Waiting for a recent flight, I tried to tune out the CNN newscast dominating the gate area, but like honey to a bee, a news story about Bono drew me in.
You may have heard in recent years and read on this blog about Bono’s “U-turn” on the role of business in poverty alleviation. After years of lobbying countries for millions of dollars of charity to Africa, the lead singer of U2 now sees that business, not aid, is the best approach to poverty alleviation in developing countries.
Bono said in 2012 that it was “a humbling thing” for him to have this realization, especially as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the clichés.”
In a speech this fall to the UN, he spoke again about his conversion experience. A Daily Mail article captured the response of a conservative British MP Peter Bone who puffed,
I’m delighted to hear that Bono is finally seeing sense.
Why did this quote rub me the wrong way? Was it just that I disliked anyone criticizing the ineffable Bono, or was there something deeper?
Bono’s ‘Aha’ Moment
I too am glad about Bono’s change of viewpoint. As IFWE highlights extensively in For the Least of These, free market trade has done more to lift millions out of extreme poverty than any other well-intentioned approach.
And while some aid may be critical in certain circumstances, ongoing aid can have disastrous effects by creating dependency and eliminating local competition and growth. Perhaps the tone of the MP’s comment was apropos and expressed well-earned frustration.
Yet I still disliked the slightly arrogant tone I heard in it.
Bono has worked for years to raise awareness of the plight of the poor and utilized his global platform for social advocacy. Certainly thousands or more lives have been saved and millions have been dramatically improved. The website for his advocacy group, ONE, claims that the group, along with fellow advocates, have provided millions access to AIDS medication, significantly reduced cases of malaria, and increased the number of children in school.
Yet certainly some aid that Bono has generated has potentially been wasted or caused unintentional harm. So was the MP justified in his complaint or not?
What Bono’s ‘Aha’ Moment Teaches Us about Ourselves
Living and working in Washington, D.C. all of my career, I’ve worked with many passionate advocates, many of them with Bono’s fiery personality. Most of them have been on one side of the aisle, advocating for justice on issues that are close to God’s heart.
There can be ardent, well-intentioned Christians on both sides of many a debate. I’ve come to appreciate the passion of those on the “other side,” even though it’s sometimes seemingly misguided. If it weren’t for many of these individuals pressing their cause, many of us may have remained in an ignorant or apathetic state.
But the journey of an activist like Bono to the best idea may not always be a pretty one.
They provoke and disrupt.
They can go overboard.
They can do damage and they can do good.
They can feel lost when their righteous deeds turn sour, when the well they lovingly dug goes dry because its recipients had no knowledge or means to repair it.
We must pray for them in their journey even though we may disagree and say so, too. God is pleased with their indignation at injustice.
But if and when they arrive, like Bono, at some of the solutions we already see as the more effective ones, and perhaps come to see the very ideas they originally disdained as being part of the problem, let us cheer them on in their journey. They’ve done well along the way in raising awareness, in awakening many from slumber.
Romans 12:3 says,
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
It’s easy to write about not being arrogant. It’s harder to live that out in the deeply held beliefs we hold so dear. What seems most notable about this scripture is that it precedes the passage about the Body of Christ being one yet having many members and different roles.
Thank God for the activists and thank God for the thinkers. Let us love one another and respect the part each of us plays in the journey toward flourishing.