The Reality of Giving – Is Oprah Right?

Forgive me for being somewhat confused. Oprah’s “The Big Give” TV show debuted on Sunday night to huge ratings – 15.6 million viewers – a huge hit for the ABC suits.

The show bases its obvious popularity on the benefits found in giving to the less fortunate, the causes of the broken and down-trodden. The reality of a nation in love with some one else’s reality, are we now minimizing the beauty of giving by watching philanthropy become the latest opportunity/victim to claim fame over?

In the series opener, Oprah meets the ten contestants and gives each an envelope with only the name and picture of a stranger whose lives they must forever change. Each contestant must use the resources awarded to them to drastically improve the life of their assigned person within five days, making the participant cope with the stress by using strategy and creativity.

As a professional whose work is involved in the cultivation of hearts that choose to give, I am torn between rejoicing at this opportunity to promote altruism and frustration that we have somehow made the sacred art of giving the impetus of yet another reality show.

Are we trivializing giving or promoting it? Are we advancing a cause or witnessing the thrill of someone fortunate enough to win their opportunity at personal wealth? I place myself in the homes of countless donors who have sacrificed their time and energy to bless the causes dear to their heart and wonder if somehow we have made their desire to give less impactful and certainly less noble. But why should I even worry?

I am reminded of Paul in his letter to the Philippians who when asked if it was right for others in the jail to promote the cause of Christ said flatly – as long as Christ is preached I rejoice.

By no means am I comparing Paul’s ministry to the modern reality show based on the hope of Oprah, but my confusion becomes more an opportunity to rejoice and reconsider. If my vocation requires me to hold in high esteem the end result of gifts given to benefit others, then shows that promote the same should have my support and not my condemnation. Like Paul demonstrated, I can not be the ultimate jury on someone’s motivation and heart — even if a million dollar prize lies on the other side of their motivation. My professional covenant to honor Christ and enhance relationships to the causes of His kingdom are not license to be critical of another’s rationale for serving, helping and loving.

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I think I will reconsider what I view next Sunday. Perhaps less judgemental  and suspicious, I will pause to rejoice at what is being said to millions of people who may not have realized that the sacred art of giving comes not in the promotion of self but in loving our neighbor well. In stooping to provide a hand even when the cameras have all been turned off.

8 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    Diane December 14, 2009

    What good comes from Mainstream Media? Look where we are politically in the U.S. now, with them contributing to the country’s downfall by lying to us, hiding truth from us, and preferring evil world-view politics?
    I’ve watched Oprah once, and won’t again.
    The Bible teaches us, so we don’t fall for the world’s tricks.

  2. Avatar
    Mike Stephens April 21, 2009

    But for the record “GOD IS!!!”

  3. Avatar
    Mike Stephens April 2, 2009

    I think that is what is so AMAZING about giving it cannot be properly known why the person gave. Only the person who gave knows the motive!!! Why do we love God? B/c he first loved us!!! I think giving is a mystery.

    Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us!!!”

  4. Avatar
    Ken Norwood March 6, 2008


    What a great reminder of the real essence and dignity of giving – the impact related to sponsorship is huge and like you I look forward to the continued fruit of lives impacted with the ultimate reality – eternal life and hope!
    Appreciate your comment-

  5. Avatar
    Beth March 6, 2008

    I would like to see the participants of this show 1, 2, 5 and maybe even 10 years from now and see what the long term effects have been. One of the things I cherish most about sponsorship through Compassion is the relationships that are being built over the long run with the children we sponsor. I have heard countless stories of sponsored children who graduate and still keep in touch with the sponsor they’ve had for years! That is so important to these lives being truly changed. They KNOW they really MATTER forever to God and to their sponsors. Really giving and helping others involves so much more than money and material things. I haven’t watched this show. I’m not into reality tv, but I’m curious to see how it plays out.


  6. Avatar
    Ovetta Sampson – Copy Program Manager March 6, 2008

    You are so right to be torn. I mean on one hand giving is giving right? Shouldn’t we rejoice that there’s a reality show that even touches upon the selfless act of giving to others? But altruism aside,I have to say that if the giving isn’t ingrained in the heart, in the being, in who you are as a person, couldn’t the need to give disappear as quick as the cameras, lights and television season? Don’t get me wrong. For Oprah to get the most self-obsessed country in the world to think of others is a miracle. But how long will all this giving last if people don’t understand WHY they are giving? If they are not rooted in Isaiah 58:10 “and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
    then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.”

    If you have no reason for giving other than your own need for altruism then how long lasting will your giving be? We give because God gave the greatest gift of all, his Son to save us. And that’s a gift that never dies, fades or runs out. And neither does our committment to share that blessing with others.
    Thanks for the post Ken. You rock!

  7. Avatar
    Amy March 6, 2008

    I didn’t watch the show, but I love the conclusions you’ve drawn. Thanks for your honesty!

  8. Avatar
    Becky Tschamler March 5, 2008

    Ken this is a great post.

    I had similar feelings after watching the show … I was struggling against cynicism towards the people that were giving to others out of selfish motives (to make themselves feel better, to win money) instead of a more altruistic motive. But I think you’re right. Good is being done, even if it is for the sake of ABC making money on another reality show.

    And even more importantly, normal everyday people who are doing extraodinary things are being recognized in front of millions of viewers. If nothing else, it’s a great way to encourage people who might not otherwise ever get recognized for what they are doing. I will watch the show again not for the contestants, but for the people they are helping.

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