From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
U2's Bono launches AIDS awareness tour from church
Tue, 10 Dec 2002 15:10:27 -0600
Dec. 10, 2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: Photographs are available with this report.
A UMNS Report
By Steve Beard*
When rock star Bono wanted to tour the American Midwest to draw attention to
the devastating plague of AIDS in Africa, he turned to the church.
On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Irish singer found himself sitting on the front row
through two infant baptisms and a traditional lighting of the Advent wreath
before he had his turn to speak at Saint Paul United Methodist Church in
It was World AIDS Day, and the lead singer of U2 was launching a weeklong,
seven-city "Heart of America Tour: Africa's Future and Ours." The tour was
sponsored by DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa), a political advocacy
organization that Bono helped found.
An estimated 42 million people worldwide live with HIV, with 75 percent of
them living in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS kills 6,500 Africans every day, and a
projected 2.5 million Africans will die next year because they lack the
medicine to fight the virus.
The situation in Africa is near to the hearts of United Methodists in
Nebraska. They are in partnership with fellow United Methodists in Nigeria,
actively working on projects such as raising money for an orphanage there.
The African connection was brought home during Saint Paul's Sunday program,
with a performance by an energetic youth choir from Ghana called the Gateway
Ambassadors and the testimony of Agnes Nyamayarwo, an HIV-positive Ugandan
nurse who lost her husband and 6-year-old son to AIDS.
The Rev. David Lux, Saint Paul's pastor, offered Bono the pulpit, but the
singer - donning his trademark blue sunglasses - jokingly responded, "I don't
know about a rock star in the pulpit." Later, however, when his lapel
microphone failed, Bono jumped at the chance to use it. "I've always wanted
to get into one of these," he said.
Bono used Scripture to explain why he was investing his time in fighting AIDS
in Africa. He asked the members of the congregation to stop asking God to
bless what they are doing and to start doing the work that God already has
Lux told United Methodist News Service that there were no ruffled feathers
about a rock star in the pulpit. Instead, he has heard "several positive
comments from people who had children or grandchildren who hadn't been going
to church but wanted to make sure to be in church when Bono was there."
He described Bono as "personable, friendly, compassionate and articulate. He
challenges Christians to live out the teachings of Christ in specific ways,
like responding to the horrific AIDS crisis in Africa, which is ravaging
families and children." The congregation raised nearly $4,200 in a special
offering that Sunday toward building the orphanage in Nigeria.
Lux vowed that the congregation will be "responding in many other ways.
Bono's message, faith commitment and passion will inspire us for a long time
As the lead singer of the group U2, Bono has long used Christian imagery in
his songs. Additionally, he has been candid about his fascination with Jesus
and simultaneous disillusionment with organized religion.
While at the Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., UMNS asked Bono
how his Christian faith inspired his activism.
"Well, you know, I am not a very good advertisement for God, so I generally
don't wear that badge on my lapel. But it is certainly written on the inside.
I am a believer," he said.
"There are 2,103 verses of Scripture pertaining to the poor. Jesus Christ
only speaks of judgment once. It is not all about the things that the church
bangs on about. It is not about sexual immorality, and it is not about
megalomania or vanity," he said, jokingly referring to his rock star status.
"It is about the poor. 'I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger and
you let me in.' This is at the heart of the gospel. Why is it that we seem to
have forgotten this? Why isn't the church leading this movement? The church
ought to be ready to do that."
At the University of Iowa, Bono said, "We don't have to guess what is on
God's mind here. It bewilders me that anyone can call themselves followers of
Christ and not see that AIDS is the leprosy spoken about in the New
Testament. God is at work here."
Throughout the tour, Bono was outspoken about his faith. On CNN's "Larry King
Live" on World AIDS Day, he differentiated between his belief in God and mere
religion. "My mother was a Protestant. My father was a Catholic. And I
learned that religion is often the enemy of God, actually. ... Religion is
the artifice - you know, the building, after God has left it sometimes, like
Elvis has left the building. You hold onto religion, you know, rules,
regulations, traditions. I think what God is interested in is people's
hearts, and that's hard enough."
