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Bono as Person of Faith


By Heidi Gulbrandsen, Mark Witten, Elizabeth Kim and Miriam Booy

Paper written as partial requirement for the course POLS 395

Trinity Western University, Laurentian Leadership Centre

December 2, 2005


Paul Hewson, known to the world as Bono, is an example of an individual striving to live between Christ and culture.  As a world-renowned rock-icon, the lead singer of U2, Bono has earned a myriad of labels.  Among them are: singer, songwriter, opportunist, Christian, humanitarian activist, egoist, political advocate, rock-star, father and husband.  Bono’s multifaceted life makes it difficult to understand exactly what it is that defines his success.  Arguably the most celebrated secular rock star of the modern era, intriguingly, Bono openly professes faith in Jesus Christ.  Despite his testimony, many Christians refuse to recognize this secular icon as a genuine follower of God.  In regards to his lifestyle and lyrics, many consider his faith nebulous and even questionable His humanitarian pursuits – devoid of fellowship with the Church – are sometimes heralded as activism for its own sake.  As an artist, Bono typically refuses to overtly espouse familiar Christian lyrical content expressing themes of peace, joy, praise, and love.  It is often only when one delves deep into his art, that Bono’s beliefs become evident.   The following paper will examine the way Bono lives between Christ and culture.

Many believers criticize Bono for claiming to be Christian and failing to live in accordance with Evangelical standards and norms.  Steve Stockman summarizes the cynicism of Christians as, “they drink and smoke and swear, how can you believe that they are still Christians?[i] Likewise Mark Joseph explains many believe U2 is successful in the entertainment industry because “they [are] willing to submerge strong and devout statements of faith and devotion, and instead write songs that [are] vague at best, avoiding whenever possible direct references to God…”[ii]  Despite criticisms, it is clear that Bono’s personal spiritual journey deeply impacts his music.  He boldly quotes Psalms, chants Hallelujah, and openly worships God in front of stadiums of secular audiences.[iii]  His lifestyle reflects a strong relationship with his wife Alison Stewart and commitment to his four children.  The humanitarian causes he advocates resonate from a Christian point of view with Biblical imperatives declaring the necessity of faith’s alignment with social justice.[iv]  Ultimately, the extent to which Bono lives between Christ and culture is debated.


Four different aspects will be examined with relation to this topic.  Firstly, Bono’s lyrics will be examined in an attempt to derive spiritual content and undertones.  Secondly, his role as a humanitarian activist will be considered, looking specifically at how he transfers power and celebrity into advocacy for poverty and social justice.  Thirdly, his interactions with political leaders will be analyzed. And lastly, how he fits into the Church and wider Christian community, as well as a Christian response to his worldview, will be addressed.  According to Niebuhr’s types of Believers, it will be argued that Bono is a combination of elements of ‘Christ of culture’ and ‘Christ transforming culture.’


Bono the Lyricist


The music of U2 has appealed to both Christian and secular audiences alike for well over two decades. Not only are the sounds and melodies intriguing but the lyrics exemplify powerful emotions which captivate audiences by identifying with inner emotions and struggles. The man behind these compelling lyrics is Bono, U2’s exclusive song writer. But what is Bono trying to say through his lyrics? Is he touching on spiritual or even Christian issues, as Christian fans often suggest? Although there is some truth in assertions that Bono’s songs are ambiguous, and vague[v] this can not be generalized to all of his songs.  There are many songs in which Christian content is unmistakable. In this section, some of Bono’s most popular songs, namely those from U2’s compilation albums, The Best of: 1980-1990, and The Best of: 1990-2000, will be examined for Christian content. Moreover, popular songs Bono has written from 2000-2005 will also be examined. Ultimately, the reason Bono’s songs appeal to both Christian and secular audiences alike, is because the songs resonate in people’s hearts as they are able to identify with the real-life issues of pain, doubt, fear, love, and hope. 


In 1987, Bono released, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which became an immediate hit.[vi] This song was inspired by the visit Bono and his wife Alison Stewart made to Ethiopia in 1985.  In Ethiopia they saw great disparity between the rich, city-dwellers and the poor, rural villagers who were dying in the desert.[vii] Bono comments to Propaganda, the official U2 magazine, on how he was trying to sketch with this song a feeling reflecting either a spiritual or a romantic location.[viii] He goes on to explain:

I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don’t hold you down. ‘An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making - literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side to that street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name....[ix]


Although Bono is not explicit in identifying whether this place, where the streets have no name, is a new Heaven on Earth or not, the fact that status indicators would be written off certainly suggests that it is a place to which one would aspire. At the same time that the song exhibits a hope for a better world, it also exhibits a real emotional struggle of dealing with the current world. The first verse of the song reads,

              I wanna run, I want to hide

                        I wanna tear down the walls

                        That hold me inside

                        I wanna reach out

                        And touch the flame

                        Where the streets have no name

These lyrics reveal a conflicted heart that wants to embrace and extend love, but is fearful of doing so.[x] The song’s last verse expresses the wickedness of humanity:

We're still building and burning down love
                        Burning down love
                        And when I go there
                        I go there with you
                        (It's all I can do)


In essence, this song is calling people to rise up to the challenge of loving others in spite of different backgrounds, thereby disregarding labels of race, social status, nationality etc.[xi] This notion of throwing off identity labels falls much in line with Galatians 3:28, where the apostle Paul writes, [t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Although Bono does not come out directly and speak about Heaven, he is clearly speaking about a peaceful place where love overrides all identity barriers.


Another song from the album, The Best of: 1980-1990, that contains Christian connotations, is the song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” While there are some Christians who maintain that Bono is renouncing his faith in this song,[xii] others maintain that Bono is simply expressing personal struggles with his faith and with temptation.[xiii] Still others maintain that Bono is expressing his struggle with the current world.[xiv] Whether or not Bono is indeed facing a crossroad in his faith is mere speculation, but there can be no speculation on the Christian imagery that is so evident throughout this song. Verses seven through eight read,

                      I believe in the Kingdom Come
                      Then all the colours will bleed into one
                      Bleed into one
                      But yes, I'm still running

                      You broke the bonds
                      And you loosed the chains
                      Carried the cross of my shame
                      Oh my shame, you know I believe it


This last verse seems to indicate that Bono is a follower of Jesus Christ because he acknowledges that he has been set free from shame on account of what was done for him on the cross.  If Bono is affirming his faith, then how can he also be asserting that he has not found what he is looking for in Jesus Christ?According to Stockman, Bono is not speaking of his discontent in Jesus Christ but of his discontent with the current world.[xv] Stockman writes, “To have found what you’re looking for actually means you have died and gone to heaven!”[xvi] At the same time that Christians believe the cross has changed their lives.  There is still a hope in one day moving on to a place where there is no AIDS, poverty, violence, division in the Church, selfish motives, and other things associated with a fallen world.[xvii] This whole idea of Christians still not finding what they’re looking for, falls in line with what Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


From U2’s album, “The Best of: 1990-2000,” the popular song, “Mysterious Ways,” also contains Christian content. It is interpreted that Bono is speaking about the Holy Spirit moving in mysterious ways, because the last verse directly refers to spirits.[xviii]

                     Move you, spirits move you
                     Move, spirits 'its move you, oh yeah
                     Does it move you?
                     She moves with it
                     Lift my days, and light up my nights, oh


Bono has publicly said that he believes the spirit is a feminine thing, which explains the feminine imagery he uses throughout the song.[xix]  Another Christian component to this song is the last lines in the fourth verse which read,

                    If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
                    On your knees, boy!


These lines indicate that prayer, or more specifically, repentance, is needed to reach heaven.[xx] This falls in line with Romans 10:9-10, which reads,

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.


This is not the only time Bono presents the issue of prayer through his lyrics.


In his 2004 hit, “Vertigo,” Bono approaches the topic of prayer once again, as his lyrics read:


                   Hello hello
                   We’re at a place called Vertigo
                   Lights go down and all I know
                   Is that you give me something


                   I can feel your love teaching me how
                   Your love is teaching me how, how to kneel


Bono is suggesting in this song that prayer and humility is the answer to the feeling of imbalance and uncertainty.[xxi] Again, Bono is using his lyrics to point his audience towards real satisfaction in a loving and fulfilling God.


Similarly, a song that is full of Christian content and which expresses gratitude to God is “40,” which is taken directly from Psalm 40.

