No, this is not about Invisible Children or Kony 2012! It's a 2005 movie on Joseph Kony's victims that is an ongoing part of a global evangelical campaign - an example of ulterior motives and the dangerous ignorance of Americans about charities and "good causes."
An Unconventional War
is one in a series of nine Transformations
movies produced since 1999 by George Otis, a pioneer of a Charismatic evangelical movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. The exploitation seen in this film and many other Western evangelical media productions, may help to explain why war-weary viewers threw stones at a screening of Kony 2012 in Lira in Northern Uganda this past week.
This is the story of Uganda presented as an advertisement for a particular brand of Christian supremacism.
In this film, Apostle Julius Oyet and President Yoweri Museveni are the godly heroes, representing "a unique church-state collaboration" against Kony. Oyet is now better known for his role in promoting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and was recognized by the Ugandan Parliament when the bill was first introduced. A prayer movement led by Apostle Julius Oyet is credited with weakening Kony's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) and ending a decades-long conflict in Uganda through "spiritual warfare in Jesus name."
The 2005 "documentary" claims that: 1) surviving youth were treated by deliverance of demons, 2) parents who prayed hardest got their children back first, and 3) the Acholi of Northern Uganda were fortunate to be forced into interment camps (by the Ugandan government) so they could hear the gospel and be shielded from Islam. According to this version of the conflict, Kony's LRA was allowed by God to terrorize the Acholi people because they needed to repent of false beliefs. All of these messages are tucked into a tear jerker with a happy ending about Kony's young victims.
The Transformations Movies
The Transformations movies are part of a global attack on religious pluralism and secular democracy, promoted in the guise of prayer, charity, and social justice. The films can not be dismissed as emerging from the fringes, considering the evangelical pedigrees of the those involved. Throughout these movies, world leaders - including presidents, prime ministers and politicians - are filmed in interviews, with some actually participating in dramatic reenactments of past events.
The Transformations series is marketed under the the TransformNations trademark and The Moving Cloud logo of The Sentinel Group, a non-profit ministry founded by George Otis, Jr., author of the first books on "spiritual mapping." Otis was one of the pioneers, along with C. Peter Wagner, Ed Silvoso, and Cindy Jacobs, of the New Apostolic Reformation. Their partnership and access to the larger evangelical world was forged during a massive missions program in the 1990s called AD2000 and Beyond. It provided an international platform for teaching "Dominionist" ideology and church/state/business partnerships as a way to speed up the evangelization of the world.
The writer, director, and producer of An Unconventional War, is the son of the late George Otis Sr., a Lear Jet executive, whose second career was founding Christian radio stations in the Middle East that became part of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network. In his obituaries, Otis, Sr. was credited with prophesying to Gov. Ronald Reagan (in the late 1960s) that he would occupy the White House. In an article in this month's Charisma magazine, Otis, Jr. describes a time during his preteen years when the major leaders of the Charismatic renewal movement were meeting regularly in his home.
Otis, Jr. founded The Sentinel Group in 1990. The board includes George Otis, III; Apostle Doug Stringer, who led part of the Gov. Rick Perry's August 2011 prayer rally in Houston; and Jeff Farmer, former vice chair of the executive board of National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and current chair of the Pentecostal Charismatic Churches of North America.
An Unconventional War opens with a credit to the Living Stones Foundation Charitable Trust of the Ken Eldred family, which provides funding to The Sentinel Group. Lisa Otis, wife of George Otis, Jr. is a director on the Living Stones Foundation board. Eldred is also one of the funders of the multi-million dollar effort to register five million evangelicals through United in Purpose/Champion the Vote prior to the 2012 election.
United in Purpose's partner (and sole grantee on their available 990 tax forms) is Samuel Rodriguez's National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, the largest evangelical Hispanic organization in the U.S. United in Purpose produced a two-hour movie for church and home viewing titled One Nation Under God featuring James Dobson, Newt Gingrich, David Barton, Rodriguez, and others, with the purpose of impacting the 2012 elections.
Although the movies have become more sophisticated over the years, the Transformations provide a feel good indoctrination to the NAR's brand of spiritual warfare. The elaborate reenactments feature singing and clapping Charismatic evangelicals, celebrating their conquest of demonic villains and the transformation of their communities - including claims of the miraculous termination of crime, disease, and even environmental degradation. The publicity for the first video begins,
Imagine a community where 92 percent of the population is born again; where city jails have been closed for lack of crime; where agricultural productivity has reached biblical proportions.
