Practicing Discernment: Consider this before doing the Ice Bucket Challenge

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bucket of iceAs the end of summer of 2014 draws near, it will undoubtedly be remembered as a particularly unique one. One organization, rose above all the rest thanks to the profit generated from social media and a faddish promo stunt – the Ice Bucket Challenge. Its popularity exploded, largely beginning with June 30th, when the Morning Drive on the Golf Channel had a televised on-air Ice Bucket Challenge. Even presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton participated in the event, and though President Obama was challenged, he declined, and opted to donate to the organization instead. The rest is history though, and while there are many minor variants, the gist of it is this:

Get challenged to the Ice Bucket Challenge and you have two options. Either video-tape yourself dumping a bucket of ice cold water on your head within 24 hrs of being challenged and donate only $10 to the research group ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Association, then challenge someone else to the Ice Bucket Challenge at the end of the video. Or, you can opt out of the challenge and opt to give $100 to the ALS Association. And donations they’ve received. In fact, The New York Times estimated that about 1.2 million videos were shared on Facebook between June 1st and August 13th, and while the ALS Association received only $64 million during the whole year of 2013, they received $10 million in donations just on August 21st alone, $41.8 million during the months of July and August, and $60 million total this summer.

But I have several moral objections to all of this as a Christian, and in my opinion, other Christians should too.

Many Christians are unaware of who precisely the ALSA is. Yes, they know that they perform studies on the neurodegenerative Lou Gehrig’s Disease (the more popular name for ALS) that affects about 30,000 Americans. It affects speech, mobility, and can even result in death.

embryoBut what you may not be aware of is that the ALSA is also committed to Embryonic Stem Cell research – something that Christians have good cause to be opposed to. In this process, scientists fertilize a female egg in a lab, and when new life begins, they perform research on it. Then they throw the new life away when their research is done. Not only that, but they also perform the same procedure on aborted babies. They have been known to spend $500,000 at a time on these procedures, on one occasion, on embryos already two months old.1 And yes, there are fingers, toes, and a heart-beat by then (though life begins at conception anyway).

So, we protest abortions and embryonic stem cell research by our government, and detest that our tax dollars are paying for it. But then we voluntarily (albeit undiscerningly) contribute money to an organization that does the same thing, or at the least, participate in a campaign to promote awareness, less for the disease, and more for the organization.

Now, you might say, “Yes, but I can specify where my money goes when I contribute to the ALS Association.” You need to know that it really doesn’t make a difference. All you’ve done was alleviate financial pressure from one department, so they can reallocate those funds elsewhere.

bad-ideaIn other words, if I was in financial duress, you might give me a check specifically to pay my rent for a month, but you also know that I have a major drug addiction that I spend a lot of money on (FYI… I don’t have a drug addiction, in case you were wondering). Your conscience may say, “Well, Matt has a drug addiction, but I didn’t help him with his drug addiction, I helped him with his rent.” That’s true, but it’s foolish. All you’ve done was relieve me from having to spend my money on my rent, so I could spend it instead on drugs.

The same thing is true when you contribute money to the ALSA. But you may also say, “Yeah, but in the variant of the Challenge I played, if I dumped a bucket of cold water on my head, I didn’t have to pay anything, so I didn’t give any money.” So… you participated in the promotion of the organization and passed it along to someone else? Why? Because it’s become faddish and cool to do so? That doesn’t help.

According to federal and state laws, the enablement of a crime is a crime itself. And according to God’s Word, “if any man sheds man’s blood, by man, his blood shall be shed” (Gen. 9:6). And, God’s Word also considers the unborn “embryo” as a human person (cf. Ex. 21:22; Ps. 139:13). So, my question, according to my conscience, is, “Can I justify giving to something that promotes what God’s Word calls murder?”

That said, you should recognize the difference between voluntarily giving to an organization, when you can voluntarily give to another organization, and when you buy a product from an organization who chooses to use their profits for something evil.

AKA: If I buy coffee from Starbucks (who contributes to pro-choice organizations), I am paying for coffee. I’m not paying for pro-choice endorsements. Once I paid for something, that money no longer belongs to me, so I no longer have control over it. BUT, when I donate money, that money is mine, and I can control where it goes.

That’s something you need to work out in your conscience. But consider Thomas Aquinas’ (other problems we have with him aside) words:

An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.

On that, he’s right.

