This is a really long post but it is worth the read. This is a
speech given by Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast a couple weeks
ago. Pretty cool stuff I think. Mike.
Thank you. Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests …
Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.
That was for the FCC.
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
Yes, it’s true. And for anyone who knows me, it’s hardly a revelation.
Well, I’m the first to admit that 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. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse
Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn’t it?
You know, one of the things I love about this country is its
separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me
here, both church and state have been separated from something else
completely: their mind. .
Mr. President, are you sure about this?
It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I’m Irish.
I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where
those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It
would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws
of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always. And I
presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.
I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us
here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to
better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.
I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.
Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me
than for you. 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. 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
For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people,
in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing
God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering
indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the
self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners
of the religious establishment…
I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.
Even though I was a believer.
Perhaps because I was a believer.
I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. (There you are, Jim.)
Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British
Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by
describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an
opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people.
They had the audacity to renew the Lord’s call—and were joined by Pope
John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic’s point of view, may
have had a more direct line to the Almighty.
What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?
I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. 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, he’s met with the rabbis,
impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever
guy, this Jesus, but he hasn’t done much… yet. He hasn’t spoken in
When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the
Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good
news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour,
the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)
What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we’re still in it.
So fast-forward 2,000 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
their 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
W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the
religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t
miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even
on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married,
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 the 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
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 organising, petitioning, and
even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and
global health, governments listened—and acted.
I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.
Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He
exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place
for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.
Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.
I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope
so. He may well be with us as 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 yolk
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 with
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.
Here’s some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told
America would have no time for the World’s poor. 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 double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for
global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and
support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people
onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets
to protect children from malaria.
Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.
But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is
yet to come. There’s 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
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.
6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable
disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drugstore. 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
You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the
Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A
preposterous 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 the
image 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 go with our journey of equality.
On we go in the pursuit of justice.
We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more
than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the
belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.
We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss
of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that
changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as
alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.
Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while
we sing the virtues of the free market… that’s a justice issue. Holding
children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That’s a
justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to
the Office of Patents… that’s a justice issue.
And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.
That’s why I say there’s the law of the land… and then there is a
higher standard. There’s the law of the land, and we can hire experts
to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it’s OK to protect
our agriculture but it’s not OK for African farmers to do the same, to
earn a living?
As the laws of man are written, that’s what they say.
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.
And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.
But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to
Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come
together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.
This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is
not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to
any one faith.
Do to others as you 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
dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will
be your rear guard.’ The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.
That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.
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 saying, 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.
I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much
some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well,
how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire
American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the
world? Less than one percent.
Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:
I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective
foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will
mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.
What is one percent?
One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.
One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks
to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks
to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small
family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating
presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent
is digging waterholes to provide clean water.
One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism
towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved
governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from
boondoggles and white elephants of every description.
America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra
one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not
just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way
that they see us.
One percent is national security, enlightened economic self
interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that
in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain
These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine
for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are
not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which
this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the
Beatitudes for a Globalised World.
Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees.
And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t
have to make the tough choices.
But I can tell you this:
To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.
There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.
I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age
will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital
revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa.
History, like God, is watching what we do.
Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.