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Joseph Kony and the LRA (ii)

[ by Charles Cameron — LRA, Muslim influence, biblical literalism, Machine Gun Preacher, the biker and the nun ]


There is much to be said about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, and I intend to write about the importance of a worldview imbued with magic — both in driving the LRA’s ferocious violence, and in providing subsequent healing for the victims and absolution and reconciliation for the perpetrators — in an upcoming post.  But there are a few things I want to have dealt with first — to clear the decks, so to speak.

Here, I want to mention three points briefly: (a) confirmation of a possible Muslim connection, or perhaps merely syncretism, in the LRA; (b) a fiercely literal form of biblical interpretation; and (c) the question of the “Christian Rambo”.


In my recent post on the topic, I quoted Maya Deighton‘s DFID report about Kony’s “much-proclaimed conversion to Islam”.

My friend Jim Lai very kindly pointed me to another and richer datum on the topic. It comes from the 1997 Human Rights Watch report, THE SCARS OF DEATH: Children Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda:

There is, of course, an apparent irony in Sudan’s support for the Lord’s Resistance Army: the Sudanese government is militantly Islamic, while the Lord’s Resistance Army is at least ostensibly Christian. But over time, it seems clear that the beliefs and practices of Kony and his followers have changed: in 1987, Kony’s group was closely identified with Alice Lakwena, and like Lakwena, Kony appears to have enjoyed substantial popular support among the Acholi. Huge crowds would gather to hear him preach. By May 1997, when we conducted most of our interviews, the testimony of the children we met suggested that many of the rituals common in Lakwena’s time had been abandoned or were only sporadically followed. Many children also reported rebel practices that appear to have been adopted from Islam: for instance, the rebels pray while facing Mecca, respect Friday as a holy day, and forbid the keeping of pigs.

The New York Times published LTC Richard Skow’s highly informative notes on the LRA, and these included (page 9) more than one injunction with a specifically Christian orientation, and at least one that seems to fit more closely with the Muslim model: “Wounded personnel are administered three sips of water mixed with shea butter oil – one sip for each of the trinity” (cf. Christian baptismal doctrine and Matthew 28.19) and “Before prayer they must wash at least their hands, feet and face” (cf Muslim wudu (ablutions) before prayer, and Qur’an 5.6).

As Jim points out, what’s being described here may best be described as syncretism rather than Islam.

So while I don’t think that paragraph by any means proves that the LRA is a “Muslim” organization, it certainly makes Limbaugh‘s portrayal of the LRA as “Christians … fighting the Muslims” – not to mention his headline, Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians — look even more clueless.

Thanks, Jim.


My second point has to do with Biblical interpretation of the most literal sort.

Mark 9.43- 47 reads:

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

There are, I imagine, more than a few Christian men who have looked on a woman to lust after her, and have therefore presumably committed adultery with her already in their hearts (see Matthew 5.28), but who have not seen fit to pluck out their eyes as a result. There are many modes of Biblical interpretation, and the application of Mark 9 to Matthew 5 in a literal sense does not appear to have been a popular one.

Joseph Kony, on the other hand, not only refers to that passage in Mark, he appears to suggest that one might need to apply it to others, not just oneself.

Mr. Kony tells his followers that he is in direct contact with God, and that God says it is right to kill in the cause of toppling Mr. Museveni’s evil government, which is accused of hostility toward the country’s north. (The government’s sins, however, remain unstated.)

In 1988, when the government tried to train villagers in self-defense, Mr. Kony was quoted as saying: “If you pick up an arrow against us and we ended up cutting off the hand you used, who is to blame? You report us with your mouth, and we cut off your lips. Who is to blame? It is you! The Bible says that if your hand, eye or mouth is at fault, it should be cut off.” The rebels began cutting off the lips, hands, noses and breasts of civilians, intending that their victims survive as constant warnings to others.

I don’t have access to Els De Temmerman‘s book about the LRA, Aboke Girls: Children Abducted in northern Uganda, but she quotes that passage from St Mark, and apparently confirms that Kony has used it. As one of her readers reports:

One of the commandments LRA leader Joseph Kony enforces is from St Mark 9, 43, 45, and 47: And if thine hand offend thee, cut it off … and if thine foot offend the, cut it off … and if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out…

If the army ran into villagers riding a bike, they would cut their legs off. If the new rebel recruits could not watch the beating and killing of their classmates, families, or friends, they would pluck their eyes out.

I don’t believe even Origen would have gone that far.


Lastly, I’m obliged to Richard Bartholomew of Bartholomew’s Notes for pointing me to Mark Moring‘s article in Christianity Today, which describes in some detail the claims made by Rev. Sam Childers – hero of the recently released film, Machine Gun Preacher – concerning his own efforts on behalf of children and against Kony and the RLA:

The 49-year-old Childers is a former biker and gang member who found God as a young man and felt called to help orphans in Sudan, where he has been working off and on for more than a decade. Machine Gun Preacher, starring Gerard Butler in the lead role, has received positive buzz at screenings and film festivals, but CT has learned that some of its depictions — as well as some of Childers’s claims in his 2009 autobiography — are untrue.

Childers is known as the “Machine Gun Preacher” because he says he fights, often with an AK-47 assault rifle, against the infamous guerrilla leader Joseph Kony and the rogue Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose war crimes have left thousands of African children orphaned. In his 2009 book, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan (Thomas Nelson), Childers writes that he has “rescued more than 900 refugees of all ages. More than half of them were children who had been captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army.” He founded a group called Angels of East Africa, and he writes of “leading a rescue with an AK in my hands and a pistol on each hip.” He claims to have fought alongside the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to liberate many of these children-and the movie depicts as much.

But an officer in the SPLA denies any association with Childers, and has asked Childers to stop “staining our names.” According to a letter obtained by CT dated April 8, 2011, Lieutenant General Obuto Mamur Mete told Childers that he had become “a problem,” and urged him to stop “using the names of our authorities, me in particular, to manipulate your wrongdoings.” Mete also told London’s Daily Mail that Childers’s “claims to have fought alongside us are a lie. He has never even seen the LRA.” Childers disputes Mete’s claims, saying that he has fought with the SPLA and against the LRA.

The film makers might have done better to portray Sister Rachele Fassera, the heroic nun who tracked girls abducted by the LRA from the school where she taught, and managed to secure the release of more than a hundred of them – the story told in Els De Temmerman’s book.

But I don’t believe she was carrying an AK-47…


Edited to add: aha! It appears that there will in fact be a film about Sr. Rachele –it’s to be titled Girl Soldiers, and will star Uma Thurman.  Good.

4 Responses to “Joseph Kony and the LRA (ii)”

  1. Joseph Kony and the LRA (ii) – faithhealingblogs Says:

    […] FROM Faith Healing source https://zenpundit.com/?p=4414 #family movie -THE LAMP- one family’s loss shows them how to turn to Faith instead of magic […]

  2. Peter Says:

    For an authoritative look at Kony and the LRA, see the book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (Lawrence Hill Books 2009)

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks for the pointer to your book, Peter: First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army looks terrific.
    I sat in on a small class with Chris Abani a few years back, and he read us part of his novella, Song for Night, which was a work in progress at the time.  Very powerful writing — do you know the book?

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Okay. Definitely worth reading: Advisers to Uganda is nothing new, on Peter E’s blog.

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