Does U2's Bono Support Donald Trump?

05/19/2017 07:39 am ET Updated May 22, 2017
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Bono is on tour and denouncing Trump. The problem is that Bono unwittingly helped get Trump elected. Bono did this by providing cover for the white evangelicals that are Trump’s most reliable base.

Bono has for years burnished the image of the far right hate-monger and Trump-booster Franklin Graham, and his hell-preaching fundamentalist father Billy. Bono has also provided photo ops for other white evangelical leaders including Mike Pence and W Bush. These are the people that put Trump in power by paving the way for white far right evangelicals to take over the Republican Party. And Bono has offered respectability to the ugly American evangelical far right movement by identifying himself with them both theologically and philanthropically. He even allows Franklin Graham to use him on the Billy Graham website. That site is designed to raise money for the Billy Graham’s empire that is also a far right hate machine that attacks gay rights, liberals, women’s rights and Muslims.

Bono might not like Trump now but Bono (like so many other trendy lefty Christians) is part of the problem. Bono’s theology is part and parcel of the exclusionary “Jesus-is-Lord” evangelical view of “salvation” from hell. That view is pure “Alt-Fact” and anti-science to the core because it takes the collection of myths called “The Bible” literally. This brand of fundamentalism is the basis of the white evangelical exclusion of the Other, or as evangelicals call everyone who aren’t “born-again”― “The Lost.”

The cool Christians from U2’s Bono ― who doesn’t call himself a Catholic or a Protestant, but simply a Christian but who nevertheless is closely linked to American evangelical organizations and to the evangelical style of “Jesus is Lord” beliefs ― and the Sojourners group led by evangelical Jim Wallis, and all the rest of the kinder gentler mildly lefty evangelical leaders contributed to getting Trump elected. They don’t like Trump, but they did provide cover for the white evangelical Trump-voting mob. They provided cover by making the word evangelical  respectable.

Trendy lefty Christians softened the public image of an exclusionary hate-filled religion. Some of them, like Bono, did more than that: Bono let himself be used by the theocratic gay-bashing, Muslim-hating, Trump-defending conman Franklin Graham, to bolster the image of the Graham empire.

The cool Christians like Bono provide cover for the haters. Critics of the far right evangelical movement can be answered with the words “But not all evangelicals are like that! What about Jim Wallis? What about Bono?” Moreover by not repudiating the evangelical mob and in the case of Bono, by allowing himself to be used by the likes of Trump-shill Franklin Graham, for fundraising and propaganda purposes, some of the cool Christians on the left have actually helped forward the cause of far right white nationalist Trump voters and climate change deniers. In that sense the religious faith of Bono and company has helped doom the planet.

Evangelical theology set the stage for Trump. So did people calling themselves Christians on the left, who did not stand up to the American evangelicals.

The kinder gentler evangelicals represent well-meaning people within the movement, but their overwhelming allegiance is to a truly monstrous exclusionary theology that opened the door to a leader who makes a mockery of all authentic spiritual practice. The stage was partially set for Trump because the “good” (or cool) evangelicals (or their boosters and fellow travelers like Bono) went along with the big time religion machine. They might have been politically on the left, they might even have spoken against Trump, but they never rejected the Only-Jesus-Saves exclusionary evangelical theology. They never denounced the evangelical movement itself as an ugly fraud. They never denounced the Bible itself as a source of hate.

As one reader noted after reading my views on this issue of evangelical culpability, “There is an interesting and tragic parallel between ‘liberal’ Zionists and ‘cool Evangelicals.’ They both get to imagine that they are progressive while simultaneously enjoying the ego-emboldening benefits of fascism. It is a fundamental hypocrisy that they are equally blind to.”

The underlying problem is the theology driving the white evangelical Trump-voting mob: exclusivisitic/intolerant monotheism. And therein lies the problem shared by the so called Christian left too. They don’t question the certainty addiction that is the heart and soul of Christianity itself.

When one sees Bono’s picture with Franklin Graham on the Billy Graham website Bono validates the organization headed by Franklin Graham― that gay-hating, Muslim-bashing Trump supporter.

I first met Franklin Graham when we were both 9 years old and Billy traveled to my parent’s mission of L’Abri Fellowship with his family. My family were close friends with Billy and Ruth over many years. When I denounced the evangelical movement that my parents and the Grahams represented (in my memoir Crazy For God) I got a letter from their daughter Ruth thanking me. She said that I’d told the truth about the movement we both grew up in. Speaking of the Graham children Ruth wrote “We were sacrificial lambs.”

