The War on Stopping Kony

I don’t remember where I first saw the KONY2012 video posted, but within a few minutes it had popped up a dozen places in my social media feeds so it doesn’t really matter which was first. I’ve been ignoring Invisible Children for years. Not intentionally; my only point of contact with them was the stack of glossy-brochured support-this/buy-this onslaught in every youthworker’s inbox, mailbox, & event goody bag. They could have been giving away stacks of 20s and I wouldn’t have known.

They crept a little farther onto my radar when a friend of mine began to support their efforts, but not far enough to become informed. This article is also partially about my personal lethargy as a globally-thinking person. “Lacktivism,” as I’ve begun to call it. I knew that she was doing good things, and that was good enough for me.

So at this moment the KONY2012 video stands at 16+ million views on Vimeo and 70+ million views on YouTube. If you remain a non-viewer, it gives a little back story on the Invisible Children movement and quickly centers on its villain, the person of Joseph Kony. They’re professional filmmakers; it stands to reason that it’s a compelling half hour of viewing. I announced to our youth leadership that we’d be watching the video Sunday. Talked to our young adults about participating in the overnight event proposed by the film on April 20th. I even bought the $30 kit. I was in.

Then just as quickly other voices began to pop up. Dissenting voices: Kony isn’t in Uganda anymore. Kony is dead. Kony is just one problem; remove him and you’ll have another. Don’t support Invisible Children; they mishandle their finances. They overpay staff. Invisible Children is trying to be a “white savior.” Oh, and I almost forgot: the U.S. government paid for the video to convince us to convince them to go after the Ugandan oil fields.


I do get both sides. I get that it’s possible that IC has oversimplified a very complex problem on another continent. But I also get that if within a complex problem someone has been abducting and abusing children for nearly 30 years, it’s worth addressing. And the dissenters are right–I don’t fully understand the situation in Uganda. Really, my foreign policy overall has kinda been a shambles for a while. There’s so much I don’t know on both sides of this that… I should do nothing?

No. (And here I tip my hand.) I’m supporting the KONY2012 movement because what IC is asking of the masses is to simply raise awareness. If you pass out in front of me with a blood clot jamming up an artery, I promise not to dig into your chest myself. But I also promise to make others aware of your situation. I’ll probably even try to target people in the medical profession. Because I know I can’t fix you. But if I can bring you to the attention of people that can, I’ve helped. If I stand over you in an argument about whether the clot is in your leg or your arm or maybe you’re just resting, I’ve just wasted time.

IC isn’t asking anyone to show up halfway around the world with pitchforks and torches. They’re asking that we raise awareness so that those that do have a working foreign policy can begin to enter the conversation. Because they know they’re right about one thing: if we lose focus, everyone stops caring and goes on to argue about why we can’t solve the world’s next problem. Think everything is back to normal in Haiti & Japan? Probably. I haven’t checked in a while either.

We have lamented here of late that as Methodists we default too often to defining ourselves in the negative–being more aware in general of what we do not believe than what we do believe. I think that we’re just as guilty individually of doing the same with our activism. We craft expert arguments about why we shouldn’t help, why others are better qualified, or what’s wrong with the help system in place. Then we return to the nothing that we were already doing, satisfied that we haven’t accidentally aided a cause that might have a flaw.

You don’t have to support Invisible Children. But I hope we’re all supporting something. We’re still learning what it means to be a Christian in a global community. When it comes to helping, as a good Wesleyan I’m hopeful that we can work toward perfection in our activism instead of just waiting for it to appear.



  1. Thanks, Kevin, for putting into words what i’ve come around to believing myself with regard to the KONY 2012 movement and how to address it with my youth. I had a college youth and a 6th grader text and email me about the video within a 24-hr period. Thats what caught my attention — that they were so touched by it and were moved to respond in a way that they could — by spreading the word.
    I showed the video on a high school retreat this past weekend, during our Sunday morning worship. I told my youth that their response to the video was really up to them — whether it be an individual response or a group response — but what I wanted them to reflect on was how Jason Russell chose to use his gifts and talents as a filmmaker to do something to make a real difference in the world and improve (save?) the lives of others. I’m sure it’s been a difficult, heart-wrenching, and frustrating task that’s been going on now for YEARS. Can my youth make similar choices about what God may be calling them to do with their lives, career choices, and gifts and talents?
    I agree with you that the positives involved in supporting the awareness raising campaign of KONY 2012 far outway the negatives that are circulating. Thanks, again, for addressing this as a youth worker.

  2. I love that y’all are talking about this – thank you!
    When I saw the video I immediately wondered how I was going to respond to this issue and this certain “call to action” that IC has posed — not only as an individual, but as a youth director.
    My response is two-fold.

    One — This is an absolutely awesome opportunity to educate our youth (and anyone else who is inspired to learn!) on what’s going on with child soldiers in Uganda and beyond. One of my good friends works with an NGO that focuses on the psychological impacts of natural disasters, terrorism and armed conflicts. They have done work in Uganda with the communities affected by Kony and others who use child soldiers. It tears up the entire community, making rebuilding even a generation or 2 later incredibly difficult.

    My friend is coming to speak with my youth group (along with another youth group in the area) to show them the bigger picture of what is going on and what needs to be done. If the youth see this is something they need to know about, they will be thirsty to know more – and why not give them well-rounded and well-informed information?

    Two — Growing up in a church right next to the state capitol, I (personally) have a huge struggle with issues of separation of church and state. As a youth, I was very aware of politicians that would come to our church (only) during election season and others that would bring strictly political issues into our worship space. I understand that the two go hand-in-hand (which is why that line even has to be thought about and is tough to draw at times), but we have to be conscious of this and how it affects our congregations.

    I have extreme reservations about telling our youth to call their congressman for something (one of the “calls to action” IC asks for in the video). I also do not feel comfortable with illegally plastering posters in public places as a youth group activity (another IC call to action), even if its for the best of causes.

    Instead of using Invisible Children’s calls to action which serve primarily IC’s purposes, I am talking with my youth about how we can respond in ways as the hands and feet of Christ. Vilifying someone, plastering posters around making him famous, calling to pressure our politicians to make more of a military effort would not be (in my opinion) Christ’s call to action for us.

    As a United Methodist, I have a lot of respect and admiration for the work that the United Methodist Committee on Relief does. UMCOR is doing great humanitarian work with long-term effects all over areas that Kony (and others) has torn apart. These efforts may not be a glamourous or viral-video-worthy, but are doing work on the ground that our churches help to fund and support. I plan, as part of our focus on this issue, that we will talk about UMCOR and opportunities to support this work.

    As youth directors one of our calls and responsibilities is to help teach youth the process of discerning how to take these moments of inspiration and respond appropriately and effectively as Christ’s body in the world.

    I honestly do not have simple 1-2-3 answer like IC lays out — and most of the big problems our world faces, that our youth are and will be facing are not as simple either — but this process of education, prayer and discernment, and using our worldwide connectional church to look at how we can make a difference is our work and we should claim this as our call to action as youth ministers.

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