By Greg Damhorst
Imagining New Partnerships
The Kony 2012 video has now amassed more than 83 million views on YouTube and triggered a response with which Invisible Children can’t keep up. To make things worse, this viral phenomenon has triggered assertions that have called the non-profit’s integrity into question on multiple levels. It sounds like a mess. But at least a significantly larger portion of the world’s population knows something about the horrors taking place in Uganda, right?
While millions are getting behind the Kony 2012 movement, it has also garnered its fair share of critics. Included are those who have something to add to the discussion on western mentality in response to global crises. I’m referring to the superiority complex that tempts the well-resourced to see themselves as the rescuers of the under-resourced, saviors of the helpless, deliverers of the oppressed.
This mentality has been criticized – as it should – and this criticism often accompanies insults hurled at the sort of folks who use their celebrity to attract attention to humanitarian issues around the world, folks like Bono of U2 or innumerable Hollywood stars, including George Clooney. Clooney was arrested Friday outside of the Sudanese embassy in D.C. while trying to attract attention to another humanitarian crisis: the suffering of the Sudanese people living in the Nuba Mountains.
In some ways, when it comes to responding to humanitarian issues, ignorance and arrogance are the Scylla and Charybdis through which we must navigate. Some stick their heads in the sand while accusations of self-righteousness are dealt all too readily on those taking action to raise awareness, especially if it makes them look good in the process. If there is an approach immune to ridicule, it’s a delicate one.
But of all things, I think George Clooney might be onto something slightly more than commendable. While reading about his arrest Friday afternoon, I came across an excerpt from an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last week. Clooney was describing the importance of people of faith in drawing attention to crisis in Darfur. While he was elaborating on his partnership with blowhard evangelical Pat Robertson, Clooney said, “So I called him up, and I said, ‘Listen, we’re not going to agree on too many things, but there’s no two sides to this issue, and you and I can work together on this.’“
I think Clooney offers a glimpse of the key to navigating these volatile waters. If oppression and genocide are going to end, if starving people are going to eat and sick people are going to receive care, if the disadvantaged are going to face opportunity, then it’s going to be because of partnerships.
This is why the interfaith movement matters. It’s teaching tomorrow’s leaders the value of partnerships. Ironically enough, the same principle that brought interfaith leaders Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel together as they marched at Selma, Ala., in 1965 is bringing Clooney and Robertson together in front of the Sudan’s D.C. embassy in 2012.
Yet common action for the common good is not only about activists; the relationship between the war-torn, disease-burdened or poverty-stricken community and the Good Samaritan who reaches out to help is exactly the same. It is one person saying to another: “I come from a different place, a different perspective, a different experience, but you and I can agree on one thing: We can work together to make things right.”
So whether you feel that the Kony 2012 movement is insincere or revolutionary, whether you find George Clooney inspiring or melodramatic, perhaps we can agree on one thing: nothing is going to change if we don’t choose to work together. And that means educating yourself about the suffering and oppression taking place in our world and choosing to move forward with humility – in partnership with others.
This article is reprinted from HuffPost Religion, March 21, 2012.