Ten years ago today, rock star Bono delivered an amazing address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, with President George W. Bush sitting nearby.
Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, said an encounter with a wise man had changed his life “in countless way, big and small.” The singer said he was “always” asking God to bless his family, a tour, a song. “Could I have a blessing on it.“
And this wise man asked me to 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, let’s get involved in what God is doing. God, as I say, is always with the poor. That’s what God is doing. That’s what He’s calling us to do.
For many of us Baptists, this sounds a lot like Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God. Bono was not sharing a new reality; he was expressing a biblical one.
Bono told the prayer breakfast:
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. You know, the only time Jesus 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.” [I] believe that’s Matthew 25:40.
The singer then praised President Bush.
After 9-11, we were told America would have no time for the world’s poor. We were told America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it’s true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.
In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for the global health — for global health. And Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support of the Global Fund — you and Congress — has put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided eight million bed nets to protect children from malaria.
Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive, I think you’ll admit, but historic. You should be very, very proud.
There is an important reality to note here. In the midst of War on Terror, President Bush and congressional leaders did not forget that we, as a nation, needed to address issues of poverty and suffering. In fact the two are related. Suffering people can become easy targets for terrorist recruiters.
After his praise for President Bush and America’s political leaders, Bono said, “But here’s the bad news. There’s so much more to do.“
Bono, in appealing for continued efforts on behalf of the people of Africa, called for movement to “higher levels, higher callings.” And he pointed to another major topic of Scripture — justice.
This is not about charity in the end, is it? It’s about justice. The good news yet to come. I just want to repeat that: This is not about charity, it’s about justice. And that’s too bad. Because we’re good at charity. Americans, Irish people, are good at charity. 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, and it questions our commitment. Six and a half thousand Africans are still dying every day of preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs 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 would let it happen anywhere else — if we really accepted that Africans are equal to us.
Bono’s words that day in 2006 stirred not only the people in the room but countless people through the United States and around the world. His words should stir us again, for 10 years later there is still much to be done.
God is at work on behalf of the poor, and God desires that we join in this great work — this work for justice and against poverty.
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)