The initial movies were accompanied with books and seminars on spiritual warfare, including ones led by Charismatic groups from within Mainline Protestant denominations.
With the release of the first movie as a training tool, Transformation organizations also burst onto the scene in cities around the word, including those under the leadership of Apostle Ed Silvoso's International Transformation Network (ITN). The Transformation movies are credited with inspiring the Global Day of Prayer, founded by South African businessman and ITN leader Graham Power, and launched worldwide in 2005. U.S. participation was centered in Dallas with the help of Rick Warren, who also launched his P.E.A.C.E. program in 2005 for transforming the globe through a church/business/state partnership.
The first Transformations movie was released in 1999 and included a vignette about Kenya starring Thomas Muthee, who later anointed Sarah Palin at Wasilla Assembly of God. The second film, Transformations II: The Glory Spreads, included a segment on Uganda, with claims that the nation and its government was transformed by a national prayer movement at the close of the 1990s and a ceremony including the President and First Lady covenanting the nation to Jesus. The film shows the culmination of this covenant in miracles, including claims of supernatural healing of HIV/AIDS.
The message in each of the Transformations movies is that societal problems can only be addressed through prayer and submission of society, including government, to the correct brand of evangelical belief. In An Unconventional War, Apostle John Mulinde compliments Yoweri Museveni and his military leaders for being willing to address the spiritual aspect of their war against Kony and the LRA.
"When you find a leadership that understands the serenity of God and begins to turn to God for the solution of things that they can't solve, then you get this very strategic partnership between church and state."An Unconventional War (Trailer)
The first half of the movie is a dramatic reenactment of the story of the "Aboke girls" - 139 students abducted in 1996 from a Catholic girls' school. Following their abduction, a nun bravely followed the LRA into the bush to try to negotiate their release. Kony and the LRA let her take 109 of the girls back with her, but kept 30 of the students. Most of the girls in this group would be captives for years and some did not survive.
The recreation of the story includes heartbreaking interviews with the parents and graphic scenes of both dead and surviving, but mutilated, victims interspersed throughout the movie. Kony is portrayed as having supernatural powers and contact with demonic beings that alert him when and where the Ugandan military (UPDF) will strike. Kony's cousin Alice Lakwenna was his predecessor and leader of the Holy Spirit Movement rebellion against Museveni in the 1980s. She is described in the film as having gained her powers when she,
"conversed with the spirits for one month, under the waters of the Nile."
A booklet on The Water Spirit Kingdom
written by a member of the International Intercessory Team coordinated by World Vision (the USAID-supported charity featured throughout An Unconventional War) goes into great detail about this narrative.
In 2002, Sudan opened its borders to the UPDF and "Operation Iron Fist."
After initial success in fighting the LRA, retaliation by the rebels against Acholi civilians actually increased. At about 50 minutes into 90-minute movie, the morality play begins to develop.
The prominent Ugandan apostles in the movie - John Mulinde and Julius Oyet - explained that the war could not be won through military means since it had a spiritual component. "Operation Gideon" is launched with a revival meeting led by Oyet in Gulu. President Museveni also happened to be in town, states the narrator, and called for Oyet to meet with him and his military leaders.
Oyet convinced Museveni and the UPDF to join in a spiritual warfare assault on the mountain altars claimed to be the source of Kony's demonic powers. Oyet then lead a full-scale military expedition against the altars, complete with troops and helicopters. One of the scenes of the spiritual warfare shows a pool of water at an altar that is supposedly so poisonous that anything that touches it dies. After the "eco-healing" as it is called, the soldiers were baptized in the purified water. Following this destruction of Kony's source of supernatural powers, the LRA weakened and many of the kidnapped youth, used as soldiers and sex slaves, were able to return home.
In the midst of the jubilant scenes that followed, a liaison with the organization of parents of abducted children, the Concerned Parents Association, stated,
"And the parents who identified most with God, actually are the parents whose children came out first."
As the youth returned they were first placed in rehabilitation centers, many run by World Vision, an international aid organization with a 1.6 billion dollar budget (2007), over 20,000 employees, and one of the largest recipients of faith-based USAID funding. The narrator and World Vision workers described the difficulties in rehabilitating the returning youth.
Narrator: World Vision is playing a major role in the rehabilitation of child abductees. Although their broad based programs are a godsend for thousands of lost and broken children, staff counselors have detected a disturbing phenomenon.
