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Column: Ice Bucket Challenge

The Internet has produced strange phenomena over the years, but this one was a doozy.

While I was at home over the summer, every social network I’m a part of was flooded with videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. A deluge of videos poured in from celebrities to high school friends’ moms, all dousing themselves, at least nominally, in the name of a good cause: raising awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an illness more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The trend escalated as quickly as the ice water cascaded down its participants’ faces. I saw a story in passing on the morning news about the challenge, and, soon enough, everyone I knew was participating and challenging others to participate.

As with most viral trends, I assumed I wouldn’t have long to wait for some sort of negative backlash to emerge. And, while there was some backlash, overall the challenge raised a lot of money for a terrible disease in a fun, infectious way. However, I do think there are a few takeaways, especially for Christians, to be had from the ALS ice bucket challenge.

The videos I found most interesting were the ones made by people who did not donate any money to ALS. The number of people who participated was quite large, yet the BBC reported that only one in 10 participants of the challenge actually donated money.

I found the videos of those who did not donate amusing because they served absolutely no purpose. For one, by the time most of those videos were posted, the ice bucket challenge had already gone viral, so the videos could not make the challenge go ‘more viral.’ The only reason these people were posting videos was because everyone else they knew was posting them. By not donating money and not raising awareness, these videos were basically narcissism under the guise of charity. This would be similar to going to a charity run to raise money for cancer research and simply collecting the free T-shirt and cookies given out at the starting line, then leaving without running the race or donating money.

But should you have even donated money to the ALS Association in the first place?  Every now and then, in between the gazillions of ice bucket videos, I saw a “Don’t take the Ice Bucket Challenge!” post, linking to an article urging people not to participate in the challenge.

The main reasoning behind these warnings came from a statement on the ALS Association’s website in support of embryonic stem cell research. Other people even complained that the challenge was a waste of water.

I found the dichotomy amongst my largely Christian circle of friends interesting: on the one hand, some gave total acceptance, and on the other, total rejection. To me, Christians often seem to fall into these two polar categories when better answers can be found in the middle.

Rather than decrying the entire ice bucket challenge, Christians had many other options that could have been taken without supporting stem cell research. For instance, they could have simply donated to another charity. Many other organizations are researching ALS and don’t support stem cell research.

But I also don’t agree with those individuals on the other side of the reaction spectrum who simply went along with the challenge. I was especially disappointed to see a number of Christian friends simply participate in the fun without donating. As Christians, we should lead the way when it comes  to generosity.

I think the lesson to be gained from the ice bucket challenge is this: rather than simply rejecting or embracing culture, we Christians should look for a nuanced biblical position that allows us to wisely engage culture without compromising our Christian principles. A little research and thought can go a long way in preventing hasty rejection or acceptance.

With the success of the ice bucket challenge, we’re going to see many similarly styled campaigns in the future. When we do, hopefully, rather than jumping right in or fleeing the scene, we Christians can make wise decisions that further our testimonies in the world.

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Column: Ice Bucket Challenge