My Take on #Kony2012 Post 4 – Why Are People So Against This?

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:

To the Invisible Children Family from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo:

“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.

My Take on #Kony2012 and Responding to the Criticisms Like “Neocolonialism” and “Propaganda” #StopKony

In the next couple of posts, I want to turn our attention towards responding to the criticism of Invisible Children and the #Kony2012 video. I appreciate critique but I am surprised by just how severe the criticism is and I find myself wondering what is the motivation behind that.

I’ll get to that another time but here’s my motivation for my support, the defense of this organization and the promotion of the cause of fighting human trafficking. No one is doing a better job on this issue in creating awareness among those that are in a demographic who may be among the hardest to reach. That’s right, an identity-searching teenager, an overwhelmed college student, an anxious twenty-something, even those in the 30’s who are juggling minivan payments and diapers are connecting with an issue that doesn’t directly affect them and one that is taking place on the other side of the world.  That’s impressive.

This isn’t to say that people haven’t cared about causes before 2005 – of course they have. I’m saying that IC is reaching a number of difficult demographics and among the reasons is that they are using good strategy with good technology telling a good story. That’s a trifecta in the information overload suffering from compassion fatigue in the social media age.

That said, #Kony2012 and Invisible Children are not for everyone. Though I doubt IC would admit this, they know it isn’t either. If they wanted it for everyone, they would have made a different set of decisions (like branding) to include an even broader audience. They are clearly after a younger demographic and no one does a better job at this.

Even further, fighting human trafficking is not everyone. I don’t mean to treat this as a preference thing like in the way some people prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to Starbucks, but rather certain people gravitate to certain issues for different reasons and no one can fight every issue. So it’s not for everyone.

As mentioned prior, I too have concerns about Invisible Children but the number of people that are out to dismiss them is staggering. The first criticism I saw was from this Tumbler account called Visible Children. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy even though initially he said he was a professor but turns out he’s actually a student. I like his casual demeanor, even if it is the classic example of being passive-aggressive. I do think it’s odd that he asks everyone to link to his Tumbler post every time they see a Kony 2012 link and then keeps insisting that “It’s not about him.” I imagine his photography side business is going to get a nice little boost.

But let’s take a look and address the charges of  IC’s “neocolonialism” and “propaganda”. I’m sensitive to the term neocolonialism especially since seminary but here’s a bit of what I’ve learned in reading the Times, Utne and Huffington Post. These words are like when Captain Kirk says to his crew, “Set your phasers to stun.” Flippantly stating that something is “propaganda” is the equivalent as saying, “I don’t have time to refute your entire case, so with one big condescending wave of my hand, I’m dismissing it as propaganda.”

These words are intended to intimidate and create space to levy criticism from a different angle. What exactly about it is neocolonialism? Likely the answer will be that it’s a larger, stronger government or elite set of influential people trying to “seize” financial or political or cultural control on a smaller, perhaps compromised, population. In this case, they will likely point to these rich kids from San Diego using their cultural elitism in such a way that they were able to secure a military invention signed by the President. Inevitably, they will also point out there’s oil in Uganda.

This is flawed for several reasons. One it’s extremely naive, even if you are a conspiracy theorist.  Are you really suggesting that the US Government launched Invisible Children so they could get legislation passed through them so they could send over 100 officials to assist the Ugandan army to find Joseph Kony in the jungles of Central Africa and that all in the region would say, “Thanks so much guys, here’s all of our oil!”? That’s so diabolical … if you live inside an Austin Powers movie and you think the devil is Dr. Evil but not so much in the real sense.

Further, where is the line between helping with the resources you have and the accusation of neocolonialism? We need to be careful that our charity does not come with strings attached that strip others from their cultural identity but cultures that are sharing and helping one another is a beautiful thing. After watching IC movies, I remember students in my previous youth ministry constantly expressing things like, “I just can’t imagine what that’s like. We need to do something.”  What this innocent sentiment describes is not an activism strategy, what it demonstrates is compassion and the desire to help someone in need. Watching a fifteen year old discover this is powerful and it reminds you of many things. That was the point of Katie Curic tweeting about her teenager informing her.  Katie probably knows a thing or two regarding current events (she likely already knew what her teen was telling her ) but it’s a telling thing when she tweets:

What about all the American influence?? Umm, well, we should have thought long ago. We see in the Rough Cut (IC’s first film) that 14 year old boys even in Uganda know about Tupac and JaRule long before these three dudes from California got there which makes sense for me. Had they been singing the OC theme song California, I would have been more concerned.

Some of this is caution. We should always be aware of the effects of even unintended consequences. Some of this is a case of semantics lobbed over by people who have their own motivations. But I caution them, you can make the case that everything is neocolonial from the World Cup to pop-music to McDonalds (to a photography side business). We should be aware of the difference between globalization and neocolonialism and tone down the white-man burden hero complex rhetoric a bit. While racism still exists in our country, the multiculturalism that we enjoy in our country today is quite beautiful. You can even see that in the White House.