                   I waited patiently for the Lord
                   He inclined and heard my cry
                   He brought me out of the pit
                   Out of the miry clay


                   I will sing, sing a new song
                   I will sing, sing a new song

                   He set my feet upon a rock
                   And made my footsteps firm
                   Many will see
                   Many will see and hear


Clearly, a song so blatant in Christian content would be likely to be subjected to criticism from secular audiences.  However, this appears not to be the case.  Jamie Howison, a priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, recounts in the following excerpt, the night he attended a U2 concert in the mid-80s and how the audience was deeply struck by the underlying message of this song:

As the band played “40,” Bono engaged the audience in singing with the refrain. As we sang, one by one the band members left the stage. Seventeen thousand voices accompanied by guitar, bass and drums; then by bass and drums; by drums alone; and finally we sang a cappella until the house lights came up and we knew the evening had drawn to its close.  Smiling, strangely subdued and peaceful, we wandered out of the arena to make our various ways home.  So peaceful, in fact, as to be almost surreal. Something about ending a concert by singing (together!) a refrain of hope and longing, set in a song of consolation and reorientation, sounded a deep chord. Maybe that is what these psalms are finally about: The sounding of deep, resonant, and truthful chords.[xxii]


This song appeals to audiences on an emotional and spiritual level, as it reiterates that humankind is in need of help from a higher source.  Moreover, audiences are able to identify with the longing for a place where there is peace and no suffering.


In examining Bono’s songs throughout the last two decades, one does not have to look hard to find lyrics that address humanitarian issues and causes. One of Bono’s most recent songs dealing with human rights is “Walk On,” which was released in 2001.  This song is about Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese activist for freedom and democracy, who has been held under house arrest since 1989.[xxiii] Bono explains:

She left the comfort of her home in Oxford, as an academic, and her family and her son and her husband, and went to do the right thing for her people. And it was just one of the great acts of courage in the 20th century. And it's continuing into the 21st century--she's been under house arrest for some time now, and people get, you know, we all get very worried about how she's doing. At first, I was writing it from the point of view of her family, or her son, you know, her husband, and then in the end I kept it a little abstract and just let it be a love song about somebody having to leave a relationship for the right reasons.[xxiv]


Essentially, this song is praising the efforts of an individual who has been bold enough to stand up to injustice and fight, in a peaceful sense, for what she knows is right. This notion of choosing the difficult path because one knows it is the right path, falls in line with the story of the prophet Jeremiah.[xxv] On several occasions, Jeremiah was thrown into prison because he spoke out against political oppression and social injustice.  Although Bono does not refer specifically to Jeremiah by using scripture in his lyrics, he does include the figures “J33-3” on the cover of the album “All That You Can't Leave Behind,” (containing “Walk On”), which refers to Jeremiah 33:3.[xxvi] Bono once expressed to a journalist how he equates these figures as “God’s phone number,”[xxvii] because God says to Jeremiah in this verse, “[c]all to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  It is logical that Bono would associate the pain and anguish Aung San Suu Kyi felt with that of the prophet Jeremiah, because these two individuals faced similar plights of imprisonment and personal loss for a greater cause.


Another song that focuses on a humanitarian issue is Bono’s song, “Pride (in the name of love,” which is a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.  On U2's “Vertigo 2005” American tour, Bono would introduce this song by shouting out to the audience,

Like Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream.’ He wasn't just talking about the American dream, no? He was talking about a dream even bigger than that...It was a dream where everybody was created equal in the eyes of God. Because everyone is created equal in the eyes of God. Sing for Dr. King![xxviii]


Jennifer Cho Salaff, who attended a U2 concert in Anaheim, remarks in her article, “All because of U2,” how Bono’s words forcefully resonated with the audience.  She goes on to say, “It was a powerful moment.  People in the audience started to sing, cheer and embrace one another. It was as if hope had physically materialized and filled the air.”[xxix]


Although Bono affirms that this is a song about Martin Luther King, Jr., he could be subtly referring to Jesus Christ.[xxx] Verse one and two of this song read:

                         One man come in the name of love
                         One man come and go
                         One man come he to justify
                         One man to overthrow

                         In the name of love
                         What more in the name of love
                         In the name of love
                         What more in the name of love


Jesus Christ was, most definitely, a man who came in the name of love, and who came to justify and overthrow the powers of evil.  Furthering the evidence of a reference to Jesus is a line in the third verse that reads, “One man betrayed with a kiss,” which could symbolize Judas’s kiss of betrayal.[xxxi]  Ultimately, this song appeals to audiences because it stresses the importance of standing up and using peaceful and loving tactics for the worthy cause of equality. 


On the whole, Bono’s songs appeal to secular and Christian audiences because the content is profoundly human, and because all people deal with the emotions of pain, doubt, fear, love, and hope for a peaceful world.  Essentially, it is the truth ringing through the songs which holds their powerful allure.  Bono is brutally honest about his own struggles in life.


While audiences may not always be aware of the Christian content in the lyrics, it is unquestionably present.  The Christian truths presented in the songs, such as loving all humankind and striving for peace and equality, are influencing audiences around the world.  The potential for subliminal alterations of peoples’ perceptions of the world is present more than they could ever comprehend.


Bono the Humanitarian:


Bono is not recognized only for his musical talents. He is an advocate of numerous humanitarian causes and pursuits of social justice. Humanitarian causes in this context refer to issues relating to poverty around the world such as debt cancellation, fair trade, AIDS, and the overall inequality between Africa and the developed world. Bono clearly uses his celebrity status of power and influence to advocate for these worthy causes. Bono honestly admits, “[he] know[s] how absurd it is to have a rock star talk about the WHO or debt relief or HIV/AIDS in Africa.”[xxxii] He also realizes, however, that someone with his kind of access to media and money can make a real difference. Ever since the Live Aid charity concert and Bono’s trip to Ethiopia in 1985, he has continued to pursue social justice to the extent that it has defined him as a celebrity. The following section will detail Bono’s involvement in using his celebrity status to advocate for various humanitarian causes, particularly in Africa.

Bono’s first public involvement with advocating for humanitarian causes was through Band Aid and Live Aid, in 1984 and 1985. Bob Geldof of the Rolling Stones spearheaded Band Aid after seeing horrific pictures of the famine in Ethiopia. He was so touched that he wrote a song incorporating several pop stars, including Bono. This song went on to become the top selling single of all time in the UK, with proceeds all going to famine relief.[xxxiii] Geldof’s famine-relief efforts continued through incorporating Bono and other stars in the Live Aid concert on July 13, 1985. Stockman speculates that Bono’s involvement in Live Aid was not about his personal journey, enhancing his reputation or selling more albums. Rather he comments “For U2, Live Aid reinforced the band’s belief that music could change the world.”[xxxiv]

The after effects of Bono’s involvement in Band Aid and Live Aid in many ways launched his pursuit of humanitarian causes. Geldof had recruited him to be part of Live Aid, but unlike other artists who simply moved on after the concert was done, Bono clearly began to make the pursuit his own.  A post-gig depression followed for Bono.  Stockman describes Bono after his Live Aid contribution as a man embarking upon a search; “there was something incongruous about a great rock celebration aiding people who were starving to death”[xxxv] It was then that Bono and his wife Ali decided to travel to Ethiopia and experience the situation for themselves. They spent 6 weeks in an orphanage and were greatly impacted by the suffering they witnessed. Bono recalls a father that walked up to him and offered his living child.  He pleaded with Bono, “You take it, because if this is your child, it won’t die…”[xxxvi] Bono vowed that having to say no to this father would be the last time he would say ‘no’ in responding to the need he saw.[xxxvii]  The experience of Ethiopia set Bono on a humanitarian pursuit that would define his rock-star career.

Bono began to get involved in various movements advocating humanitarian causes leading up to the new millennium. He joined Amnesty International and began to advocate for human rights injustices around the world. He also joined the Jubilee 2000 movement, fashioned after the Old Testament practice of cancelling debts in the year of Jubilee. This movement strived to get the World Bank, IMF, US and other wealthy nations to erase the outstanding national debts of 52 of the world’s poorest countries in the year 2000. This would erase a $350 billion debt that would allow these countries to devote money to improving health care and education, as well as implement other poverty reduction strategies. In 2001, Jubilee 2000 was renamed “Drop the Debt” and Bono stayed on as “the group’s most persuasive and high-profile spokesman.”[xxxviii] The movement was met with both frustrations and isolated success.  The most striking pledge coming from UK Chancellor Gordon Brown, who announced a concrete plan to reduce $50 billion of debt right before the G7 meeting in Bonn, 1999.[xxxix]

In 2002 Bono founded the organization DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) to further advance his humanitarian pursuits. This organization continues to be active in lobbying developed countries around the world to relieve debts, fight the AIDS crisis, provide further development assistance and encourage fair trade. Interestingly, DATA also stands for Democracy, Accountability and Transparency. This refers to the call for African governments to develop these standards, calling them to play a role in their own development. Bono recognizes that there must be some conditions and agreements involved with forgiving debt, and that it is not the sole responsibility of the developed world. Overall, at the heart of DATA’s mission is “a view that these issues are not about charity, but about equality and justice.”[xl] The organization clearly lobbies both the developed world and African governments to seek practical ways to work towards justice.