World Vision Counselor: You find them waking up, you find them waking up and it's like they want to do something. They want to do something, and what they want to do - they want to kill. There is a power, there is a force, something that forces them into doing what they would not ordinarily do.
Liaison to Concerned Parent's Association: It's beyond the normal psychological explanation. There is more to it.
Word Vision Counselor: That is why in this war the church has a very, very crucial role.
Narrator: As committed Christians,Worldview staff members know what to do.
Counselor: They pray over those children, and when they pray over the children, they are freed, in other words deliverance has taken place.
The meaning of deliverance is described in more detail in Charisma Magazine, the flagship publication of the Charismatic/Pentecostal world, in a June 2006 article titled Uganda's Miracle. The article is subtitled, "Amid war and persecution, Christians are experiencing a revival in Uganda that is marked by church growth, an unprecedented drop in AIDS prevalence, and a changing political landscape.
"More than 15,000 former soldiers have found refuge at World Vision's Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu. In addition to offering education and healthcare services, World Vision staff address spiritual needs. When a child enters the program, 'all of the staff get together and lay hands on the child,' says World Vision program manager Jackson Omona. 'We pray and cast out the demons that the child has picked up in the bush.'"
Coincidentally, the next paragraph in the Charisma
article is about Invisible Children.
"Although abductions have become less common in recent months, children who live in vulnerable areas make a nightly exodus to safe zones such as the Noah's Ark and Doctors Without Borders compounds in Gulu. After visiting northern Uganda in 2003 and witnessing the phenomenon of the night commutes, three 20-something Christians created a film titled Invisible Children, which documents their plight."
The middle portion of the Charisma
article is dedicated to the "Uganda Miracle" in reversing the rise of HIV/AIDS and credits both miraculous healing and the abstinence program. The reality is that Uganda had an excellent safe sex education program in the 1990s, but that approach was abandoned to emphasize abstinence-only programming over the last decade. Today Uganda is the only country in East Africa
with a rising HIV/AIDS rate. Nevertheless, the Transformations
movies have been touted around the world as part of a larger propaganda effort claiming the shift in emphasis to abstinence worked and is a "Uganda miracle." For more on the NAR's role in this tragic sequence of events, see Bruce Wilson's compilation Transforming Uganda
and an accompanying article with short biographies
of the major figures.
As An Unconventional War comes to a close, the viewer is told that the Internal Displacement Camps that housed approximately 1.6 million Acholi after they were herded when forced from their villages, served a "redemptive purpose."
"God has allowed them in come in the camps, whereby all of them can hear the word of God and come to Jesus Christ, and if we don't use this window of opportunity, the Muslims are there. They're eager to come and take them." [The last phrase is accompanied with a scene of a mosque.]
The narrator states that the mystery of the Acholi's people's suffering has been solved.
Narrator: The cause of her wound is no longer a mystery.
Apostle John Mulinde: There is a strong connection between the bloodshed and the witchcraft.
Apostle Julius Oyet: What God is saying is that rebellion and idolatry can separate you far from me.
The narrator continues,
"Salvation and deliverance have finally come to Northern Uganda."
The movie includes interviews with: Uganda President Museveni; Sen. Sam Brownback (now governor of Kansas); Els de Temmerman, Belgian founder of the Rachele Rehabiliation Center; and Betty Bigombe, chief mediator with the LRA.
The Rachele Rehabilitation Center founded by Els de Temmerman was named after the nun who risked her life to try to save the girls in her care. The center closed in 2006, after aiding about 2500 LRA abductees to readjust and return to their families. Els de Temmerman worked as editor of New Vision, a Ugandan paper partially owned by the government, from 2006 to 2010.
It's doubtful that everyone interviewed in the movie would have been aware of all of the religious and political messages in the final product. However, Sam Brownback has regularly participated in New Apostolic events, including TheCall, led by Lou Engle and appears in other apostolic and prophetic media.
Julius Oyet, the religious hero of production, is now internationally known for his active role in organizing support in the Ugandan Parliament for the draconian Anti-Homosexuality bill, now known around the world as the "kill the gays" bill. Oyet participated in Lou Engle's TheCall Uganda in May 2010, which became a rally in support of the bill. Oyet has multiple ties to U.S. ministries, including heading the Uganda division of the NAR's Association of International Healing Rooms and leading the Uganda branch of the Atlanta-based College of Prayer.
