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Old 11-04-2005, 09:36 AM   #1
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Going to Church With Bono

“God is the funky one”: Going to Church with Bono

Bono’s spirituality is no secret among his fans and many of us connect to his songs at the soul level—in our guts, at the root, in the ether, with eyes wet and arms waving.

In late 2004, it was not admiration of pure musicianship or political activism that brought me back into the safe belly of serious U2 fandom after some years of casual listening. In fact, the soulful-emotional pull of Atomic Bomb sucked me back in. Within weeks of the latest album’s release, I was updating my CD collection, learning about the vast U2 bootleg trading community, reading websites, articles, books. This gravity can be felt most especially in new songs like “Miracle Drug,” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” “Original of the Species,” “Crumbs from Your Table,” and “Yahweh.”

For some U2 fans, one of the band’s concerts is church enough. Fandom itself could be likened to a secular religion. Bono himself has been confused with Priest and Deity. Bono himself is proud to call himself a “believer”—not in an abstraction but in the God of the Bible. To say it bluntly, Bono’s a bit of Jesus freak.

Much media has been made of his preaching to Jesse Helms and Helms’ alleged repentance on this issue of AIDS. (That is, Helms’ condemned the victim before Bono and learned a little compassion after Bono. I don’t think good ol’ Jesse has exactly embraced his inner queer or anything.)

Myself, I’ve feared that Bono’s taken the “love your enemies” stuff so seriously that he might become my enemy. I do not have to hide my righteous rage at the actions of his friends George Bush and Condy Rice. But as my day-job requires me to work with arch-conservative students on a daily basis, I’m trying to take a page from Bono’s playbook and exercise the values of tolerance and compassion I would accuse the far Right of lacking.

Now, if Bono were a collection-plate carrying member of any church, it’s not likely to be one where Helms or even his pal Bill Clinton worships. When it comes to an actual church worth attending, Bono is still on the freaky fringes of faith—and apparently proud of it.

Last night, I watched a wildly interesting documentary on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/guerrilla/

It’s a serious look at the “revolutionary” mood of the 70s and the specifically hyped actions of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

Without going into a full review, one fascinating part of the film was the formation of a coalition of activists that tried to act as a liaison between the Hearts and the SLA. During the SLA-mandated distribution of food to urban poor with Hearst money, a preacher began to speak in a rhetoric we know well from the Dr. Kings and Jesse Jacksons of the world. With a full Afro and a multi-colored dashiki, Cecil Williams praised the distribution of food. “Wow, this guy is pretty radical,” I mused. Some could wrongly interpret him in this section as an SLA sympathizer.

Cecil Williams? Glide Memorial Church? Where do I know these names? Hey, that’s Bono’s preacher!! As recently as this past April 10, Bono, Ali, and the kids attended church at Glide. One Bay Area blogger describes sitting in church with the Hewsons and watching Bono join the choir for a song.

http://sensoryoverload.typepad.com/

In an interview, Bono has said, “But there's one church that if I was living close by I'd definitely be in the congregation. It's in San Francisco—Glide Memorial. Rev. Cecil Williams there looks after the homeless, gays, straights; he marched with Martin Luther King, he's funny as hell—pardon the pun—and you can get an HIV test during the service. Now that's my kind of church.”

With Williams, Glide has deep connections in the left coast counterculture. One brief online biography explains, “He opened the church to jazz music, gays, hippies, addicts, the poor, poets, and anyone else who wanted to come. He hosted political rallies and services, including a Hooker Convention, speeches by Angela Davis, and the Black Panthers.” Williams own words show that he takes the gospel message of embracing the outcast quite seriously: “The true church stays on the edge of life, where the real moans and groans are. Most church folks settle in, get comfortable and build doctrinal walls.”

