So, like everyone else on social media these days, I've been watching the explosion of videos surrounding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It's been a remarkable phenomenon. Remarkable enough, of course, that now the backlash against the Ice Bucket challenge has started; people are starting to argue that one shouldn't participate in the challenge, for a whole host of reasons. And now, of course, the backlash against the critics has begun, again for another host of reasons.
But ever since the whole thing got started, I've had this nagging feeling of discomfort about the whole thing. And I think I've finally figured why I'm uncomfortable with this.
First, let's get the obvious strawman out of the way.
Some supporters state that the purpose of the challenge is to raise "awareness" regarding ALS. In some ways, this campaign smacks of the same slactivism that characterizes much of social media these days. The most famous example is the "gotcha" campaigns regarding breast cancer awareness that show up on Facebook periodically. (Others have already written extensively on why these sorts of campaigns aren't funny.)
"Awareness" campaigns like this, in my judgment, don't actually do much to raise awareness --- at least not in any sort of meaningful way. Sure, more people may be aware that there is an ALS Foundation now, but ... how does watching a bunch of people pour ice over their heads teach people about what ALS is, what causes it, or the efforts being made to fight it? It doesn't. And that's at least one source of my discomfort about this.
There's actually some interesting research on slacktivism going on right now. For example, there's at least one paper that shows that public slacktivism actually is worse for developing ongoing "real" activism than private engagement.
But, as many readers are no doubt screaming right now ... the Ice Bucket Challenge is also about raising funds for ALS research. And the Ice Bucket Challenge has been remarkably effective in doing just that ... over $60M from that effort alone as I write this. For that, I certainly have great admiration. And I wish the ALS Foundation well in its fundraising efforts.
But I'm not going to be participating.
For me, there are two main reasons not to participate in this. Both come from Scripture.
1. Publicly proclaiming one's financial donations is pretty clearly criticized in Scripture.
"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." ---(Matthew 6:1-4)
Not everyone who films these videos is giving money ... but plenty are, and plenty of them announce the fact in their videos. And Jesus is pretty clear about the issue.
And that leads to the other reason.
2. The challenge thrives on guilt as a reason for giving.
"Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." ---(2 Corinthians 9:7)
Much of this challenge relies on guilt. Participants usually name three other people and "challenge" them to either immerse themselves in ice water or to donate to ALS. Often, it's not even phrased much more obnoxiously: "if you don't do it within 24 hours, you have to donate".
No, of course, you don't have to do either task if you've been challenged. But there's an implicit threat of scorn or derision or public humiliation that comes along with the challenge --- if you've been challenged, why wouldn't you participate? And now you're participating not because of any genuine love you have of social media or desire to support ALS research, but so that you won't lose face among your peers.
That seems to me to be exactly what Paul condemned when he said your giving should be "not reluctantly or under compulsion".
I give money away to various charitable and religious causes, as God directs. I do so thoughtfully and prayerfully. But I also take the above advice into careful consideration. I rarely (if ever) discuss what I give to anyone else. And I give because I want to give, not because I have to give or because I'm pressured to give. And the Ice Bucket Challenge doesn't really fit that model for me.
Unlike others who are talking about this issue, I'm not going to make any sorts of global concluding statements. I don't have any universally applicable "word of knowledge" for everyone else. If God directs you to give, and your gift is given freely, and your gift is more about the gift than any fame you might gain from it ... then may God continue to bless you.
It's just not for me.