March 13, 2012

KONY 2012: Why Are Evangelicals So Into Uganda?

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Written by: Joshua
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Anyone who hasn’t been under a social media rock for the past week is aware of the Kony 2012 video and viral marketing campaign started by Invisible Children. The goal is to convince US policymakers to intervene in the ongoing crisis in Central Africa by providing more US military advisers, more military aid to the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF), and more diplomatic pressure on Central African heads of state.

There’s been a wave of criticism since the whole thing began. Among the best critiques I’ve read are Bruce Wilson’s piece at AlterNet and Neil Anderson’s piece at Demand Nothing, both of which highlight Invisible Children’s financial connections with the National Christian Foundation, the Fellowship Foundation—aka, the Family, the International Foundation, the Wilberforce Foundation, C Street, etc—and several other Evangelical Christian groups. (Boing Boing has a nice roundup here, along with a much longer roundup of African voices responding to the Kony 2012 campaign.)

Let’s be clear: Invisible Children has always been an evangelical Christian organization. Its founders and staff are largely evangelicals; its major funders are evangelical foundations; its major partners are evangelical NGOs; and its early marketing was through evangelical college groups. That doesn’t bother me in and of itself. After all, much of my life has involved trying to get religious people more involved in social justice work. But something about Invisible Children rubbed me the wrong way when I first heard about it through evangelical friends back in college, and that feeling redoubled when Kony 2012 blew up.

What’s most inexplicable is Uganda. Set aside the fact that Joseph Kony is not in Uganda. Set aside that the Ugandan military also uses child soldiers, including former child members of the Lord’s Resistance Army. It’s curious how Uganda keeps popping up in relation to evangelical NGOs.

As the Bruce Wilson piece linked to above points out, one of Invisible Children’s largest funders is the National Christian Foundation, who also fund the Fellowship Foundation (aka, the Family), which Jeff Sharlet has written about extensively. As NPR has reported here and here, the Family is also deeply involved in Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni and several government ministers have ties to the Family, and the Family has even been accused of setting the scene for Uganda’s now infamous kill-the-gays bill. (Members of the Family have disputed that, but evangelicals were certainly involved in creating the environment that produced that bill, whether or not it was their intent.)

This weekend a friend and I busted out our ninja skills and did some snooping on Invisible Children and related organizations, including the Family. Looking through their 990 forms for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005, I discovered something shocking—a school in Uganda is almost always their single largest grantee by far, to the tune of millions of dollars. It turns out this school is Cornerstone Development Africa, another explicitly Christian organization.

So, why Uganda? I have absolutely no idea. You might argue that Buddhists tend to be more concerned about Tibet and Burma and Muslims tend to be more concerned about Syria and Palestine, so it’s natural for evangelicals to be more concerned about an evangelical nation. Except that Uganda isn’t an evangelical nation; it’s mostly Catholic and Anglican.

On the other hand, it could be that the president of Uganda—who’s held that office for almost as long as I’ve been alive—is a member of the Family and apparently quite a devout evangelical Christian. On the Family’s end it could also be his willingness to deport dissidents and burn down villages for Western corporate interests—something that’s surely attractive to deep-pocketed evangelical donors.

Those are pretty audacious accusations, and they could be completely wrong. But something just feels off about the thing, and I’ve learned to trust that instinct. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

The KONY 2012 Video:

About the Author

Joshua is currently a contributing scholar at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue’s State of Formation and a contributor to the Zen Peacemakers’ Bearing Witness Blog. He has served as co-editor-in-chief of Cult/ure: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School and as a writer with the Natural Dharma Fellowship, where he founded the website Dana Wiki, which helps Buddhist organizations get involved in social service. Joshua holds a MDiv in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University and a BA in Psychology from the University of West Georgia.



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  1. Kyle

    Say what? I thought he was a homo! # JasonRussell

  2. Lola

    He is, he is just one of those “I prayed the Gay away” ones, with a wedding ring to prove it. Watch his interview @ Liberty U wherein he says he originally wanted to direct musicals like Moulin Rouge and Chicago. I know hetero men who like musicals, but not flamboyant, purse lipped ones like him.

  3. Joy

    Thanks for posting this article. It is very interesting. As someone who became aware of Invisible Children/Kony2012 through their promotional activity on the web and through coverage in the mainstream media, what seems immediately questionable about them on closer inspection is the fact that, on the one hand, they’re very up-front about asking for money (Google Kony2012 and up pops the site with the donation button) and, on the other, do not make it clear on their websites or in their online promotional activity that they have a connection to Christianity (the fact that Invisible Children is a Christian “mission” with connections to other Christian organisations is stated here: http://www.barnabasgroup.org/uploads/document_library/tbg-files/TBG%20Ministry%20Report%20-%20Invisible%20Children.pdf). This combination of being upfront about asking for money but not about having a religious affiliation seems less than straightforward and immediately raises questions about how the money is used. (If you want to check the charity’s financials through the United Kingdom’s charity regulator, which publishes information on how charities use their money, you won’t get answers here either, as Invisible Children’s accounts are overdue: http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithoutPartB.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=1128466&SubsidiaryNumber=0) It is also in stark contrast to other charities which are open about their religious ties. When people donate money, whether they have a religious belief or not, they have a right to expect a charity to be open about something as basic as its religious affiliation.

  4. Joy

    Further info:
    “Is Invisible Children affiliated with a religious organization?
    No, Invisible Children is not affiliated with any religious organization.”

  5. Joy

    “The fact that Invisible Children is a Christian “mission” with connections to other Christian organisations is stated here: http://www.barnabasgroup.org/uploads/document_library/tbg-files/TBG%20Ministry%20Report%20-%20Invisible%20Children.pdf
    It is described there as a “ministry”, not a mission.

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