Invisible Children, Joseph Kony and Complexity :: Part 2

(originally published at

Yesterday, almost as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on my previous post, I had the sense that I would need to write a follow-up. The thing is, I know that it’s really easy to rail against a group or an organisation, to write someone or something off. Maybe we don’t agree with their mandate, their approach. We all have biases. We all have different ways of understanding the world.

I know that I have mine. And as someone who serves with Word Made Flesh – a global movement dedicated to serving Jesus amongst the most vulnerable of the world’s poor – I have to take my share of responsibility for my role in both dialogue and response.

Yet, I am convinced that each of us is called by God to engage the world, to participate in it, and if we subscribe to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, there is something important about the way in which we treat those who have been pushed to the margins.

But it’s not about fixing people. We are not saviours, and we desperately need to get that through our heads.

At the end of the day, my initial post left off with a great deal of criticism, but not much in terms of moving forward. In so-doing, I may have done a disservice to the young people, youth leaders, and readers of this blog who were and are moved by this campaign, and wish to do something.

It’s one thing to get swept up in a movement. It’s another to tear it to shreds.

It’s quite another, in recognition of the complexity of it all, to engage in meaningful, respectful and transformative dialogue and action.

I, for one, am glad for the conversation started by the Invisible Children campaign. I think it gives us a lot to think about. For those of us who work amongst youth and young adults, it may give a really important entry-point into conversations about faith, justice, and how we participate in seeing God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

After cross-posting yesterday’s thoughts to facebook, I received this comment on my timeline:

I really wish bloggers would stop slandering and criticizing others who are actually trying to make the world a better place. Since when has helping people in need become the wrong thing to do?…This sends out a message that says, “Don’t even bother trying to help someone because you are probably going to get it wrong anyway.”

I had hoped that my post, ending with the headline from an article written by Ugandan-born Musa Okwanaga would have suggested the need to move forward, yes, but in a more reflective way. The answers are not simple. The issues complex. As Paulo Freire puts it in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (htEric Ritskes)

In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity’, the opressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the fount of this ‘generosity’, which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty…

True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life’, to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to be extended less and less in supplication.

We need to ask questions about the structures of oppression, and not just the presenting symptoms. We need to think deeply about these issues. We need to become better informed. We need to engage in deep relationship with those amongst whom we wish to serve. Only then can we act, if invited, alongside those whom we hope to help.

And of course, we can speak up.

Blogger Ashley Drake makes some helpful suggestions along these lines:

1) Blog! or comment on blogs, air your concerns, have others weigh in, do others share your same concerns? send a group email to IC expressing this.

2) HASHTAG! disagree with the allocation of IC funds? #invisiblechildren80 military mission? #kony2012peace (I actually don’t hashtag…these are horrible examples but you get the idea, right?). Or read other critiquing hashtags and simply Retweet.

3) Tell yourself that being passive is not an option. Donate to a grassroots movement, volunteer some time advocating. Create an email template that you and your community can send to your MP. Don’t sit at your computer and repost a critical piece, which by the way are filled with their own rhetoric and false information.

In the context of youth ministry, engage young people in conversation. Chances are, this issue is on their radar. Work with them and come alongside them as they participate in and think critically about possible solutions. Within your parish, community or diocese, find out if there’s anyone who knows the local context, or who is involved in other organisations on the ground in Uganda.

You may wish to contact the folks at – the youth arm of PWRDF, our church’s Relief & Development Agency for more resources. They have all sorts of resources that will help you and the young people in your church engage more deeply with the complex issues at play here. KONY2012 may be passionately trying to address the presenting symptoms, but the real issues are lying somewhere beneath the surface.

And if you’re into books – I can’t recommend highly enough, the works of Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, co-director of the Centre for Reconciliation at Duke University. Here are a couple to get you started:

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

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