And big names in pews notwithstanding, this is not a superstar church like you might find in Los Angeles or Nashville. In “SPIRIT WILLING: Glide Memorial Church,” Don Shewey explains, “But it's worth remembering that the rich and the famous don't just show up at Glide to get VIP treatment and their names in boldface. They come like everyone else, to be ministered to. On the occasion of Cecil's 30th anniversary at Glide, Bono faxed a letter from London saying, ‘I know I only get there a few times a year, but Glide still feels like home to me. It's the one venue I don't mind queueing to get into.’ Acknowledging that the song ‘Love Rescue Me,’ from U2's Rattle and Hum movie soundtrack, was inspired by the Glide Ensemble, Bono wrote, ‘The land of street angels that we call your choir are proof God is the funky one.’”

So Bono’s getting sanctified San Francisco style—in San Jose, he put on lipstick during the “Send in the Clowns” segement of “Electric Co,” the same day he had attended services at Glide. One side effect of this, of course, is severe backlash from the right wing. While “googling” around to uncover more about the connection between Bono and Cecil Williams, I found some hate-filled websites bashing Bono for condoning perversity.

http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/rockgroupu2.html

http://www.corruptchristianity.com/u2/data.html

David Cloud—of a group called Fundamental Baptist Information Service—penned an almost 5000 word diatribe against U2. Of course, according to hate-mongers like this, one of Bono’s sins is his support of gay and lesbian people. My parents, devout and active Christians, have made tolerance and inclusion one of their primary witnesses in their own church. Clearly, as this piece shows, honoring our queer sisters and brothers as sisters and brothers is a cause they share with Bono and the boys.

Frankly, I must confess I enjoyed this piece immensely for its detailed documentation of U2’s celebration of the bacchanalian aspect of all authentic spirituality, especially against the backdrop of prudish piety still parading itself as pure. It’s amazing how this writer blasts Bono for being “of the world” when the writer defends the rigid line that the current religious society promotes in the realm of mainstream politics.

Another website encourages Christians to withhold money from groups like DATA, as a sort of protest against Bono’s tolerance, or as they put it, “The reality is Bono accepts, condones, and welcomes immorality including homosexuality—one of the core issues of the problem he claims to be aiding; therefore, he adds to the problem of AIDS, and his fundraiser is in vain.”

I don’t attend church as a matter of principle but do seasonal rituals with my collective; my church is the one tree hill at back meadow on our communal land and the valley that leads to it, the cathedral of creation, a canyon of peace. But the next time I’m in the Bay Area, I sure want to attend Glide, where God gets the funk on, and the Dionysian Christ dances arm-in-arm with the old testament War God. That could describe a U2 concert.

As many of my posts on FYM are about my love/hate affair with Bono, his activism, spirituality, and politics, he seems to return to humor and humility in perfect counterpoint to his vigorous vanity. Or as the screen flashed during ZooTV: “Contradiction is balance.” So, like Whitman, Bono contains a multitude.
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Old 11-04-2005, 09:53 AM   #2
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Cool piece. So did you write that Anu? Nice. I'd love to check out that church. Wouldn't it be amazing to worship with Bono? (outside of a U2 concert, of course.)
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Old 11-04-2005, 10:07 AM   #3
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excellent

I LOVE this line, amazing

"my church is the one tree hill at back meadow on our communal land and the valley that leads to it, the cathedral of creation, a canyon of peace"
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Old 11-04-2005, 11:34 AM   #4
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Thanks for the props, Mrs. Springsteen and coemgen!
Yes, this is my writing.
It appears the mods have moved this thread to "The Goal is Soul."
I'm afraid I met get eaten alive over here.
Be gentle with me, soul folks!!!
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Old 11-05-2005, 02:07 AM   #5
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Very well done, Anu, thanks for the read.

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Old 11-05-2005, 11:03 AM   #6
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Thank you so much for this, Anu. I read everything I can about religious groups criticizing U2, because I once was in a group that believed music was evil, which was the reason I didn't get into U2 back in the '80s. I am still learning that to worship the Almighty you don't need all the rules, regulations and edicts that mainstream religion says you need to be 'saved'. Some groups have more rules than others, which was true of the group I was in. When I read others criticizing U2, it helps to solidify the truths I am now learning against what they say.
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Old 11-06-2005, 04:26 AM   #7
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Great piece Anu! Do you have plans to publish it?


