Kony 2012: American Atrocities, Simplistic Solutions, and Christ Crucified

I shared a couple tweets on the subject, but other than that I have not really said much about the Kony 2012 agenda. I have mixed feelings critiquing the movement, because on one hand I do see the impact of Kony and the LRA as horrific and needing appropriatehuman response and on the other hand I see the campaign and effort to make Joseph Kony famous overly simplistic, naive, and blind to historical, political, and socio-economic realities that exist in Uganda, the continent of Africa, and also throughout western nations like America.

Furthermore, while I am all for putting an end to those atrocities, I think that we must also address the atrocities that have been and continue to be committed by our own nation. Millions, not thousands have died on account of American action here on our soil as well as on account of our military and the policies that we (a democracy) have allowed to be enacted around the world. The almost complete genocide of the indigenous people of the land and their continued discrimination and suffering are on the hands of America. Our very existence on this land alone ought to serve as a continual reminder of the millions that no longer exist because of colonial expansion. Probably those who participated in the unjust war crimes against the First Nations people should have also had a campaign against them with their faces on posters. I could continue on and on about America’s role in the middle passage, slavery, black codes, the sharecropper system, Jim Crow, nuclear attacks, unjust wars, participation with dictators (and then later turning on them and attacking them), immoral masses of money spent on the military industrial complex, over-imprisonment of our most vulnerable citizens, colonizing of other nations and people groups, foreign policy that punishes the poorest and most vulnerable, and the consequential and unimaginable number of deaths that have come from all these and other actions that America has perpetrated under the banner of innocence, freedom, and democracy.
I know this probably will not be a popular post nor will it be received well by many. However, I just thought it would be important to offer caution before we get too self-righteous as we look with shame at Joseph Kony, and instead first turn the judgment around for a moment to realize that we as a country collectively (and many individually as well) deserve to have a poster made with us on it. Then, when we realize our own faults and shortcomings as it relates to injustice, we can begin to humbly move forward doing true justice. This justice will no longer be done as though we are the center of and saviors to the world, but rather as those who being a part of the chaos, also understand that the ugliness and injustice we see is complex and will not be fixed with wristbands and posters. There are complex forces at work (spiritual, political, social, and economic) which all play factors in the injustice we see unfold around us. Stopping one man or making one man famous will not redirect these forces. The demonizing of one man may make us feel good and right, but it will not accurately explain the complex political context that gave space for such a movement to come to be. Not as an excuse for Kony, but as I have always understood it, Uganda has had ongoing political corruption since western invasion and colonization, which the LRA was responding against. Kony’s horrific crimes are not justified, however, wearing a bracelet to make him famous will not solve the problem at the root, but is merely putting a band aid on a fatal wound while scapegoating only one man for the actions of many people, nations, and forces. If Kony is arrested, I will not be complaining. However, I know that will not put an end to the oppressive rulers and authorities in Africa, in America, or in our world, that is what Jesus’ victory on the Cross was for; the continual defeat of oppressive and evil powers by God’s rule and reign which is breaking into our world.
Colossains 2:15 “Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

8 thoughts on “Kony 2012: American Atrocities, Simplistic Solutions, and Christ Crucified

  1. Based on what you have said here – Please have either Renee or Sally on hand near MH at all times because if the likes of a Kony ever wants to take him. I’d be much more comfortable with them simply kicking butt and thwarting the thug first. Then you can go agonize over what Westerner is responcible for this guy being the way he is and who we should blame and how much of a victim the poor thug is and how much compensation the Western world owes him.
    You spent a fraction of a paragraph dealing with the Kony and the rest of the tom on western guilt.
    How comforted would Kony’s victims be if they had a chance to read what you have here…?
    Ask Sally and Renee if it’s time to assess guilt when the thug is in the house in your room in your face.

    1. Not sure what post you were reading…. my post actually was about trying to make an actual change by addressing all the complexities that are playing out. I think I made it clear what Joseph Kony has done is atrocious.

      However, wearing wristbands and demonizing one man is not going to fix these problems, and I know that you know that as well. As for Kony’s victims’, I would hope that they would be glad that I was suggesting that a comprehensive strategy be employed rather than spending millions on a youtube and poster campaign. I imagine that all that money could have gone to better use by local indigenous leaders that actually understand the complex realities a bit more than our american friend.

      Finally, if we are not able to admit our own faults, who are we to judge people in other countries who commit human atrocities. Should we not stop those outside our country who do horrible things while ALSO stopping our own condemning practices that we are accountable for as a democratic society??? Is this really a problem or is this just a miscommunication? Or is it that you believe that I am wrong about America, because it is really an innocent Christian nation whose interests have always been for peace and justice? It is ok to critique the country that you live in, it does not mean you hate it. It means that you want it to change and do better. I don’t believe we need to have a blind allegiance to America, only God’s Kingdom deserves that.

    2. Ok, so Renee helped me understand your response, which I was definitely not getting. She said that you have an emotional response to the atrocities that are being perpetrated by Kony (which is appropriate) and can not understand how I could consume myself in abstraction and theory while that is occuring.

      However, Renee also realizes that I am very passionate about ending that atrocity, however I can not separate and dichotimize and separate that atrocity from all the history of western colonization and also the continual unjust practices of the U.S. My emotional response engages a variety of issues, and my intention of my post was to widen people’s viewpoint. It is not meant to take away the ugliness of Kony’s actions, as I said it is horrific. However, it is supposed to make us want to ALSO stop the things that we do as a country that has and continues to kill even larger numbers of people than Kony himself has. It is a call to be disturbed by ALL of it. It’s obvious to us that Kony is a monster, I don’t think I need to make that point, it’s already made. What is not so obvious is that beast within that claims innocence while devastating lives at home and abroad.

  2. ” I just thought it would be important to offer caution before we get too self-righteous as we look with shame at Joseph Kony, and instead first turn the judgment around for a moment to realize that we as a country collectively (and many individually as well) deserve to have a poster made with us on it. Then, when we realize our own faults and shortcomings as it relates to injustice, we can begin to humbly move forward doing true justice.”
    My thoughts exactly. Great post!

  3. Drew, I must say that sometimes there is an “edge” to your positions/posts that I may not fully agree but by and large agree with the majority of what you say. In this case I think you squarely put your foot on it. Most times we think what the media tells us which means that we usually only see one side of the issue. The problems that plague our world are indeed complex as you have pointed out and if we are truly going to bring justice then we need to deal with injustice wherever it rears its ugly head and attempt to get to the root as much as possible.

    Good post (Micah 6:8).

  4. Amen. Good post, brother. I appreciate seeing folks discuss how complex…how not simple…it is. America tends to have the superhero mentality: we know there is a problem (e.g. Kony), and we have the ability to solve it (i.e. some sort of military occupation and attack), so we MUST engage. And there is an utter lack of respect for the history and true dynamics of what is going on. And what about an understanding of how we may in fact be a reason, a cog, behind why “Kony” even exists today? As MLK Jr. said, the US is the greatest perpetrator of violence in the world (still) today. We must take our cues and guidance from Jesus.

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