This weekend, I was away speaking at at a retreat in the Poconos and on my long drive back, I was reflecting over a few things. I had the thought that if I was in Uganda trying to rebuild my life and my community and I had become aware that many in America had been talking about me, my country, my region, my future and the problems I face for the last two weeks, I’d be even angrier if the consensus was, “That video was misguided so I guess I’m not going to help …”
Now I know there may be sound concerns to not help, however, the unfair criticism, the constructive critiques, the missteps of the “Kony 2012″ campaign don’t seem like legitimate reasons. Though I was still very much enjoying the afterglow of the weekend, I found myself in that angry/frustration/passion/wrestlingwithGod moment. I was a bit stuck on this because I think it’s an important conversation. My bigger concern is that we would go through all of this and not take advantage of the opportunity to help those in need.
As you likely know and as I mentioned in the previous post, Jason Russell, one of the founders and the narrator of “Kony 2012″ suffered an emotional breakdown over the weekend. Initially it was reported that he was intoxicated but that has been clarified. You can watch this video that was made in follow up and read part of Invisible Children’s Statement below:
“Thank you to everyone concerned with Jason and his health. Jason has dedicated his adult life to this cause, leading up to KONY 2012. We thought a few thousand people would see the film, but in less than a week, millions of people around the world saw it. While that attention was great for raising awareness about Joseph Kony, it also brought a lot of attention to Jason—and, because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard.
Let us say up front- that Jason has never had a substance abuse or drinking problem, and this episode wasn’t caused by either of those things. But yes, he did some irrational things brought on by extreme exhaustion. On our end- the focus remains only on his health, and protecting our family. We’ll take care of Jason, you take care of the work.
The message of the film remains the same: stop at nothing.”
-Jason’s wife on behalf of the Russell Family”
Don Miller had a brief and appropriate response. And I appreciated this post entitled “Jason Russell is My Friend.”by Jaime Tworkowski. I hope I am that type of friend and it reminds me that we need to have more conversations between enabling and loyalty. Though a terrible situation, we are indeed reminded of our humanity and the toll this issue takes on so many.
One of the most powerful and convicting scenes for me was in the movie Hotel Rwanda when Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) tells Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) that the was glad that he shot this footage so the world could see and intervene against such atrocities. Jack says, “I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.”
More than 100 Million views. Almost a third of our country, about the number that voted in the 2008 Presidential election. I am concerned that a moment is being squandered here. Everyone agrees that Kony and the LRA are evil, everyone agrees that Uganda and Central Africa are in need of support for rebuilding and everyone agrees that this has been an atrocity. What we do between eating our dinners, watching our movies, preaching our sermons and living our lives will be telling.
On the drive, I keep asking myself what am I missing here? Why are people so against this?
Some answers I keep hearing are like, “Well, because IC implied that Kony was still in Uganda.” i can’t argue with anyone’s first impressions and it could be that I’m very familiar with their films and keep up with their blog and read their emails and try to keep up with a host of other anti-trafficking blogs, but “Kony 2012″ seemed clear to me that not only was he no longer in Uganda, but that Jason was telling the story to his son in the past tense. Still, between that and other aspects of the film, perhaps there is concern that it came across that way and I’ll consider these types of comments a contributing factor.
The other critique I hear is regarding their spending, I read one article complaining about how much IC spent on their filmmaking and stated that had it gone to malaria instead, Central Africa would have been malaria-free. I find that hard to believe. But her case would have been devastating had Invisible Children’s mission was to rid Central of Africa of malaria. I don’t find that to be a fair criticism. Fighting malaria is a very noble, essential cause and threatens thousands a year and there are great organizations that are dedicated to solving it. If the writer hasn’t already, I think it would be wise to examine the spending of the organizations committed to fighting malaria under the same scrutiny. Further, it seems her criticism would be better served to compare what we the public spend on alcohol, soft drinks, fast food, cable television, etc. and the costs to eliminate a killer like malaria. But I don’t find this to be a helpful critique in this context.
Another critique is the call for military intervention. I find this to be a very legitimate concern and a lengthy discourse because we need to unpack what type of intervention is sought after, what to do about the rest of the LRA and so forth. While I am never of the “kill ‘em all” mindset, I am not for the doing nothing mindset either. I’ll get flack for this, but with all the peace treaties that Kony has been invited to, “participated in” and avoided in order to continue his violence and pain, the answer will not be found in a true pacifist approach – unless it’s the pacifist approach like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If I may, I encourage pacifists to truly find other ways/organizations to support those in the region. (I included a list of other organizations at the bottom of my previous post.)
There are countless articles and posts critiquing – some very helpful to the conversation, some not. I believe some of the “not helpful” types are creating intelligent sounding excuses rooted in feeling jaded from the complexities surrounding Africa. I believe others to be rooted in apathy. That said, I do believe many in the “helpful critique” category to be rooted in wisdom, proper stewardship and solid experience. May God be our judge.
Here’s where I am landing.
For me, Invisible Children was and still is a great starting point for many. I personally went from being interested about human trafficking to finding ways to get involved against this atrocity. Also, at the time, I was a youth pastor, and our students connecting with these films was a great encouragement to me. I now support several organizations and am committed to bringing awareness to this important issue.
Awareness is the first step, and now that we are aware, we have the opportunity to do something. There are only so many causes, organizations and missionaries one can support so know that I am not implying that now that you are aware you need to do something. Not at all, I am among those that are saying, if you can, please support.
Second, if you are getting involved, let’s commit to being involved responsibly. I highly recommend reading books like, When Helping Hurts and these two from David Livermore: Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World and Serving With Eyes Wide Open. There are countless sites and blogs dedicated to eradicating trafficking like IJM, Polaris Project, Not For Sale. Check out the blog of friends I know, Jesse and Andrea serving in Uganda. I trust and appreciate their take. Further, papers like the NY Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe are always featuring articles on this important issue. There are many takes on the issue, but not a scarcity of info, let’s read, think and discuss. And let’s act at the same time.
And to keep it simple, the third step is prayerful action. I’m way over my intended word count but in short, pray, give, create awareness, let’s keep our hearts broken and be diligent.
For those who have decided to not get involved in this issue for one reason or another, know that your convictions are respected, but please, serve in a area where you see a need, can create awareness for, offer different types of support. May we all serve God’s world in various and effective ways.
I believe the one thing we can all agree on is that we cannot witness terrible atrocities and go back to eating our dinner, drinking our frappucinos and watching our reality tv shows.
Thanks for reading friends.