DATA accomplishes its mission largely through Bono’s personal initiative and financial means. It is a relatively small organization, with only 12 staff members dispersed among offices in Los Angeles, Washington and London. However with Bono’s reputation and personal connections the organization is well known and works with other NGO’s and celebrities around the world. One of the tools used to focus public attention on Africa is through celebrities like Bono and Geldof travelling there personally, or high profile African leaders paying a visit to the developed world.[xli] For example, in May 2002 Bono took US Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill on a tour of four countries in Africa. As Cathleen Falsani comments, DATA is not asking for money, as it is already funded by Bono, Bill Gates, Ed Scott and other high profile individuals. Bono himself comments, “We’re not asking for money here. We feel we’ve already been given the money. We’re asking you to give the President permission to spend money on this problem.”[xlii] Clearly DATA is more focused on advocating for justice through Bono’s means, rather than development work through charity.

Bono has frequently used band tours to promote his humanitarian pursuits, as was the case on the “Heart of America” tour, which has also been termed Bono’s “American prayer.”  It took place in December of 2002, touring seven states in seven days. Stockman describes how Bono took a dynamic leap back into the faith community through this tour. He spoke in Church pulpits, Wheaton College and even met up with a group of contemporary Christian artists at the end.[xliii] However, throughout all of this Bono’s call for the Church to fight AIDS was at the forefront. He challenged the people, “This generation will be remembered for three things: the Internet, the war on terror, and how we let an entire continent go up in flames while we stood around with watering cans, or not.”[xliv]

Bono clearly had an impact on the Christian community through this particular tour. This high-profile rock star from the secular world was not only associating with the Christian community, but calling them to a higher standard of humanitarian activism. At one Church, a Reverend’s reaction to hearing the plight was, “I came away convinced that Bono’s faith is genuine, his vision to relieve the tragic suffering in Africa is God-honouring and his prophetic challenge to the U.S. Church must be taken seriously.”[xlv] Bono clearly influenced the Christian artists he met with at the end of the tour as well, including DC Talk, Switchfoot, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer and Michael W. Smith. Many of these artists now promote charities themselves, following in Bono’s example. Smith in particular speaks of how Bono inspired him to write songs about the Church’s indifference, “He’s doing a great work. I believe we can’t simply turn a blind eye to 6,500-7,000 kids who die every day [of AIDS]…”[xlvi] Clearly, Bono had an impact on influencing others in the Christian community to respond to the AIDS crisis through his “Heart of America” tour.

Another Humanitarian endeavour of Bono’s labelled Live 8, took place on July 2, 2005.  It was an initiative of the “Make Poverty History” campaign he supports. Live 8 took place in 8 developed cities around the world, featuring a free concert of high-profile artists playing to “Make Poverty History.” The concert was intentionally free to demonstrate that it was not about charity, but calling on world leaders and individuals to act in addressing poverty. The “Make Poverty History” goals include pushing for trade justice, and increased aid and debt cancellation for the world’s poorest countries. The specific goal for G8 countries like Canada is to invoke a commitment of 0.7% of their GNP towards foreign aid. Bono comments in one of the promotional videos, “we are the first generation that can end extreme poverty…the kind of stupid poverty that allows a child to die of hunger in a world of plenty…”[xlvii] Bono continues to be active in this campaign, striving to make 2005 a historical year for addressing poverty issues.

As part of the “Make Poverty History” campaign and after effects of the Heart of America tour, Bono launched the “ONE Campaign” in the US, on May 2005.  Following up on the success of the Heart of America tour, this campaign is attempting to get Americans to rally other Americans to fight AIDS and extreme poverty, ONE by ONE. It is enforced by a coalition of faith-based, anti-poverty groups trying to encourage Americans to take action in signing the ONE declaration. The movement’s signature white wristbands are commonly seen on wrists across America, and even Canada, as average citizens and leaders band together to lobby their governments.

The ONE campaign specifically calls for the US government to dedicate an additional 1% of its budget towards addressing basic needs in developing countries.[xlviii] These recent, ongoing campaigns have met with some successes such as getting the leaders at the G8 summit of July 2005, to commit to a $50 billion debt cancellation for poorer countries.[xlix] However, inordinate amounts of economic, health, and political relief work remains needed in Africa, and Bono continues to be an active voice for mobilizing others to take notice and support poverty reduction campaigns.

Bono is currently active in promoting his humanitarian causes through any concert he is involved in. Making use of the high-energy in the crowd, he attempts to inspire and motivate people to act in pushing their governments to address poverty. At U2’s recent concert at the Corel Centre in Ottawa, November 25, 2005, Bono did just this. He said to the crowd, “[i]t is within our reach to provide clean water to women so that a child doesn’t die every 13 seconds…”[l] One girl left the concert so impassioned she pledged to do volunteer work in Africa for the rest of her life.[li] Although it could be argued it is easy to get caught up in the thrill of a concert atmosphere; clearly Bono attempts to use his concerts to leave a meaningful impact on others regarding poverty and social justice.

Bono is sometimes criticized for his expensive style of advocating, when he could be spending money at a grassroots level. Following the “Heart of America” tour, an editorial in Christianity today criticized Bono for squandering large amounts of money on lavish concert tours, while the Church supplied finances to effective, on the ground, aid relief.[lii]  However, Bono’s view of charity seems to reflect a more humble approach, in that he believes personal donations should be done in private. In one interview he explained his rational for turning down $23 million U2 was offered to do a car ad; “You can build a lot for $23 million in the countries I've been in. But you either tell people you're giving it away -- then, by our definition, it is no longer charity, in the sense that the right hand shouldn't know what the left hand is doing.”[liii] The extent to which Bono gives charitably is unknown, because he believes this must be done in private.  His focus is on publicly advocating for justice, rather than drawing attention to himself to create an even bigger star that could give away larger amounts of money.[liv]

Although his experience in the third world has been a powerful source of motivation for Bono, it is not where he claims to derive his strength. The credit for Bono’s motivations is always attributed to his faith.  “To me Faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned to social justice – that is not aligned with the poor – it’s nothing.” he says.[lv] Brian Tomlinson, co-ordinator of policy team for CCIC has had the chance to work directly with Bono. He notes that “[Bono’s] name was out there already and he doesn’t need this to further his cause to be ‘popular’…He uses his prominence though to gain access…”[lvi] Although it is impossible to tell exactly what Bono’s motivations are, all evidence indicates that claiming they are of an egoistic nature is unwarranted.


It is clear that Bono uses everything from organizations, to concerts to campaigns in order to promote the humanitarian causes that he believes in.  Rather than focusing on the problem, Bono lobbies for a solution. He says, “I think it’s very important to describe Africa in terms other than tragedy.”[lvii] He sees the injustice and uses his position of influence as a celebrity to advocate for change. Another of Bono’s primary lobbying tools for humanitarian causes is to associate with and seek to influence political leaders. In the past decade, the realm of political lobbying has changed drastically. Bono has helped tear down the walls that separated world leaders from discussing matters of foreign aid and debt relief with non-political figures. Bono has become a leader and advocate of humanitarian activism, aggressively catalyzing progress for open dialogue.  This essay will now explore how Bono has opened these doors with political leaders, and why he has proven successful and influential in his interactions with world leaders.


Bono the Political Activist:


In the years prior to Bono’s emergence as a political advocate the world witnessed many horrific calamities.  Civil wars tore apart Chechnya, Yugoslavia, and the world simply observed while genocide was attempted in Rwanda.  Nation’s internal feuds resulted in the loss of millions of innocent lives, and the displacement of millions more.[lviii] In addition, drought induced famine spread across Africa and North Korea, resulting in millions of people dying of starvation. The raging AIDS epidemic dealt a further blow to the continent of Africa.  Over 15 million Africans have died from the disease, while over 23 million are currently infected.[lix]  The adult population dwindles, as Africans fail to live past middle age as a result of promiscuity in combination with a lack of education, medications, and protection. 


In the case of Rwanda, the Western world failed to hear the voices of the afflicted.  The United Nations, mandated to ensure the rights of each human life are upheld, proved incapable of intervention.  From this disparity, Bono has deciphered a state of global disregard towards the third world.  Believing that if nations are pressed, they can and will make an impact with their relief efforts, Bono has established a method of direct advocacy to political leaders.  He has fashioned an unorthodox system of dialogue between a rock star and an array of world leaders.