In other words evangelical leaders were into power, and put “ministry” whereby they built that power, ahead of everything, including their own families (as most preacher’s kids well know). They are still into power.

As for me, I played a deadly ego-driven role as my fathers sidekick and facilitator in the rise of the militant anti-abortion religious right. I fled but I’d contributed to the national cataclysm that morphed into the Trump tsunami some 30 years later.

When you check out Franklin Graham’s website here’s what you find: Bono all over it, a poem “to Billy Graham” included...

A Poem from U2’s Bono to Billy Graham By Kristy Etheridge   •   September 1, 2014 Franklin Graham, Bono and Billy Graham in Montreat, North Carolina, in 2002 As Irish rock band U2 makes headlines with its groundbreaking album release, visitors to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, have the chance to check out a lesser-known piece of history from the band’s famous frontman, Bono. The poem, along with a photo of Ruth Bell Graham and Bono, is behind the glass inside one of the many rooms of the Library. It shares a display case with notes and memorabilia from sports legends and presidents. Created to be an ongoing Billy Graham Crusade, the Billy Graham Library opened to the public in 2007. The dedication ceremony was attended by former Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush and a crowd of nearly 1,500. The Library’s Journey of Faith tells the story of how God used a dairy farmer from North Carolina to reach the world with the Gospel message, offering the free gift of Peace with God to millions. The handwritten poem penned by Bono for Billy Graham is on display at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visitors hoping to check out the handwritten note from Bono, along with historic photos and videos from around the world, can stop by the Billy Graham Library six days a week. It’s open from 9:30 – 5, Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sundays and some holidays.

Is this Graham quote in the glass case next to Bono’s poem too?

“Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized — and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad,” Graham wrote. “During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now?”

Graham has long been an outspoken critic of Islam, as the Religion News Service reported:

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion” and last year called Islam “a false religion.” In 2010, he apologized after questioning President Obama’s Christian faith, saying he was “born a Muslim … and the Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs.”

“Basically for years, since 9/11, he has waged a campaign against Islam, against the rights of Muslims,” Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center, told Religion News Sservice.

Will Bono’s next “poem to the Graham family” be put next to Graham’s gay-bashing statements?

In 2015 Franklin Graham joined James Dobson at an event in Colorado where the two warned against allowing gay people into churches because, according to Graham, they are representatives of “the Enemy” who wants to “devour our homes” and “devour this nation.”

On his radio program today, Dobson played excerpts from his discussion with Graham at the event, in which called for Christians to keep their kids away from gay people and to take over school boards across the nation in order to remove gay-friendly programs.

“We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches,” Graham said. “I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parent’s children.”

“What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving,” he continued. “We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to effect the others in the church and it is dangerous.”

Graham then went on to lament that “homosexuality is taught to be okay” in schools and “that is why I want to get the school boards back” before insisting that he loves gays and therefore feels obligated to tell them that “you cannot stay gay and call yourself a Christian.”

Trump’s assault on women is okay with evangelicals too...

Evangelical leaders including Franklin Graham, stood by (then) Republican presidential candidate Trump, even after a video was released containing his lewd remarks about women.

Trump bragging about groping women. “Grab them by the p—y,” Trump said in a recording. “You can do anything.”

Ralph Reed, the conservative Christian activist and one time shill for the casino industry, and the head of Trump’s religious “advisory board,” said that as the father of two daughters, he was disappointed by the “inappropriate” comments. “But” he added, “people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” he said in an email.

“The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended,” Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook “But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended.” “The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court,” Graham said.

There you have it: blind backing for a white man who promises to strip women of rights ― when not grabbing their genitals ― is fine as long as “we” the good white male evangelicals gain power and control in the Supreme Court again and run the government. And as for Bono and the Grahams? The hell-spewing eternal damnation Grahams are fine by him.

...[W]ithout really knowing it, Trump has presented a secular version of evangelical eschatology. When the candidate talked of an America on the brink of destruction, which could only be saved by returning to the certainties of the past, it perfectly fit the evangelical narrative of moral and national decline. Trump speaks the language of decadence and renewal (while exemplifying just one of them). In the Trump era, evangelicals have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice for their pains – which is significant. And they have gotten a leader who shows contempt for those who hold them in contempt – which is emotionally satisfying. The cost? Evangelicals have become loyal to a leader of shockingly low character. They have associated their faith with exclusion and bias. They have become another Washington interest group, striving for advantage rather than seeking the common good. And a movement that should be known for grace is now known for its seething resentments.

Bono has a message for Donald Trump: “You’re fired!”

