spiritual questions. (Feb. 21, 2003)
Bono's Thin Ecclesiology | Any person can stand outside the church and critique its obedience to the gospel. (Feb. 21, 2003)

Bono Tells Christians: Don't Neglect Africa | He urges evangelicals to take a lead in fighting AIDS and poverty. (April 19, 2002)

Inside CT: Bono's Burning Question | Evangelicals and the U2 front man try to figure each other out. (April 19, 2002)

'A Rock Band That's Good for Something' | The author of Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 talks about why politicians listen to Bono. (Apr. 19, 2002)

Honest Prayer, Beautiful Grace | The messianic and passionate U2 sounds like itself again. (Feb. 8, 2001)

Last year, Christianity Today sister publication Christian Music Today published a book excerpt from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.

Christianity Today sister publication Books & Culture published Scott Calhoun's "Legend of Bono Vox" in late 2004.

Related articles include

End Extreme Poverty in 2005? | No way. But we can still do something significant. A Christianity Today editorial (Aug. 22, 2005)
Can We Defeat Poverty? | Unless Africa tames corruption, new aid efforts will fail. (Sept. 26, 2005)
Jesus at G8 | Christian advocacy for Africa gains notice at top meetings (July 6, 2005)

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