I’ll admit it threw me off at first to see Jason, Laren and Bobby in their sunglasses, cool guy clothes and California accents hanging out in Uganda and asking questions that made me think, “I know you’re in the moment but you can edit, right?” Part of it was my Northeastern bias (we have cooler sunglasses, clothes, accents and ask better questions), the other part was understanding more of “the moment” and what they were doing with it. But I tell you, it made a pretty big difference to me that they didn’t say, “We’re just three cool guys from California …” and did nothing.  Further, I am humbled by their activism and grateful for what it has influenced me to do.

Part of this is a collective backlash against California culture. Part of it is how guys like Jason come off on screen. I realize some of this is comes across a little back-handed but many in our culture only expect them to be trendy and hit on girls. And instead we see a married guy showing his four year old pictures of Joseph Kony and standing in the White House calling for the arrest and capture of a notoriously evil man. We’re surprised not because we don’t think they are competent to actually do something, we’re surprised that they chose to pursue their ideals amidst the tough realties of the world.

Not everyone can do what they are doing. Not everyone is called to do that. But what Invisible Children (and countless other non-profits) is doing is charity and good work. They are actually leveraging their strengths, their resources and their influence in hopes that  those in Central Africa can have a better future. And they’re doing what any organization tries to do – inviting others to help.  So how about it?

The next post will respond to a few other criticisms, including the financial concerns and what those in Uganda are saying. Later, I will post my concerns and hopes and likely wrap this thing up. Feel free to comment, pushback or ask something.  Thanks for reading.

5 Things I Like About Invisible Children and #KONY2012

Over the weekend, I watched “Kony 2012″ and here are some of my thoughts.

First, I thought the quality was fantastic. Some have said that it’s “too slick” – it’s not and please, let’s encourage good work and discourage mediocrity. We don’t need non-profits, NGO’s, ministries, etc. saying, “We don’t want to make it too good.” Well done Invisible Children.

Second, I am glad they chose to feature Joseph Kony on this one. When I heard they were doing that, I thought two things. First, “Yeah it’s time to change it up” and then two, “Wow, this is going to get even more political and messy.” Still, I had no clue that it would become this controversial and this is “good controversy” which I will unpack another time.

Third, clearly they have succeeded in making “Kony famous”. According to a post on Mashable “With more than 100 million views in six days, Kony 2012, a 30-minute documentary about Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, has become the most viral video in history”. Further, it speaks well for our culture. Do we share Rebecca Black videos because we have nothing better to share?

Four, Invisible Children does a good job in understanding who they are, who they are not and being true to that. Yes, I’ll admit being a thirty-something American-MiddleEastern Northeasterner, there’s a lot of things that sound odd to me when I’m listening to a 20-something from California interview a boy in Uganda trying to speak his heart in broken English. Interviews in general are awkward and that’s part of why many of us prefer memoirs and first hand testimonies but when you don’t have a “microphone”, it’s a good thing when someone gives you one.

I’m glad Jason Russell and his friends decided to go to Uganda instead of vacation some where. Further, I’m glad they didn’t just go to Uganda and decide to only share what they found with their closest family and friends. Issues like human trafficking and forced child soldiers are difficult for many of us in the West to understand. The stories in these films are needed to bring these issues to light.

Fifth, I am grateful for just about any thing that gets people talking about something that’s not American Idol or Kim Kardashian. Even more so when it comes to global issues that awaken us from our apathy and and self-centeredness. This is true for those in the Church and for those outside of it. The world is messed up, over there and right here, we are allmessed up, we can virtually all agree on this. Therefore, we should do our part to bring goodness to it. We’ll all have different ideas about that, so let’s talk.

These are important conversations, we certainly need to do more than watch and converse and for many of us who have decided (and will decide) to go further with this cause or one similar, we should be grateful and supportive. Read more, learn more, give more, share more, pray more …

Soon, I will be posting my take on some of the criticism Invisible Children receives. Some may be legit, some I find to be a bit unfair. Feel free to offer your take.

You can watch the 30 minute documentary here or below.
And learn more
and then after that, Google Joseph Kony.

My Initial Take and Some Friendly Advice on the #KONY2012 #StopKony Controversy Post 1

For the sake of honesty and context, I am biased towards Invisible Children. While serving as a youth pastor in my previous church, my youth group and I hosted numerous screenings and a couple benefit concerts. We’ve hosted and conversed with numerous IC Roadies, met Nate Henn a couple of times and mourned his tragic murder in Uganda. Many in my youth group started their own “Schools for Schools” campaign (American schools helping Ugandan ones) and my wife and I are monthly supporters of their Legacy Scholarship Program which helps provide private schooling for kids in Uganda. In my dresser drawers are numerous IC shirts, I have worn out more IC bracelets than I can remember, own their films and every now and then, I correspond with a future president of Uganda, Opwonya Innocent (which reminds me, it’s time to check in on him again).

So as a proud supporter, you would think that I have nothing negative to say about Invisible Children. But I do. If you don’t know me (or don’t know me well yet) I’m a bit critical, cynical and perhaps slightly paranoid. I’m also hopeful, optimistic and on good days trusting. So paradox, nuance and gray thinking are part of my life.