Bono went head-to-head against the (then) Republican presidential nominee at a benefit concert, engaging in a verbal back-and-forth with a virtual version of Trump. “Only real question we have for you this evening: What is your vision for this great nation?” Bono asked a giant television screen showing Trump’s image at the Dreamforce concert in California. Edited clips of Trump replied: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that well.” “A wall? Like the Berlin Wall? Like the Great Wall of China?” Bono, a donor to the Clinton Global Initiative, shot back to the video screen.

Good for Bono... but ...

Bono, like many other cooler nicer white Christian leaders has been giving cover to the evangelical belief system that the Graham family represent and that got evangelicals lined up behind Trump to begin with. Post-election, and on the eve of the band announcing a tour to support the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree,” Bono walked his anti-Trump stance back. “I opposed Trump while all the time understanding that many of the people who support him are the kind of people I grew up with, and can see myself in to this day,” he told U2.com in an interview back in January.

And a month later, Bono made a point of meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and thanking him for voting for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief back in 2003, while seemingly ignoring Pence’s much-criticized positions that many believe enabled a serious HIV outbreak in Indiana. In other words Bono returned to the evangelical white fold. Pence is a hard right reconstructionist working to turn America into a theocracy. Bono had a similar evangelical-coddling relationship with W Bush: concentrate on the “good works” (AIDS-relief, whatever) and just never mention the exclusionary Jesus-Saves theology that Bush, Pence ― and Bono ― all believe in.

But Trump and Pence aren’t Bono’s real problem: Christianity itself is.

Where was Bono’s public denunciation of the Billy Graham organization years ago for preaching a literal hell? In fact where is Bono’s questioning of Jesus’s embrace of the hell myth? Where was Wallis denouncing the idea that only Jesus saves? I ask because Trump isn’t the problem, the white evangelical theology (or the Bono-style evangelical/Catholic version of it) that prepared millions to be deluded, is. If you are part of a religion into burning the lost―forever, then Trump looks like your kind of guy. He’s as angry, jealous, thin-skinned and petty as your god.

According to Wikipedia, Bono’s work as an activist, “is due largely to his Christian beliefs and began in earnest when, inspired by Live Aid, he travelled to Ethiopia to work in a feeding camp with his wife Alison and the charity World Vision, an Evangelical Christian humanitarian aid, development, and advocacy. With regard to Bono’s 2013 declarations in interviews published and videotaped about his faith in Jesus,  he said that Jesus was either who he said he was (God), or he is “a complete and utter nutcase.”

As early as 2005, Bono was invoking this evangelical-style argument, identified as the “Lewis trilemma.” In other words Bono is an evangelical-style believer basing his faith on the sort of nonsense that CS Lewis spouted about Jesus being God... because of who he said he was. The problem is that we haven’t a clue about Jesus. We don’t know what he said about who he was or anything else about him because all we know about Jesus is what other people said he said.

The cooler sorts of evangelicals know this and try to find ways to soften the blow. For instance they dabble in the works of René Girard.

Girard (1923-2015) was a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science. He is most well-known for  “Mimetic theory.” In other words, we imitate others and this imitation motivates our behavior. Girard trains his literary eye on religious myth and finds mimetic desire (learned behavior) in the practice of scapegoating and ritual sacrifice. Most founding myths revolve around the death of an outsider at the hands of the community in a sacrifice of a scapegoat. After the cathartic violence be that a lynching or Aztec human sacrifice, the mimetic desire to kill the outsider vanishes, and peace is restored to the insider’s community.

Girard argued that Jesus represented the ultimate scapegoat. But it seems to me that Girard’s philosophy isn’t powerful enough to disguise the ugliness of the atonement supposedly found in the purpose of Jesus’s crucifixion and sacrifice “for us.”

To Girard, the cross exposes scapegoating as a fallacy and thereby empties it of retributive overtones. No one got killed to save anyone. Rather there’s a coded subtext in the Bible that says instead Jesus’ death’s meaning is that the horror of atonement is in fact answered. Jesus according to Girard didn’t “die for your sins” (as my Mom would have put it) rather he died to show that sacrifice is passé. According to Girard, the Bible’s stories deconstruct and then denounce scapegoating.

Only they don’t. To find the nice side to the New Testament and a kinder-gentler Girardian God or Jesus, one has to reduce even the so-called kinder-gentler Christian version of the Bible to coded secret information, to a humane conspiracy theory, that can be understood only by the enlightened. Girard’s wishful thinking is just that. There is no nice version of the Bible.

The same sort of wishful thinking applies to other “thinking” evangelical voices, my late father included.