The singer emphasized the implications of AIDS in Africa. "This moment in
time will be remembered for ... how we let an entire continent, Africa, burst
into flames and stood around with water in cans. This is not acceptable. It
is not acceptable to let people die because they can't get the drugs that you
and I take for granted."
Actress Ashley Judd and actor Chris Tucker, who visited Africa four times in
2002, accompanied Bono on the tour. The group spoke in schools, truck stops
and churches along the way. The unusual nature of the tour sometimes created
surreal images, such as comedian Tucker instructing the editorial board of
the Chicago Tribune to hold hands as he closed the meeting in prayer.
While in Chicago, the group met with Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek
Community Church, to discuss ways to get the message of AIDS in Africa out to
The group also visited the Apostolic Faith Church, a predominantly
African-American congregation on the south side of Chicago. Tucker broke down
in tears as he spoke of traveling companion Agnes Nyamayarwo's strength in
living with HIV.
"I don't know how Agnes has overcome this. Her strength is overwhelming to
me. I don't think I could do it. I just don't. God is inside her. God is
inside this house. Look around. ... We are all connected in this AIDS crisis.
Pray for us, all of us, that we are guided the right way and doing the thing
of the Holy Spirit."
Spirits on the tour were lifted by a rousing reception from students at
Wheaton College that evening. "I am blown away by your joy," Judd told the
evangelical college students.
A welcoming telegram from Billy Graham - the school's most influential
alumnus - was read to Bono. "We want to stand in solidarity with what this
tour is about," said college President Duane Liftin.
"So this is Wheaton College," said Bono. "It gave the world Billy Graham and
(horror filmmaker) Wes Craven. Get them frightened and then you know where to
Recognizing the volatility of the AIDS issue, he told the students: "Our
discussion may divide some of us tonight. Why? Because I believe that if the
church doesn't respond, that it will become a largely irrelevant body that
preaches, 'Love thy neighbor,' and does nothing. It will be the salt left on
the side of a plate.
"'Love thy neighbor' is not advice," he said. "It is a command."
Quoting C.S. Lewis, Bono reminded his listeners, "All that is not eternal, is
eternally out of date." He told the students that they have a moral
obligation to battle the AIDS crisis. "You didn't start it, but you can end
it. We need your help. Let's rock and roll."
Bono spent his final day on the tour meeting with religious and civic leaders
at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) headquarters in Louisville, Ky., and
stopping off at a Krispy Kreme donut shop for a snack. The program that
evening was held at the suburban Northeast Christian Church.
"Politicians think people in the Midwest, working people who have their own
problems, care less about what's going on in the rest of the world," he said
at a new conference. "'There are no votes on this issue, Bono.' They are
When asked by UMNS if he or his organization, DATA, supported or endorsed any
specific legislation, Bono said, "I think we are keeping it broad. We are
just saying, 'Call your congressman, call the president. Let's grow a
movement.' It is fertile soil around here. This is Kentucky. I am absolutely
sure that if we start banging the dustbin lids and telling the politicians
that there is a vote here, they will switch on it."
Bono emphasized that "I'm not here as a do-gooder. This is not a cause; it's
an emergency." The tour was not a fund-raising effort; instead, it was a
consciousness- raising educational event - one that often doubled as a
revival meeting with the Gateway Ambassadors youth choir singing, praying and
dancing with fervor.
After Agnes shared her testimony, Bono said: "Let me say this in the house of
God: If there is anybody here who wants to pass judgment on a woman like
Agnes and her children - and indeed the man who gave her the virus, her
husband - maybe they should leave now. God will be the judge - not anyone in
The congregation applauded.
"Let he without sin throw the first stone," he remarked soberly.
"I guess that would clear the place. I'll be out of here," he said with a
At the benediction, Bono said, "I am normally not too comfortable in
churches. I find them often pious places, and the Christ that I hear preached
doesn't feel like the one I read about in the gospels. But tonight, God is in
# # #
*Beard is the editor of Good News magazine.
United Methodist News Service
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