Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bono: Christ Won't Let the Church Walk Away from AIDS Crisis

From the Christian Post ... Bono: Christ Won't Let the Church Walk Away from AIDS Crisis. In full ...

Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels received a phone message from someone named Bono – a rock star to millions around the world, but a person Hybels, a country music fan, knew little of.

When he returned the surprising call, Hybels soon discovered that God had orchestrated the crossing of paths with a person that would open his eyes and heart in new ways – a person who was trying to "vision-cast" the churches and wake them up to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

"I never liked the church," U2's Bono said in an exclusive interview with Hybels, which was featured at the 2006 Leadership Summit on Friday. But ever since the rock star took a Live Aid trip to Ethiopia two decades ago and revisited the questions raised then on poverty and disease, he's been on a mission to get the world and especially the churches on board to fix what is "fixable," as Bono said.

He pondered, how come churches aren't getting on board with the greatest social cause of the day?

Bono himself has been using his celebrity influence to bring attention to the heart-wrenching scene in Africa.

"Music is my first love," he told Hybels, thanking God for his gift. A melody playing in his head inspires him to get up every morning. Bono pointed out another reason that gets him up each day: the ONE Campaign. The campaign, voiced by a host of celebrities with Bono as the leading man, as well as faith communities, was launched to mobilize Americans for the cause of poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Calling the "celebrity" thing "ridiculous," Bono plainly stated, "I'm a rock star ... but I have a head for the world's poor."

Bono – TIME magazine's 2005 Person of the Year along with Bill and Melinda Gates – was featured at the Leadership Summit because he "understands influence," which is what leadership is all about, Hybels explained. And he's leveraging his influence for the sake of the poor and sick.

We want to represent the most poor and vulnerable, Bono said.

When Bono came into Hybels' life, the megachurch pastor found it "ironic" that a rock star was approaching the church with a cry to help the poor and the sick – a command that Jesus had clearly given and that churches were typically known to do. However, churches have always been behind on such issues, said Bono. And he explained the reason being a fear of politics and a judgmental attitude about the AIDS virus.

While churches have largely been in the charity and homeless feeding scene in their local communities, their presence has been foreign to the millions suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Charity is important, Bono noted, but the desire of the churches for justice is what the world really needs, he added.

Responding to the absence, the rock star emphatically said, "Christ won't let the church walk away from the AIDS emergency."

Church leaders agreed. After Bono's comment, applause rung out among the Leadership Summit attendants at Willow Creek and the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn – one of some 125 “satellite sites” nationwide participating in the annual leadership conference.

"'Love thy neighbor' is not advice," said the rock artist. "It's a command.

"We can be the instrument of God's grace."

Speaking from the pulpit, as Hybels described it, to tens of thousands of church leaders, Bono told them, "Let's walk together ... [and] stand up for the least of these."

And in recent years, the Church has stood up, or as Bono described it, "something dreadful happened – the Church started to wake up." He now holds respect for the Church.

In partnership with World Vision, Willow Creek Association created the Courageous Leadership Award where the church that most exemplifies the gospel in action (associated with HIV/AIDS service), will be awarded $100,000 to help fund that particular church initiative. The winner will be selected and awarded at next year's Leadership Summit.

In the meantime, the exclusive interview with Bono which includes scenes of U2 concerts is being made available, by Bono's permission, to each church that wants to show it to awaken the congregation to the AIDS pandemic. Copies will be made only from Willow Creek and from there distributed.