I’ve been waiting to write about the whole Kony 2012 thing, because I needed to process some of it myself first. But here we go.
First of all, my wife and I heard the founders of Invisible Children speak at The Master’s College in 2004, and have followed and supported the organization since. We’ve attended and participated in awareness events put on by Invisible Children, and my wife ran the Schools for Schools Invisible Children club at the high school where we both taught, until last Spring when she became a stay-at-home mom. Even earlier than all this, before we met, my wife spent 6 weeks in Uganda with a mission team from college, where she fell in love with the Ugandan people. So all of this news is near and dear to our hearts.
If you don’t know, Kony 2012 was a huge Twitter/social media campaign ignited by Invisible Children, in an effort to dramatically and rapidly increase awareness about Joseph Kony’s terrorism in Uganda, specifically involving children. The Kony 2012 video, released online on March 5, called for the capture of Kony, the leader of the LRA, who kidnaps children to use as sex slaves and as child soldiers. The US Treasury Department has added Kony to a list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, and the work of Invisible Children is definitely up to some very good things as they try to bring Kony to justice.
The 20 minute Kony 2012 video went viral, with celebrities from all avenues jumping on board and firing off tweets about bringing the world together against Kony. Alicia Keyes, Diddy, Rihanna, and Kim Kardashian are just a few who were apparently stirred by the film. With a certain level of irony, Russell Brand, an actor not known for his chaste, moral lifestyle, tweeted, “Hello everyone! Can it ever be right to assemble a child army to terrorize people? Surely not.”
And if you missed it, things took an interesting turn. Ten days after the Kony 2012 video release on March 15, Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children was “detained” for unruly and indecent behavior on a San Diego street corner. Stories were weirdly mixed, and Invisible Children employees were told not to comment. But the statement made by Invisible Children about Russell’s behavior said that, despite the rumors, it wasn’t substance-related, but a result of exhaustion and dehydration from the publicity and pressure of the video’s release. You can read the NBC San Diego report here, The Washington Post here, and the Huffington Post report here. All 3 are each very different takes on the story.
But what’s consistent in all the stories is that Jason Russell messed up; that on some level, the pressure of the publicity and criticism that fell on him and his organization got to him, and he had a “breakdown” of some kind. Whether there was alcohol or drugs involved seems pretty irrelevant to me. Either way, Jason Russell made a mistake, and revealed his own sinful nature in the face of pressure.
Things like Invisible Children create a dilemma for the Christian Church, since so many Christians end up supporting causes like this. Especially now, when it’s very “hip” to be involved with humanitarian and social justice causes. Should the global Church involve itself with things like Invisible Children, or not?
Certainly this organization has done, and is continuing to do a lot of good, both to help the kidnapped and brutalized children in Uganda, but also to bring evil men like Joseph Kony to justice. And the founders, Russell included, have seen a lot of good come from their initial efforts and the zeal for compassion and justice that led them to start Invisible Children. Whether they’re all Christians, I’m not sure; I’ve heard them speak, and they sounded like they were.
But look at the irony of the situation. There is an intensely evil man like Kony at large in the world, committing horrific crimes against not just other humans, but against little children. This stirs up our God-given sense of justice; we should absolutely feel a terrible sadness for what happens in parts of the world like Uganda, where we see the wickedness of the the human heart on full display. But Romans 3:9,10 tells us that all have sinned; we’ve all turned away from God, and there isn’t a righteous person in this whole broken world.
There’s a problem of sin that runs through Kony’s heart, and runs through our hearts, and through Jason Russell’s heart too. We have people with wicked hearts like Russell Brand, who live in depraved sin that is some how on a socially palatable level for our Western culture; Brand tweets that Kony needs to be brought to justice because Kony’s crimes have somehow overstepped even what Brand deems “acceptable.” Then we have Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children and star of the Kony 2012 video, with his sin nature on full display on a San Diego street corner. Do we still champion Jason Russell’s efforts against the wickedness of Kony, because Kony’s sin is more “off the charts” to us Westerners?
I think we do. We should care about the oppressed and the orphaned, because God cares about them. But the politics of the war we fight in this broken world have to go even deeper than freeing kidnapped children and bringing war criminals and terrorists to justice. Especially for the Church. May Western Christians never foolishly think cleaning up the lives of the less-fortunate is doing enough; if that’s where it stops, we’re just cleaning people up to go to hell. The politics of this life have to address the hearts of men. Kony, Jason Russell, me, you – we all have terribly wicked hearts that, left unrestrained by God, will commit “all manner of unrighteousness” (Romans 1:28). And the only way a person is saved from this terminal, universal condition of wickedness is by the Gospel of Christ. In Christ our sins are washed by His blood shed for us, and we are reconciled to God. And being saved from our sin, our lives change and take on a new nature as God’s Holy Spirit indwells the sinner. There is real, solid, true hope in the Gospel.
I hope the Church counts the cost of what it supports, and that Christians make sure they throw in their lot with the right things; or rather, that they don’t miss making the main thing the main thing. This must always be the Gospel. Always. And I hope someone’s caring for Jason Russell’s soul in all of this. If he’s trying to do good, and fix himself on his own, he’ll never do it. I hope he has a church family, and a pastor that continue to pour Gospel truth, and Gospel hope into Russell’s life.
May we not be shortsighted in the work we hope to see done in this dark ol’ world.