The Religio-Political Messaging in An Unconventional War
There are subtle messages in the movie that might not be noticeable to viewers unfamiliar with the ideology of the NAR or the geo-political situation in Uganda.
The concept of prayer taught in these movies refers to "targeted intercession," also described as Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare in more advanced training materials. Publicity for the movie explains,
"...many of the difficulties and conflicts in our communities have spiritual roots. We must also learn how to identify these roots of darkness and wage spiritual warfare in Jesus' Name. Prayer must be Biblical and targeted in order to destroy the foundations of darkness in our communities."
The "foundations of darkness" include other religions and philosophies. This particular movie is actually less overt than some of the others in the series in this regard. For example, the first Transformations movie includes claims that spiritual mapping and warfare resulted in the spontaneous burning of a transcendental meditation center. Other NAR media has included descriptions of prayer warfare destroying the buildings or icons of other religions.
Although the apostles embrace Charismatic Catholics, the NAR is virulently opposed to the institutionalized Roman Catholic Church and claims that it is also controlled by demonic forces.
The movie is friendly in its portrayal of the heroic nun who rescued 109 of the 139 girls abducted in 1996, and George Otis, Jr. appears to speak with current Catholic leadership of the school in the film. But there is a subtle reference to the anti-Catholic and anti-institutional ideology of the NAR. It's not only witchcraft and Islam, but the institutionalized Catholic Church that is credited with the Acholi people's misfortune. "The church has failed before," states the narrator as a brief scene from an obviously Catholic service is shown. The same technique is used in a more overt way in the comment about Islam and an exterior shot of a mosque.
The Gulu revival led by Julius Oyet in the film, is claimed to have drawn thousand of participants, who were told to discard their "witchcraft" items on the stage. A different description of this event is described in the Ph.D. dissertation by Robert Ochola-Lukwiya on the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative. According to this account, Oyet almost provoked a riot at the event, when he called for participants to bring their rosary beads and condoms to be burned.
It is curious that the Africa Faith and Justice Network, a Catholic organization, promotes both An Unconventional War and the original Invisible Children movie in a 2006 "tool kit," still available for download on the website and marked as a "hot item." The content of more recent tool kits for activism posted on the site would indicate that their activism may be in conflict with that of Invisible Children. As a Catholic organization, there is no doubt that their interests conflict with the NAR. The Africa Faith & Justice Network is a participant in Friends of the Congo, an organization promoting their own 30-minute documentary, Crisis in Congo, presenting the history of the Congo/Rwanda/Uganda region from a very different perspective.
The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative includes both Muslim and Christian leaders from several different denominations and promotes an interfaith approach to peace in the region. For many religious leaders, the goal is peace and stability for the nation and the promotion of religious pluralism, as opposed to exploitation of the conflict for proselytizing.
A similar dynamic can be seen in Sudan, where the conflict is generally portrayed in the American press as Muslim vs. Christian, despite the fact that there are some Muslims working to promote secular government and a pluralistic society, as Frederick Clarkson reports in Religious Dispatches.
"...the broad struggle is more accurately seen as one between rising state sponsored Arabist Islamic nationalism, against racial and religious pluralism."
Religious supremacists, both Muslim and Christian, sometimes benefit by pouring fuel on the flames of conflicts that are not necessarily religious in origin.
Kony's Supernatural Powers
In much of the media on Kony, religious and secular, he is portrayed as having supernatural powers that aid him in escaping capture. This is a central theme of An Unconventional War. The turning point in the story takes place when Julius Oyet uses his good magic (divinely-sourced supernatural powers), to destroy Kony's bad magic.
Numerous activists and journalists have pointed out the extent to which Western journalists have regurgitated the claims that Kony has demonic powers, perhaps helping to advance the Kony mythology. Jane Bussman, a British comedian and Uganda activist, references the assertion made in the New York Times that Kony "is a former altar boy who became possessed by spirits," She describes this statement as "additional reporting presumably by the Times' Afterlife Bureau."
Those who have promoted the myths about Kony's supernatural ability to avoid capture, failed to question which flesh and blood humans might be tipping off Kony, or to ask whose agenda in this complex geo-political conflict might be served by spreading the belief that Kony has demonic powers.
An Unconventional War is an example of how an apparently noble cause can be exploited in ways that most Americans may not have even imagined.
A version of this article is posted at www.Talk2action.org. Also see an extensive 2008 report compiled by Talk2action contributors titled Spiritual Mapping and Spiritual Warfare: Muthee and the Transformations Franchise.