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.