"Invisible Children" Co-founder (KONY 2012) Hints It's About Jesus, and Evangelizing
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 02:10:50 PM EST
"We feel like God calls us to be joyful in the work that we're doing, no matter what we're doing. [...]

A lot of people fear Christians, they fear Liberty University, they fear Invisible Children - because they feel like we have an agenda. They see us and they go, "You want me to sign up for something, you want my money. You want, you want me to believe in your God." And it freaks them out."

--- Jason Russell, speaking at Liberty University, November 7, 2011

Is Invisible Children a nonprofit devoted to human needs, or is it a ministry devoted to bringing souls to Jesus ? Judging by a talk co-founder Jason Russell gave last November at Liberty University, it would seem to be a bit of both.
A few days ago, Russell's Invisible Children nonprofit began to blitz the Internet with posts on social media promoting the nonprofit's new KONY 2012 video, which by now has received over 36 million hits. The media campaign has already provoked a backlash of well informed criticism, from academics and other with expertise concerning Joseph Kony and the LRA, and the conflict in Northern Uganda and the surrounding region (see links and material, below transcript).

Foreign Affairs charges Invisible Children with misrepresenting the facts, and Foreign Affairs guest contributor Michael Wilkerson notes the deceptive nature of the KONY 2012 video, narrated by Jason Russell, which mentions only in passing that Joseph Kony is no longer in Northern Uganda (his LRA hasn't operated there for years).  

Another common objection of critics has been that Invisible Children's approach is simplistic and neglects the fact that the Ugandan government (whose armed forces now hunting for Joseph Kony are accused of rape and looting) has itself been accused of crimes against humanity that at least rival but may exceed those of Joseph Kony and his LRA (see appended story resource links).

Some, such as Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair author Michael Deibert, warn that Invisible Children's effort, which endorses increased US military involvement in the region, may actually make things worse.

The evangelical magazine Christianity Today has covered the growing controversy over the Invisible Children publicity campaign, and Invisible Children has issued a response to the gathering criticism.    

So far few have noticed the decidedly evangelical ties of Invisible Children. But that's not surprising:

Judging from the organization's website and promotional material, Invisible Children would seem to be non-religious, purely devoted to the health and well-being of children in Northern Uganda and the surrounding region, to "ending genocide", and to capturing Joseph Kony.

On its face, the effort appears secular, and evangelizing is not mentioned as an objective.

But in a November 7, 2011 appearance at Liberty University, as part of Liberty's Fall Convocation speaker series, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell hinted that Invisible Children was also an evangelizing effort, and during his talk Russell coached Liberty University students on what could be characterized as extremely low-key, or stealth, evangelism.

Joining Russell onstage, during his November 7 Liberty University appearance, was Alex Harris, credited with playing a key role in driving Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential bid. At 20:20 into the 39 minute discussion, Harris received a question from the Liberty University student audience - "What is the greatest challenge to the millennial generation, in impacting the world for Christ ?"

Jason Russell fielded the following question from the audience which was, as characterized by Johnnie Moore, Liberty University Vice President of Teaching Projects, "How do you motivate hypocritical, apathetic Christians to, kind of, `get in the fight'? "

What was "the fight"? The message was ambiguous. Earlier in the discussion, Jason Russell had stated his goal of "ending genocide" and capturing Joseph Kony, but that goal seemed framed within the larger project of evangelizing the nations. During the discussion, as a backdrop, hung a blue curtain that proclaimed, "Liberty University: 40 Years of Training Champions For Christ".

The lineup of notables on Liberty's Fall Convocation speaker roster also included Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Christian history revisionist David Barton, and pastor Jim Garlow, who spearheaded the project of organizing evangelical pastors in California, in the 2008 campaign to pass the anti-same sex marriage Proposition Eight (both Barton and Garlow also have ties to the Gingrich presidential campaign effort).  

[video, below: Jason Russell, with Alex Harris, at Liberty University, November 7, 2011]

"Liberty University Convocation Discussion, November 7, 2011, Jason Russell, co-founder of "Invisible Children"

[13:00] Russell: "We feel like God calls us to be joyful in the work that we're doing, no matter what we're doing. [...]

[25:18] Question: How do you motivate hypocritical, apathetic Christians to, kind of, `get in the fight'?

Russell: People are scared. Of  Liberty University. [Addresses graduating students] You guys know this. They're scared because they see the power and potential in this room, the conviction you have, the connectivity you have. And they look at this arena and they go, "that's scary - if they realized what they could do, it would revolutionize the world." That's why you're here.

And so I think that it is that insecurity or that realizing, "I don't have what it takes" - but you DO. We DO. And, the trick is to not go out into the world and say, "I'm going to baptize you, I'm going to convict you, I have an agenda to win you over."

Your agenda is to look into the eyes, as Jesus did, and say, "who are you? And will you be my friend?" - Like he did to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the fisherman. The biggest mistake that we make is to saying, we make a line and we say, "black, white, are you in or are you out?"