Advocacy to Political Leaders


Bono’s fame and work with advocacy groups has opened up avenues to interacting with the leaders of the free world.  Some leaders he has met with extensively include Paul Martin, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Junichiro Koizumi, and other Members of the EU. His purpose in meeting these leaders is to publicize concerns regarding the devastation of AIDS, the disparate trade system between wealthy and non-wealthy nations, and the debt in developing nations. He believes that political leaders of the western world have a responsibility to come to the aid of these countries.[lx] Instead of charity and a ‘pay-off’ to these countries, Bono aims to see these leaders comprehend Africa’s plight, and give sacrificially, instead of in token donations. 


Bill Clinton


Through his efforts with the Jubilee Campaign, Bono made a case for third world debt relief. He lobbied for help specifically to former President Bill Clinton. In 2000, Bono appealed to the American government to encourage and increase debt relief to poor nations. His lobbying and persistence of Clinton paid off.  Clinton became a powerful ally for his cause, asking “congress to provide $435 million to fund America's share of a proposal to drop the debt held by the world's 40 poorest nations.”[lxi] Through Bono’s persistence, he gained the respect of President Clinton who praised Bono for keeping the issue of third world debt in the headlines. Clinton commended “Bono's ‘passionate devotion’ as having brought together politicians of different persuasions.”[lxii]


George W. Bush


With the founding of DATA in 2002, Bono began his advocacy and friendship with George W. Bush.  Much to the chagrin of his band mates he has allowed their relationship to become an article of public attention.[lxiii]  When interacting with Bush, Bono appeals to the common ground of their faith, correlating his advocacy with Christian principles both he and Bush affirm.  Using a Biblical framework Bono recommends principles the United States should follow in assisting third world nations. Again, persistence has proved to be the key to success. His interactions have been characterized by a staunch refusal to compromise.[lxiv] Remarkably, since forming a relationship with President Bush, the United States has legislated aid packages for debt relief and the AIDS pandemic in Africa. In 2005 alone, President Bush has designated over $1.4 billion towards relief, as well as an additional $674 million for Africa.  He has also laid the groundwork for a $15 billion, five-year project in which he plans to help alleviate the scarcity of AIDS drugs.[lxv] 


Another success in which Bono has been instrumental is the United States’ recent commitment to begin erasing the debts of African nations. Bono believes, “eliminating the debt, would relieve the countries of making debt payments, freeing them from spending new money on loans or grants – allowing allocation of capital towards social programs and economic development projects.”[lxvi]

Paul Martin    

Many believe that the Liberal Leadership Convention of 2004 was the first time Paul Martin and Bono met. However, they actually met in 1999 when Martin attended G20 as Finance Minister, a meeting for bank officials and finance ministers to discuss debt relief. Bono, who was also present, spoke at length with Martin, petitioning him to pursue debt relief. Bono appeared to have deeply impacted Martin, who soon after became a leading voice towards a principled approach on debt relief to third world countries.[lxvii] Tomlinson explains that their relationship is sustained not merely by professional means, but through a personal dimension.  Their relationship was cemented by their mutual respect. Bono respects Martin for his principled approach to debt relief, and Martin for Bono’s outstanding and sincere vision.[lxviii]


It is on account of this relationship that Bono has been able to openly praise and criticize Prime Minister Martin and advocate to the Martin government. As a result, the Martin government has made significant progress. Martin and the federal government have passed legislation for a $70 million increase in AIDS treatment funding and announced $3.4 billion dollars in the next 5 years for foreign aid increases. Canada has also slowly begun to forgive the debts of nations indebted to Canada.[lxix] Despite such progresses, Bono refuses to be satisfied until the work he envisions Canada completing is finished. He continues to petition Martin, pleading with him to increase foreign aid to 0.7% of Canada’s GNP, as declared by the UN’s Millennium Declaration.[lxx]


Tony Blair


Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain, has earned praise from Bono for responding to appeals for African relief.  Significant changes in policy and legislation in the United Kingdom have resulted in correlation to his efforts. Bono brought Blair’s attention to the plight in Africa in an open letter addressed to him in 2004. In this letter Bono depicted a grave picture of a helpless continent desperate for aid from countries such as the United Kingdom. In it he says, “because 6,400 people are dying every day in Africa from AIDS…because over 100 million children in the world don't get to go to primary school…because every year 525,000 mothers die in childbirth—we urge you to increase dramatically the aid budget beyond the 2005 target of 0.4 percent of national income and set a date for when Britain will meet its long-standing commitment to 0.7 percent.’[lxxi] According to journalist Andrew Cave, this actually cemented the foreign aid agenda of the United Kingdom. Tony Blair has since made it an absolute priority to ensure poverty is the UK’s first objective in foreign spending, resulting in a staggering commitment to increase Britain’s foreign aid budget by $25 billion per year.[lxxii] In conjunction, a deal has been brokered to eliminate debts of African nations.[lxxiii]                                                                                         


Through these aggressive legislated mandates, Great Britain has become a strong leader in relief efforts, and an endorser of Bono’s call to other nations to expand their budgets for foreign aid. Blair has joined Bono on world panels at such key events as the World Economic Forum, where they both pleaded with other world leaders to act on relieving world poverty. With Britain as President of the G8 this term, Blair, who has taken the message of Bono seriously, has made third world assistance a key theme of his presidency.[lxxiv]


The aggressive relief efforts by Blair and his government have earned avid praise from Bono. He believes that Britain is setting a strong example of what a wealthy nation’s foreign aid policy should exemplify.  He has applauded Blair and his treasury chief as people who ‘will change the world.’


Reasons for success:


Bono’s extensive advocacy on behalf of Africa’s plight has experienced many successes. How does Bono do this? Why is Bono taken more seriously than other celebrities whose efforts to infiltrate the upper echelons of political circles would likely be dismissed?  How does his work remain credible in a society where people’s motives are readily questioned? There are many reasons for his successes.


The Charismatic Leader


First, Bono is not only a charismatic advocate; he is able to use words to move people. Politicians that may dismiss other advocates, often heed Bono because he knows how to appeal specifically to them.  A striking anecdote of Bono’s efforts is his conversations with ultra-conservative American Senator Jesse Helms. Bono summarizes the conversation:

Christ only speaks about judgment once and it's not about sex but about how we deal with the poor, and I quoted Matthew, 'I was naked and you clothed me, I was hungry and you fed me.’ Jesse got very emotional, and the next day he brought in the reporters and publicly repented about Aids. I explained to him that Aids was like the leprosy of the New Testament.[lxxv]


This conversation brought helms to tears, and brought forward a dramatic change in his stance towards the necessity to help the African AIDS epidemic.[lxxvi]  Bono proves to be a rare mixture of celebrity, fame, charm, persuasion, and true intelligence. Rolling Stones Member Bob Geldof believes that the reason leaders listen to Bono is because, “[h]e’s charming, he’s passionate, he’s persuasive, and the politicians can go home to their daughters and say, I had a meeting with Bono today.”[lxxvii] Bono’s ability to eloquently challenge without alienating people is a testament to his skill.[lxxviii]


NGO Support.


Bono can also accredit his success in political circles to his connections and active role in numerous NGO’s. These NGO’s rally supporters from around the world, who work together as a cohesive voice of activism.  Because of groups like DATA, World Vision, and the Make Poverty History campaign, Bono has concrete numbers of people, as well as credibility, to back his cause when negotiating with leaders.  With such organizational connections, it becomes easier for Bono to convince leaders he is speaking on behalf of citizens both nationally and internationally, who are calling for action.  This technique has been used in Canada, where Bono has become part of the Make Poverty History campaign, using the Canadian supporters as leverage with Paul Martin.[lxxix]  Bono’s deep involvement with NGO’s makes it clear that he is not just a rock star, but a knowledgeable, supported, and polished advocate for the impoverished. 

Bono the Informed Political Advocate.


