You most likely saw social media publicity of the Kony 2012 video campaign. One of the main posters to promote the campaign has an overlapping republican elephant and a democratic donkey with an olive branch between them and the phrase “ONE THING WE CAN ALL AGREE ON” at the bottom.
The matter of Joseph Kony and the child soldiers and other atrocities in Africa and around the world are not really a particularly political issue. The poster works so well precisely because the elephant and donkey do not really belong on it. We feel that we can breath so much more easily when there is finally something on which we can all agree. Certainly you have had the experience of talking with someone whose political, religious, or philosophical views are starkly different from your own. When the topic of conversation becomes too divisive we are quick to use the pressure valve of the weather or sports or anything innocuous. But we might also try to have a conversation about things of great meaning by finding a common moral ground talking about vague things such as love or functional society or something without any real definition. We might dissolve a politically nuanced matter with a statement like, “I just think we should help the poor,” and thus erase all real substance of a conversation by thinking we have arrived safely at the heart of the matter.
The Kony 2012 poster taps into this mentality. It upholds an issue and takes it as a matter of course that we can all agree that Kony is doing wrong and must be stopped. The young people today are hungry to feel that they have fought for social justice and pushed the 21st century world toward the inevitable progress we have promised ourselves. Western youth yearn for harmony and peace in the social discourse and feel that while there are so many divisive issues it is so refreshing to settle on one which everyone would find agreeable. We feel no qualms about posting things about the Kony video; in fact we feel excellent.
A team interviewed young adults for the book Lost in Transition: the dark side of emerging adulthood (Oxford, 2011) and asked them questions about their moral reasoning. They found that 40% said that they primarily decide on what to do morally based on what will make them happy and one in ten would do what would help them get ahead (p. 51).
In his book Terror in the Mind of God (University of California Press, 2000) Mark Juergensmeyer wrote of his interview with convicted terrorist Mahmud Abouhalima in the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc, California. Juergensmeyer said that Abouhalima “challenged our dedication to the virtue of tolerance when we have been unwilling to tolerate religious enthusiasts such as himself” (p. 245). Mr. Abouhalima is exactly correct.
Joseph Kony and his ilk may not think that what they are doing is wrong at all. It might make them rather happy. It might be their best means of surviving and “getting ahead”. In fact those who would say that morality is based on such things or that it is all really just relative in the end have no basis to call what Kony is doing wrong, yet they are the same young adults who feel so reassured that nobody would disagree with stopping him. There really may not be something on which we can all agree, after all. To the moral relativist who says that the right thing to do is what you desire to do, Kony ought to hold a place of honor as one of the few men brave enough to actually take that idea and run with it.
The Christian community has an enormous opportunity with the young adults today. Somewhere in them they know something of what is right and they hunger to be a part of establishing justice for the oppressed. As Christians we can offer them someone in whom they find their place: one of submission to a law of love and of value imparted by the lover. We offer a fixed standard, a person to whom we can belong both in obedient service to the one who defines justice and in a fixed and committed relationship with the one who invented faithfulness. We can offer the one who makes people valuable and who values them alongside his own son. Let us look to meet the needs not only of the oppressed but also of the groaning hearts of those who seek to rescue them.