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Kony 2012 and the Ignorance of Critics: A Guest Post

March 14th, 2012 | 5 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Jake Meador's critique of Invisible Children's video prompted quite a bit of discussion, much of which was rather passionately pursued.   Dan Parris wrote the below, and I thought it appropriate to air both sides and let readers judge accordingly.  Dan is a filmmaker and creator of Give a Damn and Hit Man to Hero.  

Jake's article breaks my heart.

As I read it and other critiques of Invisible Children, I can't help thinking "God forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." But then Kony2012, the viral phenomenon, was probably their first introduction to Invisible Children (IC).  They probably haven't followed their progress for the past 7 years, seen all their films, or interviewed the founders and CEO, getting to know the hearts and minds behind this revolutionary non-profit. It is hard for me to see past the fact that I have been immersed in what IC has been doing since 2005 and have been radically changed because of it.

Before offering my critiques, I want to applaud Jake's article on its very important and easily digestible bits on Africa's history and the impact of the Berlin Conference of 1885. I think everyone who wants to tackle African issues must know about this history.

What bothered me the most in Jake's article was this line: "...the notion that a group of young Americans utterly disconnected from Uganda, save through the giving of small sums and a general feeling of sentimentality toward Africa, can stop a war there is laughable."

As a fellow Christian, I feel this comment is judgmental and uninformed toward IC's audience and followers, and I would even go to argue it borders on heresy and a myopic view of God's strategies for spreading his Kingdom .

The Truth about Invisible Children's Core Audience

People surely said to Elisabeth Elliot that it was "laughable" they she thought she could convert the killers of her husband. We know people thought it was "laughable" when Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream of equality. All throughout history there have been impossible stories of insignificant people changing the world.

Why can't American "kids" be just a few more of those how Margaret Mead was talking about when she said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has"?

These "kids" have loads of dispensable income they are spending on entertainment, and a group comes along that is going to give them something bigger to live for, and yet we mock it.  $20 can give someone clean water for 20 years. You can change the world, there is no doubt about that.

Invisible Children and the young people that support it have proven the naysayers wrong with their accomplishments. They were a major part in ending the night commuting and in forcing Joseph Kony leaving Uganda. They were the leaders in getting the most co-sponsored Bill concerning Africa in United States history passed, which is a difficult process when only 3% of bills ever pass.

What's more, the founders of Invisible Children most of their staff are Christians. They have changed the national conversation into something positive, and they deserve more than being attacked.   I truly believe IC is one of the ways God is working right now on Earth. Their video is one of most viral videos in history; it inspires hope, challenges young people to get involved in something bigger than themselves, and seeks justice for the top international criminal in the world. That is something we should be proud of.

Seeing their first film in 2005 made me go out and research Africa and learn. Similarly, this Kony2012 video is a small seed that will doubtlessly lead young people to do their own research. IC's campaigns have moved young people to dig deeper into social justice issues and to make their careers part of loving and serving their neighbors. There are dozens and dozens of thriving organizations that owe a lot to the inspiration of IC, including my own.

Also, it's unfounded to think their organization and the people working with them don't have a strong pulse on what is going on in Central and East Africa. C.S. Lewis, a fellow Christian artist, was able to write both Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia.  Is it not possible that they know the best way to communicate to the young but still understand how to effectively act and communicate with the learned and experts?

If you watch their previous films, you will see that their are many in Uganda that appreciate and desire the partnership of IC and young Americans. People around the world watch our politics–it’s a fact. What we do in America affects the whole world. These young people who it’s “laughable” that they can affect the war in Uganda are some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world. Their families consist of CEO’s, senators and scholars. When they are ignited, it affects their families and those around them.

Missing out on God's Big Stories

I have a strong feeling the time will come when these young people, with the help of locals, will play a major part in ending this war. At that point we will see that God was actually using these Christian brothers of ours to tell an incredible story, a story that shows we can do our part to make it "on earth as it is in Heaven", that "love hopeth all things", and that we shouldn't "let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." (1 Tim 4:12)

These young people are often the most depressed and lost in our culture, and as Shane Claiborne has said, we need to "stop entertaining them and start daring them."

From what I see in the Gospels and the history of the Church, God used a rag-tag group to enact his mission of spreading the good news. That what these men did seemed impossible at first. They were ignored, beaten, and ridiculed as they dreamed that God's love could extend to the ends of the earth. To me, IC's message has always been that everyone person on this earth matters, that the idea of neighbor is changing, so to love your neighbor as yourself means something broader. It means loving the kid in Uganda you are friends with on Facebook because IC brought him to speak at your school.

Finally, God has a heart for justice. No one doubts that. In a recent TV interview, where one of IC's founders, Jason Russell was handling critiques, the reporter ended the conversation praising the "movement."  Jason corrected them saying its not about the movement--it's about justice.

Now, no organization is perfect.  I am sure IC often gets sidetracked and loses sight of their goal.  But by and large their focus is on their objective "That where you live shouldn't determine whether you live." And as Gary Haugen, founder of IJM and supporter of IC says, "Nothing presents a more compelling and authentic witness of Christian faith in this era than the struggle for justice"

I am happy to be a part of the story that God is writing through IC and Kony2012.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.