And if you really have an extra $10 laying around, or $100 for that matter – I would encourage you to give it to a pro-life medical research group. Not only that, but there are a lot of other medical groups out there that contribute to much worse diseases that affect far more people (not to minimize ALS) like cancer. Better still, give it to a church that is committed to investing in helping the spiritually sick, a church that will faithfully represent the Gospel and transforming the lives of the spiritually dead. I would personally rather give my money to those who address the problem of sin (which makes something like ALS pale by comparison), with a biblical cure – Jesus.

Yes, I do still give to many medical research groups, and I think it’s important, but I always give first to the church.

And to close, I would just leave you with this final thought (DISCLAIMER: I saw this on a twitter post, but I don’t remember where).

Imagine what would happen if we were as committed to evangelism as we were to the Ice Bucket Challenge.

  1. ALSA, http://www.alsa.org/news/archive/neals-consortium-award.html
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Matt Tarr

About Matt Tarr

Matt currently serves as pastor-teacher at High Point Baptist Church, Larksville, PA. Prior to his ministry at High Point, Matt also served in the counseling department at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, and as a chaplain at the Scranton-Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission. He enjoys spending time with his wife Melody and his two children, Jonathan and Timothy.
  • Jason

    Wait, help me understand the argument without all the fluff. If I give money to an organization, then that organization gives a percentage of the money to another research institute who uses sinful research, then I’m in sin? But it’s different if I shop at Starbucks, who gives money to organizations I don’t agree with, then I’m contributing to those organizations I don’t agree with? Somehow the money is mine when donating but the money isn’t mine when giving to Starbucks? What Bible verse are we using for this degree of separation? help me? honest question.

  • Yeah… that was just an example I used of ALSA’s proactive approach of a one-time donation to another organization, so you’re right, that circumstance is probably more similar to the Starbucks situation. The main point I was trying to draw out though, is that ALSA is an organization that regularly and directly perform embryonic stem cell research themselves, so it’s not just giving to other organizations that do it. The difference with Starbucks though, is that I am paying for my coffee. I can’t control where that money goes because the money isn’t mine. If they decide to give a portion of their profits to donate to pro-choice organizations, it’s really no different than, say, me paying a contractor to do work on my home. I am paying for him to do the work, but I have no control if he decides he wants to donate his money to an organization I may, or may not like. BUT, when I’m given the option to voluntarily give my money for the express purpose of research, and much of that research is done on embryonic stem cells, I am simply saying to give your money to someone else. If we are upset by our govt. giving our tax dollars to pro-choice organizations (and rightly so), then I am saying we should also be more discerning before giving freely to, or promoting an organization that regularly commits the same crime.

    Now, did I say you would be in sin if you did give to ALSA? Absolutely not. I said to practice discernment, and to work it out in your own conscience. Fair?

    • Jason

      Well Matt, I agree we need to use discernment when donating to anyone. This is why I only donate to the church and missionaries. But i did participate in the challenge — no money was stipulated and I didn’t have a problem with it 🙂

      Second, you said, “That’s something you need to work out in your conscience. But consider Thomas Aquinas’ (other problems we have with him aside) words: An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.
      On that, he’s right.” How should the reader interpret this?

      Third, forgive me for I assumed you did some research on ALSA before writing this article. There is a lot of information there and can understand missing some elements which I’m sure you did not intentionally do. But let me direct you to one comment from them.

      “The ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research. Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); this research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research. In fact, donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project.” Taken from here: http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/statement-on-stemcell-research.html

      We can observe a few important facts. 1) ALS donates their money to different research grants. (important because when you give, they then give to research) 2) ALS primarily funds adult stem cell. 3) you can donate to ALS and stipulate funds NOT be invested in this study or any stem cell project.

      Maybe another approach would be, “Hey, be aware when you donate you can stipulate money not be used for stem cell research.” 🙂 fair? 😉

      • Right… I noted that many people list that as an option, which leaves me to the “give to my rent, so I can use my money for drugs illustration.” I just don’t by it. With regard to Aquinas’ words… how should the reader interpret it? Just as I said, “You should consider them.” That’s all, and the fact still remains, yes, ALSA primarily uses iPS cells, but the fact remains that they DO use embryonic stem cells as well. Secondly, they’ve only recently revised their statement since I began researching this, as in, like within the last 10 days, which read, “Adult stem cell research is important and should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research.” All they did was sugar-coat their current statement to avoid political flak, to the one you cited, which says, “The ALS Assocation ‘primarily’ funds adult stem cell research.” Primarily? What does that really mean? Anyway, as I said, I’m not calling it sin if you participate, but I AM calling us to be more discerning.

        • Jason

          Okay, please forgive me, I apparently read between the lines of your Aquinas words? I will also take ALS at face value too and know my marked donation will not go to ESC research. Seems the best approach 🙂