It's not really my place as a Jew to get into debates over what Christian spirituality should look like...but at least as a fellow religious progressive, a couple of things you said did give me pause. Maybe more as opportunities for expansion and clarification than anything else. You know, for when you publish it ...

Quote:
Originally posted by Anu
Williams' own words show that he takes the gospel message of embracing the outcast quite seriously: “The true church stays on the edge of life, where the real moans and groans are...”
How do you reconcile an approach like this with the kind of activist witness practiced by more mainstream Christian progressives, like Jim Wallis or Cornel West? Don't their attempts to claim a place for Jesus' message (as they understand it) right smack at the heart of American political power--taking on such decidedly un-fringey problems as foreign policy and the burgeoning rich-poor divide--contradict Williams' "on the edge" philosophy?
Quote:
Frankly, I must confess I enjoyed this piece immensely for its detailed documentation of U2’s celebration of the bacchanalian aspect of all authentic spirituality...
Can't discipline and the observance of religious rules also be--as they were for Gandhi, for example--a joyous way of hallowing the everyday, finding intimacy with God, and keeping the mind, body and soul spiritually centered? Are we reduced to a rigid either-or choice between "bacchanalian" authenticity on the one hand, and a lifeless authoritarianism hysterically staving off "impurity" on the other?

Also, I am made a bit nervous by the easy association of concepts like "bacchanalian" and "Dionysian" with a church that just happens to welcomes gays, drug addicts and prostitutes. Who or what exactly does this "bacchanalian aspect" really consist of?

The Glide Memorial sounds to me like a fine place to reawaken, refill and recharge. But I question whether this by itself can adequately flesh out the framework for a full spiritual life. And if not, where else should that direction come from?

