Sharpening the Focus on Bono as Believer
- Thursday, June 27, 2013
The name alone sets American Evangelical hearts atwitter. To many, he’s more than just a rock star who professes Christ; he’s a pied piper, and we are the children who sing "I Will Follow." So when he’s interviewed by outlets within our own media subculture, it's more than just news; it's an event.
Such was the case regarding his recent conversation with Focus On The Family, a ministry of record for conservative Christians and punching bag for secular progressives. For Bono – a man so at ease with the latter – to have a sit-down with the former is a Big Deal. Indeed, it wasn't enough to just publish the interview by Focus President Jim Daly; the interview itself had its own pre-release publicity. Select quotes were being leaked, discussed, and analyzed days before having the benefit of full context, so thirsty were the faithful to be justified by the world's coolest Christian.
Now if you're sensing a bit of cynicism from me at this point then, well, you may be right – but not because I have something against Bono. If anything, I'm a Gen-X cliché in believing that U2 is the greatest rock band of all time. I’ve seen them in concert multiple times, over decades, always anticipating most above all the spiritual highs of "Where The Streets Have No Name" (and being doubly-exultant when it's paired with the likes of "40" or "Amazing Grace"). The chills they create are not just palpable but communal, and truly spiritual. It’s not even fair to all full-time worship bands, but there it is.
Nor do I have any qualms with Focus (or Willow Creek, or Saddleback, or _______ ministry/Christian publication) conducting an interview with Bono – or even with publicizing said interview heavily. More power to them. They always get my attention.
And honestly, it’s not even that my fascination with this whole phenomenon between Bono and Evangelicalism is cynical; rather, it's anthropological. The excitement it creates is amazing. Just as Dug the dog from Pixar’s UP is so easily distracted by "SQUIRREL!", so too are many Evangelicals by the mention of "BONO!" The buzz among Evangelicals surrounding a Christian-based Bono interview is, in some respects, even more revealing than the interviews themselves (and that’s saying something). So what follows isn’t so much an analytic of the Jim Daly/Bono conversation (of which there are many to be found elsewhere) but rather the clamor that comes with it.
Evangelicals are obsessed with being relevant. In some respects that obsession is well-intended, even altruistic, and finds its full expression in the icon of Bono. In other respects, it reflects an insecurity of our place in culture. It starts with a desire to reach the masses but can then distort into a desire to be admired by them, or worse yet a need to be better than them. Being relevant for Evangelicals can easily devolve into something dysfunctional, to be in the world and of it while asking Jesus to bless it. And when it stands as the virtue to which all others must bow – and even be sacrificed – Relevancy becomes a Faustian bargain.
Some Evangelicals have become so fixated on being relevant that they've lost sight of being subservient. The cart is always before the horse. An argument could be made that Relevancy has become non-denominational orthodoxy. As in, the Gospel’s great but it needs a better marketing plan to attract the lost with a cleaned-up version of what they already have. We call it being concerned for the world, but how much of it is being concerned with what the world thinks of us? The reality is that the more secular our culture becomes, the more square we get – but then Bono hangs out with us and speaks our language and suddenly we’re hip by association.
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