The best kind of charity
Religion & Liberty Online

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 director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.