Francis Schaeffer, CS Lewis etc., offered a better way to think of spirituality, Lewis didn’t believe hell was a one way street― as was clear in his book The Great Divorce. And my dad was lovely, compassionate and kind― as I glowingly describe in my memoir, including Dad welcoming gay men and women at his ministry.

But...

Dad’s kindness and his interest in culture and the civilized voice found in his books doesn’t solve the problem: the essential “biblical” narrative is sheer nonsense. CS Lewis, my dad, et al were in the end serving a delusional theology.

Nonsense is fine, myth is fine, delusion is fine, “following Jesus” is fine.... until deluded people wallowing in a fact-free existence seek power over the lives of others, and “win” an election. Then a Donald Trump (or Putin in Russia) can “save” America (or the world from gays as Putin says he’s doing with the backing of the Russian Orthodox Church and white nationalists everywhere) and “make it great again.”

Private religious delusion becomes public oppression. Just ask Iranian woman or Russian lesbian or Saudi dissident poets, or for that matter many a home schooled evangelical child. Worse: Trump’s sheer incompetence as a human being and conman, didn’t prevent white evangelicals from embracing him based on their anti-fact view of the “world.” The believers in a fake religious truths (say the reality of Hell and Noah’s Ark but not in the science of climate change) were ready to embrace a fake fact-fearing man and his own Alt-Reality. For years evangelicals have been saying that facts are overrated. They found a habitual liar to agree.

People ask how Franklin can be so mean when Billy was so nice.

Answer: Billy’s theology is as mean as Franklin’s because they both believe that the Bible is literally true. And the Bible is a mean book full of wonderful stories but when it is taken seriously Bible-belief leads to exclusionary madness.

Nice evangelicals are nice in spite of what they say they believe, not because of it. In fact many nice evangelicals bend over backward to humanize and as it were, to excuse their Bible’s and their “god’s” exclusionary meanness... “We may worship a God who will burn his children forever, but hey, look! We’re also running a soup kitchen!” “We’re starting an intentional community in a black part of the city to reach out...”

A questioner contacted Billy Graham quite recently and asked: “Why would a loving God send anyone to hell? I can’t reconcile the idea of hell with Jesus’ teaching about love. I’m not sure I even believe in hell anyway. Maybe everyone will be saved, even if they weren’t expecting it.”

Graham quoted Luke 12:5, where Jesus says, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” “It may surprise you to discover that no one taught about hell or warned us against it more than Jesus – and we should take his words very seriously,” responded Graham, then 92, to the questioner on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s “Billy Graham’s My Answer” site. In other words since evangelical faith (including the kinder gentler Bono/Wallis brand) is built on exclusion however nicely put, Trump isn’t the problem, the evangelical view of the Bible as the “Word of God,” is the problem.

*

Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of sixteen nov­els represents everything that is most deranged about American re­ligion.

To understand why Trump became president ― with 81 percent of the white evangelical vote ― you have to understand the importance of the Left Behind novels, and all they represent.

The Left Behind novels have sold tens of millions of copies while spawning an “End Times” cult, or rather egging it on. In this world of harbingers of doom Trump’s conspiracy theory-laden self-made apocalypse fits with the evangelical’s perpetual hysteria perfectly.

Trump’s anti-everyone-but-us platform mirrors the evangelical view of the world that Bono, Jim Wallis and the cool evangelicals have been comfortable with too. According to Billy Graham’s theology God will be revenged on anyone not like us. There are us true believers and then everyone else. The evangelical Jesus creates the “Other” and there is no escaping this by rattling on about “justice” and “inclusion.” Exclusion is at the heart of the evangelical gospel. The love talk is just window dressing.

Trump isn’t the problem ― it’s the theology stupid!

Trump wasn’t the first to tell evangelicals that liberal opinion, science and political ideas that contradict far right claims are “fake news.” Evangelicals ― like Billy Graham ― have been saying the same thing for generations.

Evolution? Not true! Gays born that way? Not so! Men and women equal? No! The Bible tells us women must obey men! ... and so forth. Never mind what science says. The Bible is true!

Trump’s and the evangelical’s message is one and the same: do not trust “worldly knowledge!” Trust only what your pastor (or Trump) tells you! The entire evangelical mindset is predicated on special information that only the initiated “get” and that science contradicts.

Face it― the problem that produced Trump is a theological problem. Those who cover for the white American evangelical “brand” are in fact just setting the stage for more Trumps.

