Friday, August 22, 2014

Just a Bucket of Water...The ALS Challenge and its Detractors

These are the moments as a pastor when I would just as soon not know what all of you are doing on Facebook. I'm watching my FB home feed fill up with people "small and great" as this Sunday's text in Revelation says, dumping containers of various sizes over their heads filled with water--though it's called the "Ice Bucket Challenge," it seems to be cold water in most cases. The reason is that someone else did it and challenged them to follow through, either doing this or donating to research for ALS--a terminal, debilitating disease that has no cure. It raises awareness of this disease, and according to the ALS Association, it has caused their donations to climb to six times what was received last year.  It looks like...well, "fun" doesn't really apply, but it is being done in a good spirit.

Until...we have a number of people point out that the ALS Association funds research using embryonic stem cells. Dr. Georgia Purdom of AIG blogged here about it, and printed a statement by the ALSA that said they have limited embryonic stem cell projects, but that they might, under certain conditions, have more. They also said one's donations can be specified away from such research. But is that just allowing other funds to continue such research? Do we want babies created in test tubes and then destroyed so that their cells can be used to try and find a cure for other human beings?

So should we participate and forget it, object and criticize it, or do what one pastor friend did, and participate but add a caveat about being careful where you donate? Is this a time to demonstrate concern or discernment? Do I join in the social media fun and frenzy, or stand up as a Christian killjoy who can find the cloud in every silver lining?

If awareness is all that was raised, no one would care. And technically, if you accept the challenge and douse yourself, you have avoided having to make the donation--that's what everyone who gives the whole challenge says, "I've been challenged, and now I'm challenging my friend Stan and if you don't do it you have to give $100 to ALS research." But donations are "pouring" in, so it's not just awareness. I do wonder how many of the wet awareness raisers I've seen are donating money though.

I also wonder how much of this is a combination of motives. Some of my FB friends seem to like any occasion to star in any video. Many are enjoying being called out and calling others out to do this, like a giant, viral, dare. Some have been personally touched by the ravages of ALS on friends or family--and it is a scary and insidious disease.

So, what should you do? Here's how I would respond. 
1. This is the equivalent of a social media chain letter, or one of those posts that says, "I love Jesus. Repost if you do, too." Or even worse, "If you are really my friend, comment with a word that you think of when you think of me." I am always (confession time here) so tempted to post, "NEEDY!"  I hated chain letters back in the day, and I hate this kind of manipulation. I almost get the impression that some are desperate to participate to fit in or raise awareness of their own creativity. That is obviously not true for many, but this is a mixed motive moment.

2. ALS  should be thought about and fought against. So should all sorts of physical manifestations of the curse of sin upon this world.

3. Christians ought not to check their moral concerns at the door when evaluating research associations. Birth defects deserved medical research, but the "March of Dimes" campaign against them lost the support of many through their promotion of abortion as a means to avoid such defects. Children should be educated, but UNICEF spends money on international programs I find abhorrent. 

4. If you say you are "raising awareness" of ALS and not giving money to fight it, you are just starring in your own video. If you dumped water over your head, dry off and go make a donation. BUT, either find a place to donate in line with your convictions, or specify where your donation to the ALS Association goes (Read their statement about this here). If enough donors make the point that we won't kill some humans to save others, perhaps the point will be made.

5. Make all decisions about your charitable giving based on principles, priorities, and values from God's word. Think about them, pray for God's guidance, and do what you believe God wants done with his resources. For many of us, though not all, we should cultivate the impulse to give, rather than stifle it.