Yes, while watching some of the IC Films, I too have thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a bit dramatic.” I too have wondered about how they spend their money and if they are being good stewards of their “roadies”. And like most people, I confess, I too have asked myself, “Is any of this going to make a difference?”

In fairness, I ask this about everything from the Christian missionary work I support, to the Easter Services I participate in. I think these are valid questions for those who desire to serve in God’s Kingdom on any level.

I have not yet watched the Kony film. I hope to later this weekend. I have been keeping an eye out for all the information that is coming out, favoriting tweets, saving articles, and checking out Facebook posts.

Here’s what I’m doing and I offer this as friendly advice as we gather data and perspective:

1. I’m not in a rush to make up my mind. Let’s not get so lost in the hype or the rhetoric that we neglect the bigger picture. Let’s breathe, think and process.
2. I’m ok if the Kony movie sucks. I hope it doesn’t but it’s ok if it does. Joseph Kony is still an evil man even if the film disappoints you. Let’s not miss that.
3. Regarding, Invisible Children, they’re doing good work. It’s likely that they could be doing a better job in some areas. Let the critiques help them. Offer them support/advice/prayer.

Next week I plan on blogging about the good of IC, my concern, and process out loud about the complexities of this very important issue. Would love your input – feel free to comment, pushback in the spirit of conversation and healthy dialogue.

Reflecting On Our Invisible Children Screening

What is Invisible Children?
For those who don’t know, for many years these children were being abducted by Joseph Kony’s army the LRA and turned into child soldiers (and many of the girls were trafficked).  To avoid being abducted, many of the children would commute out of their village and to a bigger town and sleep in hiding. The next morning they would return to do their schooling and chores and then commute back (There are some absolutely horrific and heartbreaking stories).  Since the ceasefire in 2008, Cony’s army is believed to be in the Congo and night-commuting has stopped.  This has become an important time for healthcare and education. You can learn more and watch short video clips at and order the full length dvd’s, which of course helps raise funds.  You can read more of the beginning of IC here.

How We Got Involved
For me, It started when my friends Todd Hiestand and Gary Alloway were planning to take their church, The Well, to a sleepover in center city Philadelphia to create awareness for the “Invisible Children” of Uganda.  Like most people I know, there are so many causes and organizations that need help.  How do you discern which caues/organizations to support and which ones not to?  It’s an impossible question but I’m of the school of thought of being faithful with the opportunities that present themselves and for us, this came was one of them.

I was very moved by the first Invisible Children dvd called “The Rough Cut”.  It’s disturbing alarming and even more depressing is knowing that Uganda is not the only place of such evil atrocities.  A few years ago, we showed it to our Sr. High youth group.  They too were moved.  Immediately, I had facebook posts and emails about what we could do to help.  It started by taking a  collection and later buying a  few dvd’s and a few shirts.  Last year we saw another one called “Sunday”.  It’s a story centered around a teen-age boy named Sunday that lost his family but now dreams of being a doctor.  This past summer at YS’s DCLA, we saw their newest one called “Go” which features their new “Schools for Schools” campaign (American schools helping Ugandan ones). Afterwards we signed up to host a screening.  One of the awesome “roadies” called us and the date was set for Wed. Oct 21st.

Aside from raising financial support, creating awareness is an  extremely important part of the cause. We are not a large church  and not a large youth group but we decided that this was a cause  that we wanted to share with our friends.  In some ways, this  became a way of discussing faith and religion with others.  But  instead of asking questions like, “Do you know where you will go  after you die?”, a better question was “Would you like to come to  a free documentary screening about the atrocities in Uganda?  It’s  really moving and we can help.”

Flyers were created, Facebook invites were sent, and quite  seriously, most of our students felt this was among the easier  things to invite people to.  The weekend before our screening, we  stood outside grocery stores, Starbucks, and went business to  business asking if we could post our flyers.  When the night  finally came, we had almost 200 people.  Even better was that  crowd brought their wallets and bought shirts, dvd’s and signed up for the “Tri-campaign” ($3/week to IC).

We had a really solid response afterwards from students, parents, and people from our community we met at A&P, who saw our signs in deli’s, laundromats and Facebook.  One mother called me the next day and said something to the effect of, “You are showing us that we need to rethink evangelism.”  I think I’ll save that for another post but that was a moment that did my heart some good.

Invisible Children is a form of the Gospel.  And screenings are an excellent opportunity of telling our communities that Christians care about the needs outside its walls.  Further, the situation in Uganda is dire.  I’d like to encourage you to look into this, especially my fellow youth pastors.

How you can get involved:

  • Go up on and watch some of their shorter video clips.
  • Order some DVD’s
  • Read up on the history of the war in Uganda.
  • Consider inviting a bunch of friends and host a screening with the hopes of creating awareness
  • Not a youth pastor?  Consider showing a documentary to a few friends or your church small group.
  • Commit to giving through the “Tri” Campaign (3 bucks a week)

So what’s next for us? It looks like a benefit concert.
As always, holler if you have any questions.  Would love to help in any way I can.