Acton Institute Powerblog

The Mannequinism of the ONE Campaign

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The difference in perspective from the ONE Campaign and directly responsible charitable efforts is summed up in the first two sentences from this article in Christianity Today:

“Eighteen-year-old Lauren Tomasik had a vision. This Wheaton Academy senior wanted to see her Christian high school raise $75,000 to build a medical clinic in Zambia to combat HIV/AIDS. And she wanted the money to come from the pockets of her 575 fellow students.”

The “We don’t want your money, we just want your voice,” mantra of the ONE Campaign, besides being disingenuous, undermines the kind of motivation for personal action shown in these Christian high schoolers’ effort.

Alumna Natalie Gorski gets at this when she says, “How awesome a God we have. He was able to use us as his instruments and say, ‘Look at what I did through Wheaton Academy. I can do that all over the United States.'”

The difference in attitudes is perfectly displayed in this Ad Council campaign on Youth Civic Engagement, revolving around the slogan, “Fight Mannequinism.” You may have seen one of these on TV, like the ad where a bunch of people stand around looking at a piece of trash laying next to a garbage can, talking about how terrible it is that someone just left it there.

“Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

One of the bystanders says, “Man, I’m like this close to throwing it away myself.” When their voices reach a crescendo, a passerby simply sees the trash, walks over, picks it up, throws it away, and keeps moving. A voiceover at the end says, “Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

While the ad campaign is aimed at voter participation, I think it speaks just as well to the difference in attitudes behind government lobbying like the ONE campaign and personal charitable activity. We could all stand around talking about how terrible the AIDS epidemic is and asking someone else (e.g. the government) to do something about it. Or we could act ourselves, like the students at Wheaton Academy have done, and be God’s instruments of charity.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Most Leftists think taking a political stand, and protesting what they don’t like, IS acting.

    That’s the problem.

  • Yes, Tom, that’s really the point. A mannequin can “take a stand” just as easily as a real acting volitional person.

  • Michael Borgert

    Is this really and either/or issue or are we constructing a false dichotomy here guys? It has always been my inclination to give those with whom I disagree the benefit of the doubt and I don’t see how it is that because someone supports the work/message/advocacy of the ONE campaign or the Jubilee effort to forgive the debt of developing economies or any similar government-directed lobbying efforts that it necessarily follows that they are against personal involvement and putting your money where your mouth is, walking the talk, whatever (choose your cliche).

    The ONE campaign is beneficial for what it is – a first step. If it result in an increase of actual effort as well then let’s applaud it and give credit where credit is due. But let’s not stand on our moral high horse and look down our noses at those who are not as active as we would like them to be. I would dare say that those suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa and developing world would be grateful for whatever help they receive.

    What really needs to be done as a concrete measure is the creation adn maintainance of a basic health care delivery structure, things as simple as refrigeration, the ability to read a prescription label and dispense medication properly, etc. Not to toot my own horn, but you may want to see my article on Acton’s website “Prudence and Prevention will best address the HIV/AIDS Crisis,” while it is a bit dated, I believe that the substance of what I wrote in that article (almost four years ago) is still valid.

    Thanks for the attention you are drawing to what I believe is one of the foremost international security issues of our times. Let’s keep on working together to defeat this modern day plague and the behavior that most often leads to its contraction and it spread among our brothers and sisters.


  • Mike,

    Thanks for engaging this topic. I’m inclined to agree with you that disagreements ought to be expressed charitably when possible. I haven’t intended my critiques of the ONE campaign and other similar MDG-related advocacy campaigns to impugn the intentions or motivations of such efforts. But we all know what the road to Hell is paved with (cliché #1), and I’ve been intending to examine the practical implications of these campaigns.

    I think they contribute to what in this post is called “mannequinism,” a sort of analogous phenomena to the “I gave at the office” mentality that arises out of a tax-supported state welfare system. I agree that logically it is a false dilemma to say that it is one or the other, either personal involvement or giving through the proxy of the government. But practically, I think the government-first mentality tends toward if not promotes such a dichotomy (and not in favor of personal engagement).

    I’d be even more inclined to agree with you on other points, especially something like the ONE campaign as a “first step,” if the campaign purported itself to be such. But I’m not so sure that is the case. The message of the MDG-campaigns is that we can eradicate poverty now, “making poverty history,” through government action (debt relief, more aid, et al.). For example, in a somewhat breathless message I recently received from the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action, I’m told to “End Poverty! Join in the Summer of Prayer and Advocacy.” Let’s be clear that this is government advocacy. It’s not the sort of personal engagement and sacrifice modeled in Ron Sider’s [i]Rich Christians[/i]…

    Other examples of the ‘eradicate world poverty through the MDGs’ rhetoric abounds throughout these campaigns, and it is either hopelessly optimistic, naively myopic, or both. If these MDG campaigns were explicitly more humble about being a “first step,” and acknowledged the inherent limitations of government aid (especially [url=]in the spiritual realm![/url]), I don’t think I’d be as critical.

    We could engage in any number of interesting thought experiments illustrating the difference in outlook. What might [url=]the Samaritan[/url] have done if he had embodied the advocacy-mentality of the ONE campaign? Perhaps he would have written a letter to the local prefect about increasing the patrols on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Or he might have organized a hunger strike until the robbery victim was given aid by the Roman Empire, showing solidarity with the afflicted brother.

    Efforts like the ONE campaign are at best a first step. The church cannot stop there. [url=]In Bonhoeffer’s words[/url], the church has an obligation to “bandage the victims” ground under the wheels of oppression, not simply by calling the government to accountability, but by taking direct action. My ideal, as is yours I think, is to move beyond the false dilemma of either personal action or political advocacy. And it’s my opinion that the ONE campaign (at least implicitly in its, “We not asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice,” sloganism) reinforces rather than transcends this dilemma.

  • Given the discussion last week about the ONE campaign and it’s position as a “first step” in fighting poverty in the developing world, I thought I’d pass along this story about evangelical pastor and best-selling author of The Purp

  • This month’s Esquire magazine is the annual “Genius” issue (with Bill Clinton as the coverboy, which might seem strange until you realize that the word “genius” is related to the words “genii” and “jinn,&#82

  • Dawn Durante

    I’m interested in your opinion of the many people who join the ONE campaign but also take direct action through the charitable organizations that support ONE? I believe that most people aren’t lazy enough to join ONE and then feel like they did their duty. The type of person who joins a group like ONE would tend to be those nasty “liberals” who have trouble passing up requests for direct action ($$$ contributions,
    volunteering in Africa etc.) Others, perhaps like yourself, may just be talkers? :-)