~ Peace
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Old 11-06-2005, 05:03 AM   #8
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That David Cloud piece sure has its moments.
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Because of their popularity in the rock music field, the members of U2 have had countless opportunities to testify plainly of their faith in Christ...but I have never heard them give a clear testimony of the new birth or warn that those who are without Christ are on their way to eternal Hell.
Well if that's all that "testifying plainly" consists of, then I guess not.
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Cecil Williams, pastor of the Glide Memorial Methodist Church, said, “I don’t want to go to no heaven ... I don’t believe in that stuff. I think it’s a lot of - - - - [vulgarity].”
If he really did say exactly that, then that is awfully radical.
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Bill Flanagan, a U2 friend who has traveled extensively with the group, in his book U2 at the End of the World, describes them as heavy drinkers and constant visitors to bars, brothels, and nightclubs. He says, “If I wanted to I could fill up hundreds of pages with this sort of three-sheets-to-the-wind [drunken], navel-gazing dialogue between U2 and me.”
Navel-gazing brothel dialogue Come on, talk about skewing.
Quote:
One U2 concert series featured a belly dancer. The band members have had serious marital problems and Dave Evans is divorced.
I'm sure he put these two sentences together deliberately, yet he seems to have no idea just how connected they really are. Ah, just as well he doesn't know Edge married a Jewish belly dancer in a Jewish ceremony. One more instance of failing to "testify plainly"...
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One of U2’s most popular songs even proclaims that they haven’t found what they are looking for.
This is a strange message for an alleged Christian rock band to broadcast to a needy world! During a Dublin concert, Bono paused in the middle of singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and shouted, “I hope I never find it!”
Whoooohh...blasphemy!
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The group is active in political causes, but they are liberal, humanistic ones. One of their hits, “Pride,” is a tribute to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King...King was an adulterous, modernistic preacher who taught a false social gospel. U2 supported the adulterous, abortion-homosexual supporting Bill Clinton in his 1992 run for president.
A modernistic preacher who taught a false social gospel...WTF?!?
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Bono’s passion in recent years has been AIDS and poverty in Africa. He...does not put the blame of Africa’s AIDS and poverty problem where it truly and solely belongs, which is government corruption, pagan religion, and its corollary, the lack of moral character, and immorality...Bono said, “Christ talks about the poor [and says] ‘whatever you have done to least of these brothers of mine, you've done to me.’ In Africa right now, the least of my brethren are dying in shiploads and we are not responding." Bono thus grossly misapplies Christ’s statement in Matthew 25:40, applying it to the unsaved in general rather than to the nation Israel. The is the Fatherhood of God heresy that Mother Teresa also held, that all men are the children of God regardless of whether they have faith in Christ...In fact, the context of Matthew 25:32-46 is immediately following the return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation, and it describes how Christ will judge the nations on the basis of how they treated His people the Jews, which will be so viciously persecuted during that period. Compare Rev. 7:4-14.
Is this his idea of philosemitism? Wow. I'd be hard-pressed to think of a Jewish sage who wouldn't be repulsed by such a narrow and stingy vision of God's justice. The Talmud teaches "Who says your blood is redder?" and that the righteous in conduct of all nations, hasidei ummot ha-olam, would have a place in any world to come. With all due respect to the faith-vs.-works controversy, this strikes me as a pretty vile use to put it to, justifying turning a deaf ear to the cries of Africa's poor and infirm.
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When persecuted, we are to endure it (1 Cor. 4:12); but Christ did not teach pacifism. Christ’s forerunner, John the Baptist, warned soldiers to be content with their wages, but he did not rebuke them for carrying arms as soldiers (Lk. 3:14). Before his death, Christ instructed his followers to provide swords for themselves (Lk. 22:32-38). Christ said he came not to send peace but a sword (Mt. 10:34). In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ will return on a white horse to make war with his enemies (Rev. 19:11-16). The Christ of the Bible is no pacifist and He did not establish a pacifist movement.
Well, that's interesting at least. I'm not really familiar with this line of argument. I had the impression Jesus was referring to a different kind of sword. In any case, Bono has also made it clear that while he admires pacifism, he is not himself a pacifist.
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An article...quoted Dylan as saying: “Whoever said I was Christian? Like Gandhi, I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, I’m a Moslem, I’m a Hindu. I am a humanist.”
Now this kind of statement does make me cringe, because it plays right into the hand of ignoramuses like Cloud who dismiss Gandhi's spirituality as mushy relativistic pantheism. In reality, while Gandhi did espouse a commonality of purpose among all religions' attempts to define a Godly life (especially when addressing Indian Muslims worried about Hindu supremacy in a free India), he was also adamant about the right and the need for each religious community to pursue that purpose in light of its own traditions, hence his outspoken opposition to missionaries. His was not a "pinch-of-this-'n'-a-pinch-of-that" theology.
Quote:
The love that Bono sings about is the world’s love...The Bible says we can only know God through the sound doctrine of His revelation in the Scriptures, through right thinking that comes by the right understanding of God’s word; but rock & roll says, “Feelings are more important than thoughts.” This is why the world loves U2.
It seems to me that feeling--especially in a religion whose formal rules are scant--offers necessary balance and guidance in finding the middle path between profligacy and philistinism. What does a Jew know, but I see no reason why feeling cannot also joyously embrace, submit to, and guide us towards God's will. In my religion, the heart is no more innately rebellious than the mind, and we bear the limitations of human nature proudly, knowing that it, too, is made in God's image.
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Old 11-06-2005, 02:34 PM   #9
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Originally posted by yolland
Great piece Anu! Do you have plans to publish it?


Can't discipline and the observance of religious rules also be--as they were for Gandhi, for example--a joyous way of hallowing the everyday, finding intimacy with God, and keeping the mind, body and soul spiritually centered? Are we reduced to a rigid either-or choice between "bacchanalian" authenticity on the one hand, and a lifeless authoritarianism hysterically staving off "impurity" on the other?

