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"Lies." — Edge, answering, "Is there anything you are really afraid of in this world?"

Respect, Righteousness and a Mirrorball Lemon

A response to Christianity Today's editorial on Bono
As a pastor whose congregation is having a special service on AIDS in Africa next week, I was delighted to see Christianity Today dedicate so much space to their "Bono's American Prayer" cover story. And as a writer who is hard at work co-editing a book of sermons based on U2's catalog, I was glad to see Bono's spiritual influence acknowledged. However, the accompanying editorial calling into question his qualifications to speak to Christians on this issue struck me as a tad defensive.

In some senses, I share CT's frustration that Bono's comments about what goes on in "the church" are often stereotypical and clearly not based on much direct personal experience. Along with the editors, I wonder how a man who talks about how doing the hard work of staying with Edge, Larry, and Adam in a 25-year friendship (not to mention with his wife Ali in a 20-year marriage) is a "sacrament" could fail to see the same sacramental power in the hard work of relating, for an equally long time, to a specific group of other local believers whom you did not select.

Nevertheless, so far, he doesn't see that. Christianity Today seems to think that fact undermines any arguments he addresses to his fellow Christians who do see it, and that Bono ought to show us all a little more respect. In my opinion, it's only by ignoring Bono's deferential Heart-Of-America remarks about Billy Graham and Bill Hybels that one could really claim he showed no respect for the evangelical subculture during his speaking tour. (By the way, insistence on being shown the proper respect: Jesus isn't much of a model for that value, is he?)

But even if Bono hadn't praised these two leaders (and Wheaton itself, and the congregations of most of the churches he visited), I wouldn't have blamed him much for having a chip on his shoulder. I'd struggle with the evangelical subculture too if I had spent two decades watching it personally attack me in print, dissecting and judging my every utterance. As someone who hangs out a fair amount with evangelicals, but is never quite sure if I am one, even the very low level of such scrutiny to which I've been subjected has hurt me enough. I can't imagine what Bono's been through, and I'm prepared to cut him miles of slack for any sarcasm.

The editorial cites three Heart of America remarks for which CT's editors think we shouldn't cut Bono slack. As to the first, it's not for me to say whether God will judge the church as irrelevant if it stands by on the AIDS issue, but as to the other two, surely CT doesn't actually mean to imply that the church has never "perverted the Scriptures" or promoted a "hierarchy of sin" that majors on sex? Come on: guilty, your honor. While we're at this, let's ask Bono if he's ever perverted the Scriptures. I'm betting he'd say yes; surely those of us who have cast our lot with institutional Christianity can show a little humility here.

The editorial claims that "a Christian's pleading for social justice without worshiping God regularly within the community of the church is little more than activism for its own sake." I'm a mainline Protestant, and we get to see a lot of activism for its own sake: reducing koinonia to achieving diversity, prayer to sloganeering, or the coming of the kingdom to the passage of legislation. When Bono, on the other hand, points out that the Scriptures are packed with verses on the poor, he often adds that an even more frequent Biblical preoccupation is "personal redemption." Activists for activism's sake? It's hard to participate in a U2 concert without realizing that this band are anything but. Whatever language they use to talk about it, U2 know a whole lot about prayer, about liturgy, about holy-community-building, about the Holy Spirit -- and to boot, clearly know more than most churchgoers about communicating these realities to people who don't speak the language of Christian subculture.

Bono may have a "paper-thin ecclesiology" -- and may I just pause to ask us all to imagine someone's finding it a propos and needful to direct the same criticism at Eminem or the Stones -- but its thinness doesn't come from kneejerk leftist political ideals. In my wild running leap of a guess, I'd wager that the believers in U2 have retained more or less the same ecclesiology they developed from Watchman Nee in the early 80s: a house-church, "let's have prayer meetings within the band," "only God knows your heart" ecclesiology. Do I think that's paper-thin? Of course I do. But it's not paper-thin because it expects Christians to take action for justice; it's paper-thin because it's individualistic and fails to value the whole Body of Christ on earth. And that's just the same old point: Bono doesn't belong to a church.

Finally, the editorial's slam at U2 for spending money on Zoo TV and PopMart while people were dying in Africa is polemics of a level I hope not to see too frequently in CT. (This mirrorball lemon could have been sold and the money given to the poor, is that it?) Would CT say the same to those who spent proportionally, in their own age, to build other environments that offered people life-changing artistic encounters with the sacred? Chartres cathedral? The Sistine Chapel?

Or is this just evangelicalism's age-old fear of the power of art itself, dressed up as a political critique? They're a rock and roll band, not Oxfam. What's remarkable is not that they didn't choose charity work over art, but that they take so much time off from art to support causes they believe are just.

I wish Bono would join a church, too. As a matter of fact, I wish many, many others of my fellow Christians would see all kinds of things exactly the way I see them. But just because they don't, doesn't mean I'm not going to listen to them when they tell me the truth. And that's what Bono's doing.

The Rev. Beth Maynard Beth is a parish priest and the former president of Gathering The neXt Generation (the Episcopal Church's network for postmodern ministry). When she's not on the Net or in one of those churches Bono doesn't go to, she's co-editing the forthcoming collection Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog/a>.

© Thunderstruck.org/Maynard, 2003.