Steve Stockman believes that, “[i]t is time for people in general and journalists in particular to finally recognize that Bono is now as much a political activist as he is a rock star … people might see how he gets paid, but that does not confine his identity.”[lxxx] One of Bono’s greatest strengths is his ability to lay the groundwork for his advocacy.  To him it is not just about lobbying or a photo opportunity with a world leader.  Rather, he will ‘bury himself’ in reports and documents to further his knowledge of how better to campaign to that particular individual.[lxxxi]  “It's that combination of personality and knowledge that allows him to gain access … if he was just a celebrity, without that knowledge, he wouldn't be able to do great things.”[lxxxii] This knowledge and expertise is what sets Bono apart from other celebrity activists.  He differentiates between each leader and country, realizing appeals must be adapted to fit not only the country but the leader.[lxxxiii]  Bono looks at the political climate of the country, figures out how the government is approaching aid and sees what is being done behind the scenes. Most importantly, he invites key political advocates within the country to help him understand the nation and leader he is lobbying.[lxxxiv] It does not matter which political party is in power, Bono studies the political situation and “uses that knowledge to frame his argument in a manner that is appropriate and attractive to his audience, regardless of party affiliation.”[lxxxv] A further testimony to his dedication is his practice of pursuing his contacts personally, instead of having meetings arranged for him.[lxxxvi]


Sincerity and Passion


Senator Jesse Helms disregards sceptics that claim Bono uses his political dealings to enhance his own profile, asserting that, “Bono's concern is not a syrup-splashed public relations ploy.”[lxxxvii] Helms suggests that by following Bono’s journey one can only be blown away by the sincerity of his convictions.[lxxxviii] Another cornerstone of Bono’s success is his genuine authenticity.  He chooses to be himself and refuses to pretend to be something he is not.[lxxxix]  Lester Munson, the Republican spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says,


He doesn't press his suit, his shirt is wrinkled, he's a smoker, so he probably smells a bit, but he doesn't fake it at all. He's not putting on an act. The sincerity and notoriety might get him in the door, but once he's in, as in his day job, it's his conviction and salesmanship that get the work done.[xc]


Munson continues in saying, “[i]t's because, unlike most celebrities, he hasn't come in for a photo op and left. He's been back here over and over and over for more than two years. He has an iron butt, which is high praise in Washington because it means you can sit and listen to other people talk.”[xci]

Advocacy is not just a fleeting concern of Bono’s – it has become his life’s work.   Bono says:

They (the leaders of the world) should be afraid, because they will be held accountable for what happened on their watch. I'm representing the poorest and the most vulnerable people. On a spiritual level, I have that with me. I'm throwing a punch, and the fist belongs to people who can't be in the room, whose rage, whose anger, whose hurt I represent.[xcii] 


This spiritual responsibility Bono believes he has to the world makes him far more complex than many understand. This deeper knowledge and duty is the foundation for Bono’s humanitarian worldview. Bono’s influence and reputation within political circles has been shown to be unequivocal.  His heart for humanitarian causes and quest to portray Biblical themes of truth to secular and Christian audiences is praiseworthy.  But what should a Christian conclude about his rock’n’roll lifestyle?  Does it reduce his efforts to mere ‘good works?’  Does it nullify his appeal for the Church’s help?  How should a Christian interpret Bono?  


This paper will now explore how Bono believes imperatives from Christ and culture should be reconciled by Christians.  How can one simultaneously be a secular rock star and a Christian?  The following five positions will be explored: Bono’s opinion of the Church, renunciation of a hierarchy of sin, dependence on grace, refusal to divide his life into Christian and secular components, and his ability to see ‘good’ in both people and the world.  Exploration of these categories will shed light upon his view of how Christians should live in a fallen world.  His worldview will be characterized as a combination of Niebuhr’s ‘Christ of culture’ and ‘Christ transforming culture’ typologies.

Problems with the Church:


It is no secret that Bono’s spiritual walk has occurred largely in the absence of the Church.[xciii]  He is a lone warrior, disconnected from the larger body of believers.  While petitioning evangelicals for assistance on his Heart of America tour, he honestly informed them, “I’m not so comfortable in the Church, it feels so pious and so unlike the Christ that I read about in the scriptures.”[xciv] 


Referring to the AIDS, debt, and famine in Africa, Bono says, “if the Church does not respond to this, the Church will be made irrelevant—millions and millions of lives are being lost to greed, to bureaucracy, and to a Church that’s been asleep, and it sends me out of my mind with anger.”[xcv]  Unless the Church reaches out to the world, Bono feels it is culturally irrelevant, and incapable of drawing a fallen world closer to Christ.


Further developing his scepticism of the Church, he explains that “it’s lukewarm believers that drive me out of the Church.”[xcvi]  Cozy complacency is the source of Bono’s condemnation.  He brands the Church as a whole with an egoistic concern for their own comfortable lives, and an ignorance of foreign crisis.  Bono’s stance is that: “you cannot as a Christian, walk away from Africa.  America will be judged by God if, in its plenty, it crosses the road from 23 million people suffering from HIV, the leprosy of the day.”  His ultimatum is that, “Christianity itself is on trial.”[xcvii]


Noting that 2103 verses of scripture refer to helping the needy, he says, “[i]t’s absolutely clear what’s on God’s mind.”[xcviii]  Bono believes the only way to bring the world’s fallen culture closer to Christ, is by fulfilling God’s commands and coming to the aid of a continent plagued by health, economic, and political malaise.  Bono believes the Church is called by God to bring aid to Africa. 


However, many argue it is Bono’s personal lack of involvement in the Church, not its own negligence, which leaves him with the overall impression of complacency. His critical judgments of the Church have frequently prompted the question ‘how would you know?’  After leaving his Church at the age of nineteen to go on tour, it quickly became impractical to attend public services due to his celebrity status.[xcix]  His minimal experience with church life leaves Bono judging the Church's mission and relevance mostly in geopolitical terms.[c]  Only recently has he begun to give the Church credit for their relief work in Africa over the years by missionaries and indigenous Christians.[ci]

Furthermore, many Christians claim it is unjust to blame the Church when they fail to convince their national leaders of increasing foreign aid assistance.  Christians have also questioned if his pleading for social justice without worshiping God regularly within the community of the Church is little more than activism for its own sake.[cii]  Certainly, any person can stand outside the Church and critique its obedience to the gospel.  Yet part of God's call on a Christian's life is to walk inside the Body and die to oneself through relating to other fallen human beings.[ciii]  “Christians are hard to tolerate, I don't know how Jesus does it—I’m one of them,” admits Bono.[civ] 

Despite the antagonism he has demonstrated for much of his career, in recent years Bono has appealed to the Church for its help, and found them to be surprisingly receptive.

I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me.  I used my background in the scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it.  Amazingly, they responded.  I couldn’t believe it.  It almost ruined it for me–cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity.  But they actually came through.


Bono’s recent experiences with the Church have revealed to him how the body of believers is capable of instituting the transformation he believes is possible in Africa.[cv]  Before, Bono saw the Church as a tragic waste.  Now, he recognizes the church as the body that Christ will use to reach out to Africa and draw culture closer to Himself.  Bono remains critical, but his worldview is unmistakable.  Christian’s cannot remain in this world, ignore its plights, and put their hope in heaven like a Nieburhian “Christ against culture” Christian.  Social activism is the only way to reconcile the enduring problem, without being hypocritical and inauthentic.


Looking inside the Church has undoubtedly softened Bono’s heart.  He describes how, “I’ve started to see this community as a real resource in America.”  Bono admits that while, “I have described them as narrow minded idealists, if you can widen the aperture of that idealism there’s people that want to change the world.”  His words reveal an element of the ‘Christ transforming culture’ types’ hope for a fallen race. For Bono, it is impossible to be a Christian without avidly working in this downtrodden world


No Hierarchy to Sin:


Another of Bono’s criticisms of Christians is their obsession with what he refers to as a ‘hierarchy of sin.’  He reports that, “from my studies of the scriptures I don’t see a hierarchy to sin--I don’t see sexual immorality registering higher up on the list than institutional greed, or any other Western problem.”[cvi]  When asked how he believed Bono would reconcile his faith with his rock’n’roll lifestyle that involves cigars, a wide repertoire of cuss-words, and Jack Daniels whiskey, author Steve Stockman ventured to say that he doubted he would find it any more crude than many other lifestyles.[cvii]  Bono sees the entire world as tainted by sin.[cviii]  The piety that some feel they earn by following behavioural codes and ecclesiastical dues sparks only his indignation.  There is no way to save one’s self.  Fully comprehending he is a sinful man, Bono relies not on his own piety, but on Grace.  We are equally immersed in culture, and it is impossible for people to separate themselves from culture by their own righteousness.  


Amazingly, in the Band’s decades of touring there has been a solitary substance abuse scandal.[cix]  It involved Adam, the one non-Christian member of the band known for his more hedonistic lifestyle.  Adam was the target of a drug bust, and missed one concert in Australia.  Shortly following, he pronounced himself ‘clean.’  In an industry where sensational headlines and scandals, “are almost part of the job description,” for Bono to be fond of whiskey and openly enjoy the party life may be an evangelical scandal, but in the world he lives in, it is almost boringly good behaviour.[cx]  Bono does not feel convicted of a lifestyle influenced as much by his Irish heritage as his rock star status. In an electronic mail, Stockman explained that Bono would never compromise his influence on the rock industry to conform to what he believes are largely man-made religious rules.  Bono is not going to cooperate and be a traditional evangelical.[cxi]


Unfortunately, as Stockman describes, for many Christians there are specific qualities that indicate whether one is a ‘spiritual acrobat,’ or fake.  Typically they concern swearing, smoking, and drinking.  Stockman believes there are also biblical teachings that are often not weighted with equal importance.  Among them are: materialistic greed, bigoted prejudice, the oppression of women, and the neglect of social justice.[cxii]  Stockman defends Bono’s lifestyle, explaining that somehow you can ignore the calls of Christ and the prophets, but because you are less flowery with your language and attend church twice a week you are considered spiritually strong[cxiii]—a modern day Pharisee.


