There were two stories in the news last week that fascinated me as I watched them unravel. The first was the meteoric rise of the viral 30 minute video Kony 2012 that took over Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. The second story was an NPR radio episode of This American Life about working conditions in the Apple factories in China. The story centered around a play/monologue by Mr. Daisy about his trip to China to investigate the matter. Over 1 million people had downloaded that NPR podcast – by far an all time record.
Both stories turned tragic last week. Invisible Children, the group responsible for Kony 2012, came under heavy criticism. It turns out that the conflict as it was presented was not all that accurate – It had been accurate in the early 2000s but after 2004 no longer represented the true affairs of the country and Joseph Kony himself had left Uganda and migrated to a neighboring country.
People accused the film’s star Jason Russell and his Invisible Children crew of knowingly misleading people and falsifying content in order to elicit a greater emotional response.
The Apple story went down a similar road for Mr. Daisy. It turns out that he had taken some artistic license in presenting his one-man-show and that not everything he claims would qualify as ‘journalistic standard’ of truthfulness. For instance, while he was in China for that week, he saw a news story about some factory workers in another province suffering horrible effects from a chemical. He never went to that province nor talked to those workers but just imported that story and connected it to his subject. The result was that this one factory seemed to be layers and layers of horrific working conditions – but in reality what was presented was an amalgamation of many factories in several provinces.
In the follow-up interviews this weekend Mr. Daisy said that he took license with the facts because he wanted people to care about this. He knew that the conditions were bad and so orchestrated the story to draw a response.
These two stories, taken together, point to a series of issues that are relevant to the church and her theology.
The first issue is complacency. Both of these ‘presenters’ knew that some tweaks and modifications needed to made in order to overcome our collective complacency. We see so much bad, that unless something is really bad – it just doesn’t register. We are so overwhelmed with images, adverts, messages and pleas that unless something is sensational or horrific, we have evolved mechanisms and filters to catch it and screen it out. The result is that we become complicit in maintaining the status-quo and passive participants in the system, structures and institutions that comprise the ‘Powers the Be’ that Paul reference in Ephesians 6.
The second issue is Paternalism. At some point white people from the West are going to have to stop thinking that the solution to what ails Africa or Asia is us coming over and fixing it. Now, I applaud the generous heart behind both Invisible Children and Mr. Daisy but until we repent of our Colonial impulse and step away from that model of missions, we are going to continue to run into problems and run over the very folks we purport to be helping.
- We want to help – that is great.
- We do it in our way – and that is hurtful.
There is no doubt that in global system of international trade and foreign policy that the church must come to terms with our inter-connectivity and inter-relatedness in a way that transcends outdated clichés and antiquated platitudes of centuries past. We live in an evolving world that is experiencing exponential and radical change.
I love that good folks want to care about that and not just go shopping to bury their head in the sand. BUT until we repent of our ongoing paternalism and acknowledge the devastating effects of our colonial missions we will continue to replicate the harm and multiply the devastation.
As Christians, do we need to think through and address our participation in the global market and international structures that dominate our contemporary economy? Yes.
If, however, we do not first repent of our Colonial missions mentality, we will continue the pattern of paternalism and Imperial impulse that has created these very situations we want to address.
p.s. I know about Jason Russell’s
arrest episode this weekend but did not want to distract from the bigger issue.