If your Facebook feed looks like mine, you’re tired of ice bucket videos already. You’re probably also tired of articles telling you why ALS organizations do terrible things with your money. The skeptical side of me thinks they’re all written and read by people who hate getting dunked by ice water. Only the internet could add dunking yourself to everybody’s to do list overnight. Only the internet could create a raging controversy on whether it’s actually ethical to do so.
It would be funny to know how many people took the challenge without actually knowing what ALS is. Clearly none of us cared enough to give money to it one month ago, or we would have done it already. The bigger question is why it worked. Sixty million dollars raised is pretty good work for one month. And the ice companies have made a killing.
The explanation at its most basic level is social pressure. In analytic terms, the potential embarrassment and razzing is worse than the discomfort of ice water, so you dump a bucket over your head. Unless, of course, you had the foresight to post one of those anti-ALS articles before it got to you.
In short, social pressure is a powerful force, sufficient to redirect human behavior in surprising ways. As Christians we ought to recognize a rather obvious reality—that life in God-ordained community is part of His plan for constraining our own errant behavior.
Visit enough blogs from young post-conservatives and you’re bound to read that their parents made Christian choices motivated by conformity. “But the correct motivation,” the true-sounding platitudes go, “is about the gospel and what I personally know to be true.” There’s nothing wrong with thinking through our choices and evaluating each one biblically. But there is something deeply flawed in the assumption that I make those choices in a vacuum. It’s not even possible to do so and it certainly isn’t good.
That’s because Christianity in a vacuum is always deeply flawed. Healthy Christian living requires us to be part of a local community—one that applies a healthy kind of social pressure. If you’ve ever been tempted to skip church and then worried how you would explain the absence later, you experienced it. That’s good and right—it ought to work like that. Likewise, losing friends, disappointing your family, and betraying your church community ought to be one of many disincentives from falling into sin. That’s why Scripture teaches church-discipline.
Of course, social conformity should hardly be our only motivation for righteousness, or even the primary one. Sanctification is first the joyful response of a heart set free from the domination of sin. But neither does that limit our motivations and incentives to one thing alone. In the battle against sin and the world, I need all the help I can get.
As for the ice bucket challenge, I did it. And I gave the money to a church planter instead of ALS. Maybe that’s conformity, bending to the trend while also hedging against the censure of the critics. Or maybe I’m a nonconformist for changing things up and breaking the rules of the game. Decide for yourself. And by the way, I think you ought to conform to my social pressure and give to church planting too. I’ll even let you off the hook for the ice water. Just don’t tell my friends.