While upholding Evangelical standards is of little priority for Bono, he is passionate about the things that matter to him, which are his music, his family, his friends, Africa, and his faith.  A 23 year marriage to his high-school sweet-heart Alison is an almost unheard of commitment for a man who spends countless nights in hotel rooms.  Bono knows his priorities, but has no intention of conforming to a standard that that would allow Evangelicals to more comfortably consider him a ‘Christian.’


No matter ones efforts to distance them self from culture, Bono appreciates that “we can’t escape this world.”  It is futile to turn one’s back on culture.  A ‘Christ against Culture’ rejection of the world is ignoring God’s commands to help the poor and to remain “in the world.” A ‘Christ and Culture in paradox’ approach entails a lack of authenticity and truth which Bono condemns as glossing over the realities of this world.[cxiv]  For Bono, being in the world means one must recognize that sin defiles all, and that people must refrain from attempts to save themselves through the Church, material wealth, or their careers.  Rather, Christians must look directly at the ugliness of this world, and act.  In Bono’s case, being “in the world,” is being a rock-star with phenomenal influence in secular and political circles, and doing everything he can within society to let Christ work through him to transform culture.  




The only way in which Bono can justify his imperfect life with his faith, is by God’s Grace.  An interesting pattern of almost self-effacing humility is apparent in Bono’s articulation of his faith.  He is quick to speak about how lost, sinful, and ugly a person he is.  And because he is painfully aware of his own shortcomings, he embraces what he describes as, “the most powerful idea that’s entered the world in the last few thousand years—the idea of grace—why I am a Christian.”[cxv]  He explains grace as the complete opposite to physical laws of “equal and opposite reactions” and religious decrees of “reaping what you sow.”  He articulates that, “in my case grace is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff—when I think of the cross, I just see mine, and everyone else’s s--- up there.”[cxvi]


Interestingly, Bono doesn’t actually refer to himself as a Christian.  “I’m a believer but I don’t set myself up as any kind of Christian—I can’t live up to that—It’s something I aspire to, but I don’t feel comfortable with that badge.”[cxvii]  Bono doesn’t want to be an idealized poster-child for Christ when people should be looking not at him, but to their Saviour. “I’m not a very good advertisement for God. I generally don’t wear that badge on my lapel.  But it certainly is written on the inside somewhere,” he says.[cxviii]


When in 2001, Bono discovered that a poll found only 6% of Evangelicals felt they should be doing something about the AIDS emergency in Africa, he stated that, “the idea that people with AIDS reap what they sow is missing the entire New Testament covenant, and the concept of grace.”  That Christ would seek a relationship with someone as sinful as he, in his own words, “brings him to his knees.” Grace is what allows Bono to seek truth through authenticity and transparency.  It is what fuels his efforts to bring culture closer to Christ.[cxix]    


Refusal to Compartmentalize Life:


Bono refuses to compartmentalize Christianity and the ‘world.’  Essentially, Bono believes dealing with different aspects of ones life through separate worldviews is destructive.  One can not go to Church on Sunday with conviction, and then forget about God and live as an anthropocentric business mogul throughout the week.  An imperfect congruency between faith and culture is evident in Bono’s life.  Bono has often remarked that the members of U2 have their heads in heaven but their feet in the mud.[cxx]  There is no separate rock star and Christian persona.  It’s all him; and he is the first to admit it’s a messy combination.  In his own words, “it’s just me, warts and all.”  For Bono, culture contains an unequivocal element of despair.  Shutting out that element and focusing only on a perfect God, while living in a tragic world, entertains dishonesty and severs genuine connection with God. 


“I think there was a certain uptightness to the first three albums,” he commented.  “I thought you had to have all the answers to write a song.[cxxi]  It’s embarrassing to make a record filled with questions.  But I realized it’s okay to say you ‘still haven’t found what you’re looking for.’”[cxxii] Once Bono came to this realization, U2’s songs became more and more about honest struggles of personal faith, and the confusion that faith suffers from facing the world.[cxxiii]Stockman claims that at times the evangelical Church is nurtured by the sensational; the healing extravaganzas the sell-out worship concerts, the conquering all mentality, and dealing with every ailment physical, emotional, and spiritual.[cxxiv]  Bono and U2 are like the antidote to that reality.[cxxv]  Bono looks directly at the dark side of life.  He does not feel a need for glib solutions to what the kingdom is taking time to bring.[cxxvi]  His music questions, praises, and dialogues with God. 


When asked how he reconciles rock’n’roll, the Devil’s music, with the gospel, Bono answered: 

I was never tormented in the way those early rock and rollers were between gospel and the blues. I always saw them as parts of each other.  The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God.  Both recognize the pivot—that God is at the centre of the jaunt.  So the blues on one hand is running away; gospel, the mighty clouds of joy, is running towards.[cxxvii] 


Throughout his career, individuals have likened Bono to David, the morally flawed Psalmist. Bono explains the validity of questioning God through the Psalms, saying:  

The blues are like the Psalms of David.  Here was this character living in a cave whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise.  There’s David singing “oh God – where are you when I need you? You call yourself God?”  And you go, this is the blues. I’ve realized that anger with God is very valid.[cxxviii]

The only way for Bono to reconcile the tragedies of this world with a perfect and all-powerful God is to let his music reflect the world’s fallen nature.  Only through authenticity, transparency, and questioning can Bono simultaneously place himself in the realm of Christ and of culture.  For Bono, to live and be active on agonizing human rights issues necessitates pleading, and getting frustrated with a God he believes can transform the African continent.  On the album, Pop, Bono says… “Jesus I’m waiting here boss, I know you’re looking out for me, but maybe your hands aren’t free.”  Like David, he believes it enough to get angry when it appears God is nowhere to be found.


Bono’s refusal to acknowledge a separation between rock and faith demonstrates his reluctance to divide one’s life into separate spheres of competency.  Bono refuses to place specific cultural realities on an inferior level to direct imperatives from Christ.  Christ is in rock’n’roll and the Gospel equally.  Bono is not compatible with Niebuhr’s ‘Christ above Culture’ Christian.   


For over two decades, Bono has straddled the poles of faith and secular culture without rejecting his faith.  Many Christian artists that make the transition to the secular music industry have in time fallen away.[cxxix]  Utilizing what has been interpreted as Bono’s worldview, one could assume that he would see such a phenomena as a result of inauthentic divisions of one’s life between Christ and culture.  When Christians give God only a sphere of their lives, the internal dissonance will eventually consume them.  Refusing to openly question God, and allowing inevitable doubts to well up inside, while attempting to live a Christian life, inevitably leads to either falling away, or ignoring the misshapen nature of life.


Bono is so immersed in this world that he simply cannot create what he would call inauthentic art.  His music acts as an outlet of truth.[cxxx]I think carrying moral baggage is very dangerous for an artist,” he says. “If you have a duty, it’s to be true and not cover up the cracks.  I love hymns and gospel music, but the idea of turning your music into a tool for evangelism is missing the point.”[cxxxi]  Glossing over the doubts and the difficulties of faith does no service to Christianity.[cxxxii]


Imperatives from Christ and from culture can be treated no differently without falling into Bono’s realm of untruthfulness.  Bono needs to be the ‘blues Psalmist.’  His music is a reflection of how he sees a perfect God and a fallen culture in a constant battle.  His journey has personified how faith and the world continually caress and collide.[cxxxiii] 


Seeing God in Culture:


It has now been established that Bono’s spiritual journey is upheld by fusing imperatives from both Christ and culture.  As a rock-star Bono perceives culture as a vehicle to do good for the sake of Christ.  Bono explains his receptiveness of culture, saying “I have this hunger in me.  Everywhere I look I see the evidence of a Creator.  But I don’t see it as religion, which has cut my people in two.  I don’t see Jesus Christ as being any part of a religion.  Religion to me is almost like when God leaves – and people devise a set of rules to fill the space.”[cxxxiv]


Although Bono construes culture and Christ as inseparably intertwined, he still finds it ironic that society accepts rock’n’roll as a vehicle for his witness and activism.[cxxxv]  Regardless, he accepts that God is willing to use his celebrity status for good.  He is a rock star, and he makes no excuses for it.  “There’s nothing worse than a rock star with a cause—but celebrity is currency and we want to spend it this way—it’s preposterous and absurd that you have to listen to it from us.  But that’s how the media works.” he expresses.[cxxxvi]


There is no formula of what worldly aspects of existence Bono will accept or discard.  He fails to see a reason to reject culture because he recognizes, despite looking through a warped cultural lens, that Christ is in everything.  “The spirit moves through us and the world at a pace that can never be constricted by any one paradigm,” [cxxxvii]  he explains. Speaking from a Nieburhian ‘Christ of culture’ perspective, Bono sees no problem in Christ expressing himself through cultural mediums, including rock music.  Bono does not recognize the need of ‘Christ and culture in paradox’ Christians to condemn a fallen world as incompatible with gospel ethics.  He does not acknowledge irreconcilable imperatives from the world and from Christ.  Bono sees Christ in everything. 