White American evangelicals and their good friends like Bono, will be associated with Trump for a long time now. As Rod Dreher writes in  “Christians Tempted By Trump Idolatry” (American Conservative):

[A]nti-Trump blowback will do severe damage to the church’s reputation. Trump’s election solves some problems for the church, but given the man’s character, it creates others. Political power is not a moral disinfectant. And this brings us to the more subtle but potentially more devastating effects of this unexpected GOP election victory. There is first the temptation to worship power, and to compromise one’s soul to maintain access to it. There are many ways to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar, and some prominent pro-Trump Christians arguably crossed that line during the campaign season. Again, political victory does not vitiate the vice of hypocrisy. * There is also the danger of Christians falling back into complacency. No administration in Washington, no matter how ostensibly pro-Christian, is capable of stopping cultural trends toward desacralization and fragmentation that have been building for centuries. To expect any different is to make a false idol of politics. * What’s more, to believe that the threat to the church’s integrity and witness has passed because Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election is the height of folly. * One reason the contemporary church is in so much trouble is that religious conservatives of the last generation mistakenly believed they could focus on politics, and the culture would take care of itself.

In a recent analysis, the Pew Research Center found that more than three-fourths of white evangelicals approve of Trump’s job performance, most of them “strongly.” With these evangelicals comprising about a quarter of the electorate, their support is the life jacket preventing Trump from slipping into unrecoverable political depths.

As Dreher says, it will not matter if you are a cool Christian like Bono or Jim Wallis, who spoke out against Trump during the campaign, or who did not vote for him. Evangelicals are going to own him.

As my friend Jeffrey Kripal, (J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion, Rice University) emailed to me after he’d he read a draft of this blog:

What your essay says to me is that religion itself is the problem. As long as we do not honestly struggle with these religious ideas and beliefs, that is, as long as we do not engage them as religious, we will not resolve our present crisis. We will just skirt the surface of things and never get to the root of the problem, which is religious. And that will take decades of hard work, rigorous thinking and moral courage. There are no simple solutions here. Just listen to the media. NO ONE asks, “Well, does this belief make any sense at all? Does this claim find support in the scriptural texts? What about these other passages? And why prefer this interpretation over that one?” Or the really big one: “Why do we care at all about what the Bible says or does not say?” Why give away our authority, responsibility and humanity to this, or any other, collection of ancient texts? Instead, the media talks endlessly about the easy stuff, about surface things, like which demographic will vote for which candidate, or how many there are of this or that. No one ever gets to the core questions, which are religious or theological in nature. There is the real conversation.

Just how stupid has evangelical support for Trump been?

As Dreher notes: “Some evangelicals have compared Trump to King David, who himself committed adultery and murder. But David’s story began with a profound reliance on God who called him from the sheepfold to the kingship, and by the grace of God it did not end with his exploitation of Bathsheba and Uriah. There is no parallel in Trump’s much more protracted career of exploitation. The Lord sent his word by the prophet Nathan to denounce David’s actions—alas, many Christian leaders who could have spoken such prophetic confrontation to him personally have failed to do so. David quickly and deeply repented, leaving behind the astonishing and universally applicable lament of his own sin in Psalm 51—we have no sign that Trump ever in his life has expressed such humility. And the biblical narrative leaves no doubt that David’s sin had vast and terrible consequences for his own family dynasty and for his nation. The equivalent legacy of a Trump presidency is grievous to imagine.”

White evangelicals, including the cool ones own Trump... Franklin Graham made sure of that

Transcript of Bono’s poem to the Grahams:

The journey from Father to friend is all paternal loves end It was sung in my teenage ears In the voice of a preacher loudly soft on my tears I would never forget this Melody line Or its lyric voice that gave my life A Rhyme a meaning that wasn’t there before a child born in dung and straw wish the Father’s love and desire to explain how we might get on with each other again…

To the Rev Billy Graham (that preacher) Ruth and all the Graham family From Bono (March 11 2002) With much love and respect

This poem was written was written pre-Trump you say. Sure but the problem wasn’t ever Trump. It is evangelical belief.

What does Bono love and respect as far as the “core questions” Billy Graham spent his life preaching? Was it this? “[A]n unsaved sinner’s destiny is separation from God, a place that Jesus has called Hell,” as Billy Graham said.  “I have talked to doctors” Billy added, “...who have held the hands of dying people, and they say there is as much difference between the death of a Christian and of a non-Christian as there is between Heaven and Hell.”

This seems to be a long way from Bono’s claim that Graham helped him see “how we might get on with each other again…” Nice thought, but it’s not the reality. Trump is.

Social consciousness raising aside, the true core of the kinder, gentler evangelical “left” is revealed in Billy Graham’s delusional embrace of hell and more recently, in the latest Great White Evangelical Hope for “restoring America”― Trump.

Everything else is just wishful thinking.

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