Interwebs – you’ve done it again.
The information super-highway is all a buzz with discussions about the organization Invisible Children and their most recent viral video phenomenon – KONY 2012.
With over 10 million views in less than two days, this video has sparked quite a bit of discussion. Actually, “sparked” probably isn’t even the best word to use – “set flame to the centuries old thistle and brush of the arid Yosemite National Park” is probably more appropriate.
Here’s the argument – boiled down to a nice, coherent vapor.
Joseph Kony is a Ugandan guerilla group leader and head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – a group engaged in a violent campaign to establish a theocratic government throughout Uganda by use of extreme tactics such as killings, mutilation, rape, and cannibalism.
Essentially Kony ran out of fighters for his army so he began abducting children to be soldiers in his militia and women for his officers. While the LRA is no longer active in Uganda, it continues in Congo and Sudan – having now abducted over 30,000 children and displacing 2.1 million people during their 26 years existence thus far.
On Monday an organization named Invisible Children launched a video campaign to raise awareness of this conflict as well as call for the immediate capture of Joseph Kony and his military.
Quite frankly, this data breaks my heart beyond description and stirs my soul to its core. It is stories like these that breathe passion into my bones, moving my heart to rest in the house of suffering, and inspire me to passionately and feverishly search to find solutions.
Here is that video:
Bloggers have hit the proverbial detonation button on this buckshot of a story by launching a slew of rebuttal statements – predominantly about Invisible Children and their particular use of funds.
To their credit, a deeper examination of the organization’s policies does reveal some alarming information – not the least of which is the fact that in 2011, only 32% of all the money raised actually went to direct services. The bulk of the remaining funds went towards staff salaries, travel expenses, and film production (a figure somewhere in the $1 million ballpark). This is likely what earned them a mere 2/4 stars rating from Charity Navigator and is at the core of much of the surrounding controversy.
The group apparently is also in favor of direct military intervention and a great deal of the money raised goes to support the Ugandan government’s army as well as other assorted military forces – forces riddled with accusations of rape and looting themselves.
You can read much more about the ins and outs of Invisible Children here:
Then, sometime earlier today, Invisible Children posted this interesting response:
Bottom line – Kony clearly needs to be stopped – period (if, in fact, he is still alive). I think most of us can embrace that statement as a reasonable starting point. I think it’s also fair to assume that we can agree on the importance of raising awareness about such oppression – something that Invisible Children has become increasingly skilled at doing quite well.
Awareness is absolutely critical. However, we must also keep in perspective that these issues are most certainly multifaceted and highly complex. And it may surprise you, but the US has been involved in attempts to stop Kony for years, unsuccessfully – so perhaps there is more going on than many of us realize.
So let me be clear and say that I am absolutely thrilled so many people are watching this film and feeling compelled to make a difference in some way. When inspiration, creativity, and action are stirred – it can be a beautiful, beautiful thing.
But as a believer in Jesus Christ – I feel the need to respond.
This may be an enormously unpopular position to take but I think, as Christians, we need to be exceedingly careful about how we engage the language and atmosphere of hype. It is becoming increasingly important (and understandably so) for many Christians these days to “engage culture” and embrace a position of relevance as their first priority. We love titles, slogans, and movements – many of them with good reason.
The sad reality, however, is that the world of hype has an unavoidable capacity to water down the nuanced, intricate, manifold aspects of walking in Christian truth.
Farmer and author Wendell Berry writes of movements, stating that they “too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a ‘peace movement’ becomes violent… They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.” (Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers 2003)
For Christians to relearn how to communicate beyond (or without) oversimplifications and slogans of the world will be a long, demanding, and tiresome journey. It cannot simply be some hobby or side project that we address in the social forum – our Kingdom language must emit from a place much deeper than that.
In the face of great injustice, both local and domestic, we most certainly must respond – but as Christians. We must intervene as ones set apart, to live and love in peculiar ways – in the power of the Holy Spirit, not our knowledge of the most recent refresh of our timelines.
As activist and author Shane Claiborne once said:
“One thing that’s clear from the Scriptures is that the nations do not lead people to peace, rather, people lead the nations to peace” (Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President 2008)
At the core, this is my concern – that rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God’s kingdom, we’ve come to assume that our activism and rallies are God’s hope for the world, even when they look nothing like Christ. These responses raise the question, “What has happened to our political imagination?”
The painful reality is that hell is not simply some vague, warm place some are met with after death – it is a reality that many, including the children of Kony’s army are living in this very moment. Thirty thousand children die of starvation every day, over a billion go without water, and nearly forty million are dying a miserable and painful death due to AIDS.
But when Jesus tells Peter in Matthew 16 that, “the gates of hell will not prevail against you”, he wasn’t speaking of the fiery attacks of the Devil as many of us grew up thinking. In fact, gates aren’t offensive weapons at all – they are defensive, built to keep people out. Jesus is not saying that the gates of hell will not prevail as they come against us in attack – he is saying that we are called to be a people who storm those gates, and hell will not prevail us as we crash through them in scandalous grace, penetrating truth, and explosive power.
It is certainly easier to build a monument than a movement – as Shane has said, “we’re always better at bronzing our saints then following them.” We desperately need movement, but movement that is rooted in Gospel truth, the love of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t have the answers. Not even close. But what would it look like if we became less quick to watch, post, share, and consume videos and began to pick up our Bibles and re-imagine the world? What if we became communities who spent our energy creating a culture of contrast rather than one of relevancy? What if…
“Laws enforced by the sword control behavior but cannot change hearts, no matter how sharp the sword is. The redemption of the cross does what laws and bullets and bombs can never do – bring transformation of evildoers and enemies” (Greg Boyd, Myth of a Christian Nation 2007)