Bono expands on his perception of there being no distinction between Christ and culture, in saying, “I began to see religion as the perversion of faith. I began to see God everywhere else. In girls, fun, music, justice and still – despite the lofty King James translation – the Scriptures.”[cxxxviii]  This refusal to dichotomize Christ and culture is another element that aligns his worldview with Niebuhr’s ‘Christ of culture’ type. Niebuhr describes this type as one in which Believers focus on the elements of Christ’s commands that most seamlessly overlap with contemporary culture – interpreting Christ through a cultural lens.  In one sense, Bono actually deals with the enduring problem, by disregarding it.  He refuses to differentiate culture from Christ, accepting that God is equally present in culture as in the Scriptures.  Although Bono feels strongly that culture is a powerful way to communicate with God, and that ignoring culture is a dishonest truncated form of Christianity, he does not go so far as to assimilate Christianity into culture.  Despite his powerful emphasis on grace, he gives few indicators that he focuses merely on the elements of scripture most easily reconciled with Scripture.  When asked about the brutality of the Old Testament he replied:


There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ—the Bible paints a picture of a very demanding sometimes divisive love, but love it is.  The Old Testament is like the journey from a stern father to friend, it was a strict relationship of worship and awe – a vertical relationship—in contrast in the New Testament we look at a Jesus that is caring and familiar, horizontal.  The combination is what makes the Cross.[cxxxix]


Bono is not a theologian, but he is seeking truth.  “People have been perverting the Holy Scriptures since they were first written,”[cxl] he remarks in addressing the importance of the Bible.  Far from a cultural assimilation of Christianity, Bono is bent on fulfilling the most taxing commands given to God’s people.  His faith, he states “is what gives [him] the strength to get up every day and put forth a hundred percent of [his] energy.”[cxli] 


Ultimately, Bono is so immersed in the world he lives in that he can not break his gaze from the tragedies of the world.  However, despite the Earth’s suffering, he continues to believe in ‘Christ as a transformer culture.’  A stark dualism between the Earth’s fallenness and Christ’s transformative power fuels Bono’s life. To balance characteristics of Niebuhr’s ‘Christ of culture’ category, Bono demonstrated a profound hope in Christ’s power to transform the Earth in the present.  This hope for this world, allows Bono to see the good in people. 


When Bono speaks of world leaders he always begins from a place of trust and belief in their inherent goodness and desire to do something beneficial.[cxlii]  In Vancouver, speaking of Paul Martin, he tells the crowd, “he’s a good man, and you’ll have to touch the good in him to open a door to change.”  Bono always invites the Holy Spirit to move during his concerts either in song of in prayer.  He truly believes that if He can touch the good in us, perhaps He can open a door in our hearts to transformation.[cxliii] 


Some critics claim Bono’s spirituality is simply a ‘show.’  However, given the profound distaste a pluralist world has for those who purport absolute truth, there is little logic in such rationale.  What other secular musician would be taken seriously talking about Jesus Christ?  What other over-paid rock star could gain such respect among the world’s leaders?  Bono is the definition of culturally relevant, and his raw authenticity and passion to fulfill Christ’s commands is what gains him his credibility. 


Ultimately, Bono believes that Christ is what can transform the pain he deciphers in this world.  Bono believes that through Christ, culturally relevant Christians that refuse to gloss over the tainted nature of this world, can transform it.  He tells Mitchka Assayas, “if only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed.”[cxliv]  Bono refuses to give up on this world.  Cultural relevance, for Bono, has little to do with being a rock star.  Rather, cultural relevance is allied with truth and facing issues like famine, debt relief, and AIDS – humbly recognizing that you are no better than people in Africa.  Ignoring culture all together is heretical. Attempting to save oneself through religion and going to Church does not suffice. 



In conclusion, Bono’s solution to the enduring problem is that it is not only possible to reconcile culture with Christ – it is necessary.  Dividing Christ and culture into separate realms of one’s life is inauthentic.  Bono may be a foul-mouthed, Christian, rock star, but that is a constant whether he is on stage, writing lyrics, talking to politicians, or speaking to church leaders.  His unashamed authenticity depicts how Bono feels it is imperative not to dichotomize culture and Christ.  He recognizes that grace redeems our failure to be perfect, but that our fallen nature is no excuse to neglect the needy.  Ultimately, Bono is a powerful voice within culture, proclaiming that only by recognizing the needs of the poor and sick, and upholding the cause of social justice, can Christ transform culture.   


Nonetheless, as Christians, it is still difficult to know how to interpret Bono’s appeals to political leaders and the Church.  His voice is unapologetic—his decrees often callous and thankless.  His lifestyle provides an argument for Christians to disregard his quest for authenticity, profession of faith, and political activism.  His sunglasses, charisma, and media attention is an invitation to be disregarded as a self-absorbed egoist. 


Yet Biblical narratives are littered with peculiar, arrogant and harsh characters that God has chosen to use.  To assert that Christ would reject, or avoid using Bono, is to claim a deistic status, abdicating ones rightful place of submission. 


Eugene Peterson diagnoses one of the maddeningly enduring habits of the human race as the insistence on domesticating God.[cxlv]  Humans strive to harness God to their projects—attempting to reduce God to something that conveniently fits into their plans and ambitions.[cxlvi]  People find comfort in men and women coming alongside them, affirming their lifestyles with their conformity. 


And then a prophet shows up and tells them to change — that they must pull culture closer to Christ’s ideals.  The prophet brazenly informs Christians they can’t fit God into their plans, but that they must fit into his.  That they cannot use God, but that God wants to use them to transform the world.  Amos wrote poems, Jeremiah cried sermons, Isaiah alternately rebuked and comforted, and Ezekiel did street theatre.[cxlvii]  Bono writes songs and goes on tour, singing them.[cxlviii]

Clearly, Bono does not claim the status of a prophet, or announce a direct message from God.  Rather, he views himself as a humble individual, searching for truth in a broken world.  “I am just trying to figure it out—everybody wants to make an impact with their life,”[cxlix] he explains.  Bono has chosen to make an impact by challenging Christian’s assumptions of what counts in life, shaking their North American existences with his counter-cultural appeals to the Scriptures.

In every age, religion has served as a convenient cover for cozy self-righteousness and a judgemental rejection of suffering sinners.[cl]  For Christian’s to disregard this often unwanted sore in their side may be the rejection of an imperfect man that God has chosen to use to call Christians to His will.  Prophets are rarely well received by those they criticize.

Criticism aside, leading filled stadiums in outright worship, Biblically based activism, influence upon world leaders, and altruistic charity of both time and money, is a witness that is difficult to disregard.  Bono’s humble admission of sin and grasp of God’s love and grace, make deconstructing his lifestyle almost petty.  Christian’s should interpret Bono as a powerful combination of Niebuhr’s ‘Christ of culture’ and ‘Christ transforming culture’ types.  A meld that asserts that through Christ’s power, culturally relevant Christians that avidly work on behalf of the less fortunate, can transform the world.

Warranting Bono’s prophetic call to truthful evangelism, acceptance of grace, and social activism, is an important and stretching undertaking for Christians.  Accepting Bono requires seeing past what is easy to judge, as Christ sees through man’s sin.  Acknowledging the merit of Bono’s prophetic solutions to the enduring problem can do little but wrench a fallen world closer to a perfect God.


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[i] Steve Stockman, Walk On: Spiritual Journey of U2 (Orlando: Relevant Media Group

 Inc., 2005), 2.

[ii] Mark Joseph, Faith, God, and Rock & Roll: How People of Faith are Transforming

 American Popular Music (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 202.

[iii] Ibid., 204.

[iv] Stockman, 44.

[v]  Joseph,  202. 

[vi] “Where the Streets Have No Name: Soundbite,”  <> (23 November 2005).

[vii] Stephen Butler Murray, “Deliverance Where the Streets Have No Name,” In Get Up Off Your Knees, eds. Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2003), 43.

[viii] “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb: Soundbite,” U2 <> (23 November 2005).

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Murray, 47.

[xi] Brian J. Walsh. “Walk On: Biblical Hope and U2,” In Get Up Off Your Knees, eds. Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2003), 80.

