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Bono Waxes 'Prophetic'

Rock-star/activist inspired by Leviticus and Isaiah.

While every celebrity seems to have a cause, few stars get their inspiration from Scripture.

That is what sets lead U2 singer Bono apart. Sporting his trademark tinted sunglasses, the rock star spoke to an audience of more than 3,000 at the National Prayer Breakfast February 2, imploring them to respond to the United States' urgent responsibility to help "the least of these."

Two passages drive his message, Bono says: the call in Leviticus 25 for a Year of Jubilee and debt forgiveness, and the command in Isaiah 58 to share with the hungry and provide for the poor.

"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 dawn and your recovery will speedily spring forth, then your Lord will be your rear guard," Bono quoted from Isaiah 58:7-8.

"I appreciate the absurdity of being a rock star and quoting the Scriptures," Bono joked in his typical self-effacing style at a private meeting with half a dozen journalists following his address.

Wearing jeans, a brown corduroy jacket, and a black, open-collared shirt, the rocker was relaxed as he snacked on fruit and muffins while taking questions from journalists. He expounded on his work in Africa, the role of the church, and some of his favorite verses.

"It's absolutely the prophetic utterance of this moment in time," he exclaimed, referring to Isaiah 58:7-8. "What it really suggests is that if we do God's business, God will be more in ours. To use the colloquial, it's God watching our back. It literally means God will watch your back!"

Reasons to Die

Bono said there are manifold problems when a religious nation ignores God's business, particularly in light of growing anti-Americanism. "The religiosity of this country is offensive to a lot of people in Europe because they see hypocrisy in the heart of it," Bono said. "They see that for all their talk, prayer breakfasts, and overt religiosity, these people are giving the least to the least of these."

While crediting President Bush with a 0.5 percent increase in the nation's foreign assistance budget since he took office, Bono said that according to polls, "the reason why people don't want to increase foreign assistance is they think it's already up to 15 or 20 percent. … But it's actually a tenth of even the lowest estimations."

The lack of greater foreign assistance and availability of life-saving antiretroviral drugs "is not a good enough reason to die anymore," he said.

Bono described a 2002 visit to Soweto, South Africa, where he talked with a young widower trying to decide whether to keep his life-saving AIDS drugs for himself or give them to the woman he had come to love. "He said, 'I can give her my drugs and my children can lose their last parent, or we can share the drugs and both die slowly, or I can keep the drugs and lose, for the second time, my love,' Bono recalled. "I stood there thinking, This is barbaric. This is actually barbaric."

Not Missing This Issue

Fortunately, he said, the church is responding. "In the past, the church has been behind on some issues, but the church hasn't missed this one," Bono said. "The church is leading. It's amazing. If I, 10 years ago, had heard what I am saying [now], I wouldn't have believed me."

That is because 10 years ago, as Bono explained during his breakfast speech, he didn't think much of the church, Christianity, or overt religion. "You see, I avoided religious people most of my life," he said. "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; where the line between church and state was … well, a little blurry, and hard to see."

"I remember how my mother would bring us to 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."

His faith, which he describes as "private," is largely influenced by the words and actions of Jesus, the Beatitudes, and Old Testament Prophets. Bono told the group of journalists that he enjoys reading The Message, a modern Bible paraphrase "by the very gifted scholar and poet Eugene Peterson." In contrast to some of the more popular "happy-clappy" Christian music, the religious music that speaks to him most includes Charles Wesley's hymns, Handel's Messiah, Jewish chanting, and songs that contain "raw" emotion, he said.

Addressing how he hoped the United States would respond to his plea for justice for Africa's poor and downtrodden, Bono appealed to Christian and patriotic responsibility.

Imagine a so-called Christian society with the absolute capability to save lives in Africa that fails to act, Bono said. "You can explain that to the budget appropriators, but you can't explain it to God. He will not accept that excuse, and history won't."

"I think growing a movement that defines itself by the way it treats these issues, particularly at a time of conflict—it's so poetic actually. … This is where you demonstrate the values of America."

Sheryl Henderson Blunt is a senior news writer for Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere:

Blunt also covered Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.

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.

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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