Also, I am made a bit nervous by the easy association of concepts like "bacchanalian" and "Dionysian" with a church that just happens to welcomes gays, drug addicts and prostitutes. Who or what exactly does this "bacchanalian aspect" really consist of?

~ Peace
Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful response.

I *do not* embrace either-or thinking, much less practice. So yes, I am a big fan of Jim Wallis and Cornel West. In fact, I think Bono may share more in common with them than with Cecil Williams.

I am not against humility, poverty, simplicity, or even a non-dogmatic piety as long as its not in denial of the estatic and mystical.

Two influential spiritual texts on me as a young child, by the way, were the rock musicials Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.

In this post, much of the "dionysian" I describe comes from U2, and their shameless partying coupled with "both-and" moments of earthy-sexy spirituality in songs like "Mofo" and "Mysterious Ways."

Since I was brought up deeply Christian, and once contemplated ministry, I have always identified with the visionaries and mystics in the Christian tradition.

But by most folks' definition of Christian--that is, in accepting the *exclusive historical divinity of Chirst,* I am probably not a Christian.

Odd it is, since my interest in U2 is primarily spiritual.

I am looking at two books right now--The Pagan Christ and the Jesus Mysteries--that are amazing portals to the particular place of my current journeying, which we might describe as reconciling Christ with other traditions, the one in many and the many in one.

Thanks again for the excellent feedback.
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Old 11-08-2005, 10:29 AM   #10
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This is all very mixed up and could cause a great deal of confusion. What is most important to me in all this is that Bono has said plainly (in Bono: In Conversation) that he believes that Jesus is God. That's what Christianity is basically. So, although Bono is a little on the liberal side for my taste, I'm glad that he knows who Jesus is. That's what really matters.
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Old 11-10-2005, 05:55 AM   #11
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Originally posted by Rachel D.
This is all very mixed up and could cause a great deal of confusion. What is most important to me in all this is that Bono has said plainly (in Bono: In Conversation) that he believes that Jesus is God. That's what Christianity is basically. So, although Bono is a little on the liberal side for my taste, I'm glad that he knows who Jesus is. That's what really matters.
What's "mixed up" and "confusing"? That Bono drinks a lot and likes queers? (He even kissed that guy from Oasis on the lips.)

If Bono is "on the liberal side," what about Jesus? Rev. Williams?

Bono has reminded people how many verses in scripture work against poverty and how few condemn sexuality (I've been googling for the exact quote, but I'm sure some people in here have seen it).

So the only thing that's mixed up and confusing to me is how many US Christians condemn homosexuality while supporting a system that leaves billions starving.

Bono is too liberal for me, too, but from the left of him, not the right of him, so to speak.

But that's me--and I think Jesus was more of a revolutionary than a reformer.

I do agree with Bono, though, that AIDS is our leprosy, and we do know, if we searh our hearts, how Christ would have responded.
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Old 11-10-2005, 09:14 AM   #12
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^ Great post, Anu. You seem to really be grasping who Christ was when he walked around down here.
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Old 11-10-2005, 07:07 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by Anu
So the only thing that's mixed up and confusing to me is how many US Christians condemn homosexuality while supporting a system that leaves billions starving.
Because it's easy to always point fingers at "The Other," rather than looking in the mirror. That's why most of Christianity has more in common with the Pharisees than with Jesus.