[xii] “The Joshua Tree: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” U2Mol <> (26 November 2005).

[xiii] “Wikipedia: The Joshua Tree.” Wikipedia <> (26 November 2005).

[xiv] Steve Stockman, “Pressing On with U2 and Paul,” In Get Up Off Your Knees, eds. Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2003), 87.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] “Achtung Baby: Mysterious Ways.” U2Mol <> (26 November 2005).

[xix] “Songfacts: Mysterious Ways.” Songfacts <> (26 November 2005).

[xx] “Achtung Baby: Mysterious Ways.”

[xxi] Russ Breimeier, “U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” <> (23 November 2005).

[xxii] Jamie Howison, “The Psalms, the Blues, and the Telling of Truth,” In Get Up Off Your Knees, eds. Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2003), 36.

[xxiii] Douglas LeBlanc, “Honest Prayer, Beautiful Grace,” Christianity Today 45:2 (5 February 2001) Online, Ebsco Host: Academic Search Premier, <> (24 November 2005).

[xxiv] “Walk On: Soundbite,”

<> (23 November 2005).

[xxv] Michael J. Gilmour, “The Prophet Jeremiah, Aung San Suu Kyi, and U2’s All that you Can’t Leave Behind.” Journal of Religion and Society 5 (2003) <> (26 November 2005).

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Jennifer Cho Salaff, “All Because of U2,” (3 April 2005) <,1413,212~23497~2797096,00.html> (26 November 2005).

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Mike Kinman, “An Army of One,” In Get Up Off Your Knees, eds. Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2003), 155.

[xxxi] Angela Pancella, “Drawing Their Fish in the Sand,” @U2 <> (24 November 2005).

[xxxii] Josh Tyrangiel, “Can Bono Save the World.” Time (2002) <> (24 November 2005).  

[xxxiii] Stockman, Walk On, 46-47.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 44.

[xxxv] Ibid., 44.

[xxxvi] Tyrangiel, “Can Bono Save the World.”

[xxxvii] Cathleen Falsani. Bono's American Prayer,” Christianity Today 47, no.3 (2003) <> (23 November 2005).

[xxxviii] Tyrangiel, “Can Bono Save the World.”

[xxxix] “Drop the Debt Campaign Triggers $50 Billion Proposal From Gordon Brown,” Jubilee 2000 Coalition  <> (23 November 2005).

[xl] “What is Data?” DATA <> (19 October 2005)

[xli] “The Issues: AIDS, Debt, Trade, Development Assistance,” DATA

<> (23 November 2005).

[xlii] Falsani.

[xliii] Stock Stockman, Walk On, 204-207.

[xliv] Falsani.

[xlv] Stockman, Walk On, 105-106.

[xlvi] Ibid., 209.

[xlvii] “Watch These Now: Bono.” Make Poverty History <> (24 November 2005).

[xlviii] “About the Campaign.” ONE <> (23 November 2005).

[xlix] “Year So Far,” Make Poverty History  <> (23 November 2005).

[l] Glen McGregor, “For Generation Walkman, a Sort of Homecoming,” Ottawa Citizen 27 November 2005, C4. 

[li] Ibid.

[lii] “Bono’s Thin Ecclesiology,” Christianity Today (March 2004) <> (21 November 2005).

[liii] “Meet the Bomb Squad,” Irish Times (23 December 2004) <> (29 November 2005).

[liv] Debbie McGoldrick, “U2’s Big Bucks Tour,” Irish Voice (22 June 2005) <> (29 November 2005).

[lv] Stockman, Walk On, 44.

[lvi] Tomlinson, Brian. Personal Interview. 14 November 2005.

[lvii] “In the Name of Love,” Challenge Newsline no.54 (October 2005) Online,

Ebsco Host: Academic Search Premier, <> (24 November 2005).

[lviii]  “Past Wars,” Global Security

<> (30 November 2005).

[lix] Jenni Fredriksson and Annabel Kanabus, “HIV and AIDS in Africa,” AVERT

<> (30 November 2005).

[lx] Stockman, Walk On, 194.

[lxi] “U2’s Bono Appeals to US,” BBC News (22 September 2000)

<> (20 November 2005).

[lxiii] Stockman, Walk On, 190.

[lxiv] “AIDS: The U.S. Anti-AIDS Program,” Council on Foreign Relations (28 November 2003) <> (1 December 2005).

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] Vanderhei, Jim and Neil Henderson. “Bush OK’s plans to erase billions in African Debt,” (29 November 2005).

[lxvii]  Tomlinson.

[lxix] Bill Curry, “Foreign Aid: A Five Year, $3.4-Billion Increase,” The Globe and Mail (23 February 2005) <> (23 November 2005). 

[lxx] Tomlinson

[lxxii] Andrew Cave, Bono and Blair in Harmony Over Fight to End Poverty,” Telegraph (28

January 2005) <> (30 November 2005).

[lxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxiv] Andrew Cave, Bono and Blair in Harmony Over Fight to End Poverty,” Telegraph (28

January 2005) <> (30 November 2005).

[lxxv] Bunting, Madeleine Bunting, “Bono Talks of US Crusade.” The Guardian (16 June 2005) <,,1507503,00.html> (23 November 2005).

[lxxvi] Ibid.

[lxxvii] Steve Stockman, Walk On, 192.

[lxxviii] Tomlinson.

[lxxx] Stockman, Walk On, 193-194.

[lxxxi] Gil Kaufman, “Keys to Bono’s Political Success: Passion and an Iron Butt,” (31 May 2002) <> (19 October 2005).

[lxxxii] Ibid.

[lxxxv] Kaufman.

[lxxxvi] Tominson.

[lxxxvii] “Bono’s Campaign for Africa,” People 63, no.25 (27 June 2005) Online, Ebsco Host: Academic Search Premier, <> (24 November 2005).

[lxxxix] Kaufman.

[xc] Ibid.

[xci] Ibid.

[xcii] Nedra Pickler, “Bono Discusses the World's Poor with Bush,” ABC News (19 October 2005) <> (21 November 2005).

[xciii] Stockman, Walk On, 3.

[xciv] Falsani.

[xcv] Ibid.

[xcvi] Stockman, Walk On, 244.

[xcvii] Joseph, 217.

[xcviii] Falsani.

[xcix] Stockman, Walk On, 53.

[c] “Bono’s Thin Ecclesiology.”

[ci] Stockman, Walk On, 139.

[cii] Ibid.

[ciii] Ibid.

[civ] U2 Quiz: 30 Questions for Those Who Have Ears to Hear,” Canadian Christianity <> (17 November 2005).

[cv] Stockman, Walk On, 203.

[cvi] Falsani.

[cvii] Stockman, Steve.  E-mail.  November 25. 2005.  

[cviii] Kerry L. Smith, “Bono’s UN Plea.” The Rolling Stone  no.935 (November 2003) Online, Ebsco Host: Academic Search Premier, <> (24 November 2005).

[cix] Stockman, Walk On, 116.

[cx] Stockman, Walk On, 116.

[cxi] Stockman, E-mail.

[cxii] Stockman, Walk On, 117.

[cxiii] Ibid.

[cxiv] Kevin D. Hendricks, “Bono & Christian Music,” (15 December 2002) <> (25 November 2005).

[cxv] Michka Assayas, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (New York: Riverhead, 2005), 226.

[cxvi] Ibid., 228.

[cxvii] Falsani.

[cxviii] Ibid.

[cxix] Ibid.

[cxx] Stockman, Walk On, 70.

[cxxi] Ibid. 68.

[cxxii] Ibid.

[cxxiii] Ibid.

[cxxiv] Ibid. 132.

[cxxv] Ibid.

[cxxvi] Ibid 133.

[cxxvii] Anthony DeCurtis, “Bono: The BeliefNet Interview,” BeliefNet (February 2001) <> (23 November 2005).

[cxxviii] Smith.

[cxxix] Joseph, 217.

[cxxx] Falsani.

[cxxxi] DeCurtis.

[cxxxii] Hendricks.

[cxxxiii] Stockman, Walk On, 4.

[cxxxiv] Stockman, Walk On, 18.

[cxxxv] Falsani.

[cxxxvi] Falsani.

[cxxxvii] Stockman, Walk On, 206.

[cxxxviii] “Psalm Like it Hot,” The Guardian (31 October 1999) <> (21 November 2005).

[cxxxix] Assayas, 149.

[cxl] Smith.

[cxli] Mann.

[cxlii] Stockman, Walk On, 242.

[cxliii] Ibid.

[cxliv] Assayas, 140.

[cxlv] Peterson, x.

[cxlvi] Ibid.

[cxlvii] Ibid.

[cxlviii] Ibid, xi.

[cxlix] Stockman, 219.

[cl] Peterson, xii.



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