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Kristi York Wooten

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Bono, Facebook and the Challenge of Following the Jesus of the Poor

Posted: 05/22/2012 4:19 pm

This post was co-authored with Joshua Case.

When reports surfaced that Bono's investment group, Elevation Partners, would make upwards of a billion dollars after the Facebook IPO last Friday, dozens of websites got snarky with the Irish rocker: "Bono will be richer than a Beatle," "It's a 'Beautiful Day' for Bono," etc. Even celebrity blogger Perez Hilton quipped, "Since he earned most of his money from the stock market, this officially makes Bono better at investing than music. LOL!"

Meanwhile, Bono, 52, appeared on MSNBC to talk with Andrea Mitchell about poverty after making a speech alongside the POTUS at the Chicago Council's Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington. Both the Facebook frenzy and the Symposium took place mere hours ahead of the opening of the G8 Summit at Camp David, where poverty and the global economy were sure to be hot topics of conversation.

Bono told Mitchell, "Hunger is a ridiculous thing," and later, when the discussion switched to the Facebook windfall, "I felt rich when I was 20 years old and my wife was paying my bills. I've always felt like this, I mean -- being so blessed."

Blessed, indeed. Yet, is this all in a day's work for the musician who's spent nearly 30 years simultaneously rocking the world and using his voice (and the innovative organizations DATA, ONE and RED he co-founded) to fight AIDS and poverty? Or, now that he's a bit wealthier, should we feel conflicted about this superhuman sinner-saint?

When you have a conversation with Bono, he holds your hand and looks you straight in the eye. When he's onstage with U2, crooning "Amazing Grace" just before the Edge's guitar rings like church bells in "Where the Streets Have No Name," it's as if Elvis left the building, but God stayed in the room (and by "God," I don't mean Bono). And what about his personal role (along with countless NGOs and many other wealthy philanthropists, including most notably, Bill and Melinda Gates) in reducing deaths from HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria?

Regardless of how much cash Bono's crew made off the Facebook offering, we shouldn't blame him for investing smartly.

One of the ironies of the Facebook IPO and the scrutiny Bono's faced since is that social networks have played a huge role in creating the current culture of activism his various campaigns helped spark. (Read more here if you need living proof of impact.)

Professor Nancy F. Koehn of Harvard Business School compares Bono to a CEO of "'Creative capitalism," who, along with his bandmates, developed business savvy long before he ever had a hit. As for his propensity to do good, Author Kim Girard says Bono's campaigns are social and viral in nature -- and aligned with the 21st century's "growing spiritual hunger among young people, backlash against Wall Street greed, and the revolutions in the Middle East."

Justifying personal wealth is something Christians have long struggled with. How can we lay down everything and follow Jesus if our portfolios are too precious to leave behind? And does the Gospel actually call Christians to that kind of artificial laying down of influence or is there something even more radical at stake in being a Christian, with wealth?

Neither scholars nor pastors across any tradition will give you a straight answer on what Jesus would do with the kind of wealth Bono has accumulated. And let's be clear, neither the power nor politics of Jesus' day would have afforded even the idea that there would be such inherited or shared wealth 2000 years later among the descendants of the small sect of Jews who followed the radical from Nazareth.

However, what scholars will tell you is that Bono's principle commitment to fight for those on the margins of society is something that the Christian Bible holds as principle to its message.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

Whether onstage in his signature sunglasses or making serious speeches with world leaders, in his success, Bono embodies the challenge that all Christians face in following Jesus as people who are blessed. The greatest threat to faith and justice in the world is that those who are blessed lose sight of their mutuality with others.

For rich and for poor, Bono has not forgotten.

Joshua Case is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and the Lay Assistant to the Rector at Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Ga.

 

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