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Old 11-10-2005, 11:11 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by Rachel D.
This is all very mixed up and could cause a great deal of confusion. What is most important to me in all this is that Bono has said plainly (in Bono: In Conversation) that he believes that Jesus is God. That's what Christianity is basically. So, although Bono is a little on the liberal side for my taste, I'm glad that he knows who Jesus is. That's what really matters.
I believe part of Anu's point here--and Bono's as well--is that "knowing who Jesus is" means following Jesus' teaching and example when it comes to loving and caring for the poor, the sick, and the outcast.
Quote:
Originally posted by Anu
Bono has reminded people how many verses in scripture work against poverty and how few condemn sexuality (I've been googling for the exact quote, but I'm sure some people in here have seen it).
Bono has said that many times, but here is an instance from The Guardian, 18 March 2002:
Quote:
Meanwhile, the US wing of Jubilee 2000 hit on the idea of persuading the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist, to write a letter to Baptist churches across southern US states explaining the Biblical principles behind debt cancellation. Suddenly, Bono found he had access to a swathe of strongly Christian Republicans compelled by his Biblical theme - what Bono calls "the melody line" of his pitch. "We knew we had to get both sides," he explains. "So we got Billy Graham and the Pope and I went to people like Jesse Helms, who had been very tough on the the concept of foreign assistance and very bleak on AIDS. He's a religious man so I told him that 2103 verses of scripture pertain to the poor and Jesus speaks of judgment only once - and it's not about being gay or sexual morality, but about poverty. I quoted that verse of Matthew chapter 25: 'I was naked and you clothed me.' He was really moved. He was in tears. Later he publicly acknowledged that he was ashamed..."
The Guardian has it backwards about what Bono meant by a "melody line," though (a phrase coined by Michael Stipe and Quincy Jones at an early DATA meeting, referring to the need to find a concise, memorable way to tie together DATA's complex list of objectives for PR purposes). From Bono's 2001 commencement address at Harvard:
Quote:
So I was here representing a group that believed that all such debts should be cancelled in the year 2000. We called it Jubilee 2000. A fresh start for a new millennium. It was headed up by Anne Pettifor, based out of London -- huge support from Africa. With Muhammad Ali, Sir Bob Geldof, and myself, acting at first just as mouthpieces. It was taking off. But we were way behind in the U.S.

We had the melody line, so to speak. But in order to get it on the radio over here, we needed a lot of help. My friend Bobby Shriver suggested I knock on the good professor's door. And a funny thing happened. Jeffrey Sachs not only let me into his office, he let me into his Rolodex, his head and his life for the last few years. So, in a sense, he let me into your life here at Harvard.

Then Sachs and I, with my friend Bobby Shriver, hit the road like some kind of surreal crossover act. A rock star, a Kennedy, and a Noted Economist criss-crossing the globe. Like the Partridge Family on psychotropic drugs. With the POPE acting as our ... well ... agent. And the blessing of various Rabbis, Evangelists, mothers, unions, trade unions and PTAs.
So, debt forgiveness was itself the "melody line." Taking it to the churches (and the PTAs, unions, and rabbis) was a PR strategy, a means to getting the message "airplay" and lifting it beyond the star-studded-lefty-cause ghetto--"to get both sides," as Bono put it. Thus the vision of millennial debt forgiveness for the world's poorest countries--first developed by two Brits, an economics professor and an ambassador to Malawi, and shortly thereafter joined by Geldof, eventually by Bono, Muhammad Ali and others--secured the American "blessing" it needed.
Quote:
So the only thing that's mixed up and confusing to me is how many US Christians condemn homosexuality while supporting a system that leaves billions starving.
I would be cautious about juxtaposing these two in that fashion, since it seems to imply, "Of course homosexuality is inherently sinful, but not as much so as ignoring poverty." IMHO.
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Old 11-14-2005, 06:17 AM   #15
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Originally posted by yolland

I would be cautious about juxtaposing these two in that fashion, since it seems to imply, "Of course homosexuality is inherently sinful, but not as much so as ignoring poverty." IMHO.
Great response, Yolland.

To be clear, I don't think any loving and consensual affection is sinful, or as Michael Franti sings, "It's not about who you love/it's all about do you love."

I found another place where Bono lays down his perspective against a "hierarchy of sin"--in the excellent Christianity Today article that many on this forum have probably seen.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/003/2.38.html
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