I just, I have a hard time digesting that mentality. And I think that's why a lot of people fear Christians, they fear Liberty University, they fear Invisible Children because they feel like we have an agenda. They see us and they go, "You want me to sign up for something, you want my money. You want, you want me to believe in your God.

And it freaks them out.

So figure out a way, you know - I have totally been there. I have been there so many times. I'm like, "I wonder if they know?" I wonder if they're in the group."  And it's like, "No! That is judgment  itself." "

RESOURCES

http://www.friendsforpeaceinafrica.org/samuel-olara/496-accounting-for-post-war-crimes-in-northern-uganda-monitor.html  ( the best summary I've yet seen of conflict in Northern Uganda, 1986 - 2007 )

Critiques of Invisible Children

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-deibert/joseph-kony-2012-children_b_1327417.html

http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-trouble

http://www.wrongingrights.com/2009/03/worst-idea-ever.html/

http://chrisblattman.com/2009/03/04/visible-children/

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136673/mareike-schomerus-tim-allen-and-koen-vlassenroot/obama-takes-on-the-lra?page=show

http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/122/ARTICLE/6586/2010-06-02.html ( "How Invisible Children Falsely Marketed The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act" )

http://www.thegauntlet.com/article/1320/18249/Barry-from-Look-What-I-Did-responds-to-Invisible-Children-Organization.html  (  Invisible Children confirms pro-interventionist stance )

Alleged crimes and human rights abuses by Uganda and the Ugandan People's Defense Forces

http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17456:updf-in-kony-hunt-accused-of-rape-looting&catid=78:topstories&Itemid=116 ( UPDF, hunting for Kony in DRC, accused of rape, looting )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upITVcXw_Gk ( Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, shot his way into power using child soldiers )

http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/116/10521.pdf ( Uganda was indicted, in 2005, by the International Criminal Court for War Crimes in DRC Congo )

Reports, from UN, on Uganda & Rwanda war crimes in DRC Congo

http://www.afrol.com/Countries/DRC/documents/un_resources_2002_rwanda.htm

http://www.afrol.com/Countries/DRC/documents/un_resources_2002_uganda.htm

http://www.afrol.com/Countries/DRC/documents/un_resources_2002_intro.htm

Wikipedia cover of DRC conflict

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo#Rwandan.2FUgandan_invasions_and_civil_wars

Accusations of an Acholi Genocide

[ Yoweri Museveni has been accused of engineering a planned, slow genocide against the Acholi people of Northern Uganda  (note: Blackstar News links to web-cached versions of stories - site under heavy traffic load)]

http://www.musevenimemo.org/ ( David Todd Whitmore, of University of Notre Dame, studies traditional Acholi culture, says 1980s memo, allegedly from Yoweri Museveni, indicates plan to depopulate Acholi areas of Northern Uganda, to open up access for fertile farmland. )

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2007/05/secret_photos_r/ ( ABC report suggests Ugandan government coverup )

http://www.acholitimes.com/culture/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13:genocide-in-uganda-the-african-nightmare-christopher-hitchens-missed&catid=3:genocide-in-acholi-the-conspiracy-of-silence&Itemid=23 - ( " Genocide in Uganda: The African Nightmare Christopher Hitchens Missed " )

http://www.independent.co.ug/News/news/3865-planned-massacre-of-the-acholi ( Uganda Independent covers accusations of an Acholi genocide )

http://allafrica.com/stories/201101050048.html

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ntd7BPk00poJ:blackstarnews.com/news/122/ARTICLE/7028/2010-12-25.html+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

http://www.friendsforpeaceinafrica.org/documents/20/65-structure-a-agency-in-acholi-genocide.html ( "Structure and Agency in Acholi Genocide" )

http://www.friendsforpeaceinafrica.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=68&Itemid=43 ( "Genocide in Comparative Perspective; the Jewish and Acholi Experience" )

http://www.friendsforpeaceinafrica.org/columnists/161-the-achol-qfinal-solutionq.html ( "The Acholi Final Solution", 2007, by Milton Allimadi, editor of NYC-based Blackstar News )

http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=book/export/html/10361 ( "Ending Uganda's "Brilliant" Genocide", Allimadi )

http://www.km-net.org.uk/conferences/KM97/papers_htm/causes.htm

http://www.ugandagenocide.info/  ( general source for writings on Acholi conflict & Ugandan gov. )

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BPk1NvWo7_cJ:www.blackstarnews.com/%3Fc%3D122%26a%3D4751+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us  ( report from Dr. Adam Branch, whose research is based in Northern Uganda )

http://www.david-kilgour.com/mp/Ugandan%20IDP%20Camps%20&%20Children.htm ( Canadian parliament member, on Acholi camps )

http://www.blackcommentator.com/93/93_otika_uganda.html  ( Ugandan student, studying in US, weighs in )




Display:
I have been following the debates about this organization with some interest, and as a result did some digging on their site. Co-founder Russell's bio on their staff/leadership page had some information about at least one Christian organization he had prior affiliation or employment with. I did not think to make a note of it, unfortunately, since it has now been removed from the page.  

