Visions

Invisible Children "Kony 2012" Leader Suggests It's About Jesus and Evangelizing

Is one of the biggest viral video in history Christian fundamentalist propaganda? Invisible Children's founder lays out his agenda at Liberty University.

Photo Credit: Sean Dreilinger

"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 BachmannRick 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"

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."

You 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 )

 
Researcher Bruce Wilson is the co-founder, with journalist Frederick Clarkson, of the website Talk2Action, which covers the intersection of religion and politics.