If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.
Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.
The whole sermon is worth reading, in my opinion, but I'm going to fast-forward you to the part where Bono starts talking about the difference between charity and justice.
Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.
Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.
I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."
It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.
Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.
In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.
Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.
But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.
And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.
Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.
And that's too bad.
Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.
But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.
Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.
It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.
You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."
And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."
"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."
So on we go with our journey of equality.
On we go in the pursuit of justice.
Finally, Bono ends with this challenge:
Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:
I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.
What is 1%?
1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.
1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.
1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.
America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.
1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.
These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.
Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.
But I can tell you this:
To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.
There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.
I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.
History, like God, is watching what we do.
Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.
Unlike any number of excellent progressive religious sermons, what is different about this one is that it was given *to* the President. I am the first to be cynical about George Bush's ability to actually *hear* this message. But maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I need to think of it like this: if *God* wants to get through to George Bush, or any other legislator who remembers the words "annointed" and "preach" but forgets the part about "good news to the poor", God can certainly do that. Using any means necessary--including *our* voices.