However, one of his Board Members is a leader with Mission Gathering Christian Church, and was formerly with Youth for Christ/Campus Life.  Do you know anything about those youth and campus groups, and whether the type of work being done by Invisible Children is similar in nature or approach?

by Catte Nappe on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 04:42:49 PM EST

Invisible Children boasts of giving extensive talks in schools, colleges, and universities. I suspect a similarity in approach but I'd have to look into it.

For another interesting window, see Katherine Stewart's new book ( review, by Rachel Tabachnick, at Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/visions/154435/the_religious_right%27s_pl ot_to_take_control_of_our_public_schools/ )

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 04:59:35 PM EST
Parent




Evangelical or not, this issue (Kony/LRA) is so old, and in central Africa. There has been so little public interest in Africa, especially this part of Africa, that the sudden interest (more than 150K simultaneous views on average at any given moment) seems very odd. Nary a peep months ago when the USA sent troops to the region for this very reason (help hunt down Kony), but now 32 (or 36, whatever) million hits in days? Why has this 2 bit wannabe dictator/criminal suddenly getting publicity? Fishy...hey, at least the US Troops know not to look in northern Uganda. http://themoderatevoice.com/141148/the-nearly-forgotten-u-s-milit ary-mission-to-%E2%80%9Cstop-kony%E2%80%9D/

by Edski on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 10:04:45 AM EST
http://themoderatevoice.com/141148/the-nearly-forgotten-u-s-milit ary-mission-to-%E2%80%9Cstop-kony%E2%80%9D/

by Edski on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 10:05:16 AM EST
Parent


When we look at Invisible Children, I think we should keep the lines of argument and criticism clear. If you're saying that this non-profit organization isn't doing a very good job of helping people in Africa or that it is mis-informed about the socio-political realities in Africa, then it raises the question of why are you bringing it up here? This really isn't the place to evaluate the merits and effectiveness of NGOs operating in Africa. The other issue you raise -- about Christians doing this work and what the implies for the real nature of the work is an interesting one. Should it be okay for openly Christian people engage in work to end genocide and oppression? And if they do, should it be okay for them to try to recruit other openly Christian people to help in that work? I can't speak to how effective or well-informed Invisible Children is, but I don't see anything wrong with a Christian going to a Christian university and saying, "This is something worth doing, and Christians should be a part of it."

by dscribner on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 02:59:23 PM EST
I'd suggest you do some reading on this blog about stealth evangelism and some of the really NASTY things those "Good Christians" pull.  They're not above helping people and then requiring the people pay later (and telling them they owe a debt after they received services), or demanding conversion before they help someone.  No... they're even worse than that.

I'm going on the assumption that you're just not aware of the problem or how bad it is.  One starting place would be the list of good and bad charities that a friend of mine put together...  http://nola-biglist.blogspot.com/  (started with the horrors of Katrina).  I've seen firsthand how the sorts of churches we fight against deal with the very poor and homeless... as I said, requiring religious activities/conversion before giving aid, condemnation and guilt-tripping of people who are homeless, STEALING from the homeless, trying to take over and convert ecumenical programs that help the poor, browbeating them, exploiting them, etc..  

On local shelter, run by a dominionist church, requires any person entering their homeless program to sever contact with EVERYONE and only go to their church (multiple times weekly) for a minimum of six months.  An elderly woman (friend of some of my family) was forced to go through that and they didn't see or hear from her for six months - the very day she was finally permitted to leave the compound and choose where she went, she went to let her friends and family know where she'd been and why she'd not been in contact (no phone calls or mail allowed either).  The church wasn't too happy with her for visiting her old church and church friends, but they DID say that after six months she could have some more freedom.

She lost her home because of the housing crash and job loss... yet they blamed her for using drugs (a much older retired woman who was a faithful church goer) and insisted that it was her "SINS" that made her homeless.

Oh, yeah... if you break the "no contact" rule, you're out on the street with the clothes on your back, and they confiscate everything you brought in with you including money - in order to "compensate the church for wasting their resources".

I've heard of some of the most horrible atrocities in other countries, run by these churches.  The people here could relate some of the things they know about - conversions at gunpoint, starvation of the people they claimed to be helping, even genocide.

 I've also been aware of such bad actors applying for and getting grants to run their "programs".  That's why we're so adamant about separation of church and state... and while I personally despise missionaries because most IMO do more harm than good, others here are not opposed to people going out and helping and it being a "mission".  (I'd rather they keep their religion to themselves, and as I've heard that Mother Teresa once said, "Speak only when absolutely necessary".)

Like I said... read some of the past posts here on T2A.  Then maybe you'll understand why we view this with such distrust and caution.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 06:51:00 PM EST
Parent



In order for this expose to gain traction a more clear link between Kony 2012 and the theocrats needs to be found. If there is just a smoke and mirror cover up then hopefully more convincing evidence can be found to expose the underlying motivations for the video.

by PastorJennifer on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 05:37:33 AM EST
See this subsequent story of mine:

http://www.talk2action.org/story/2012/3/11/145213/275/

It's far from definitive, but it adds considerable evidence to begin to flesh out the picture.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 06:23:39 PM EST
Parent




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