The best kind of charity
Acton Institute Powerblog

The best kind of charity

A post by Leslie Sillars over at Signs of the Times takes ABC’s show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” to task. His difficulty, essentially, is this:

is this charity in any reasonable sense of the word? It looks like the best kind of charity—unmerited favor for someone in need, out of the blue—yet, ABC makes buckets of money on the program, Sears and the other sponsors get loads of exposure, and Ty and the rest of them are portrayed as angels of mercy (never mind their salaries). Yet, what does it cost them? In the context of what it costs to produce a hit network series, $200,000 is chicken feed.

Are we supposed to then believe that the participants of the show are being exploited? Their situation seems roughly comparable to that of college athletes in major sports. A similar argument is put forth in that context, in that schools make millions off the players, while they get “just” a college education out of the deal.

Perhaps Sillars is right, ABC’s show shouldn’t be strictly considered “charity.” But perhaps it is an example of business “done right.” The Acton Institute has always contended that “doing business and doing good are not at all mutually exclusive.” Yet Sillars seems to suggest that it is somehow wrong for someone like Ty to make a living helping people.

There’s a mutually beneficial exchange going on with the show, and even Sillars doesn’t contend that the participants aren’t made better off. It’s just that “the benefactors themselves have, shall we say, less than charitable motives at bottom.”

This interpretation of the motives of the network, the show, and even the individuals involved is pretty darn cynical, to the point of being unfair. Of all the reality shows on television, it would seem to me that “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” while far from perfect, is one of the least worthy of critique.

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.