So let me say at the outset so you don’t miss it, I think it’s nice that NewSpring gives away houses. What follows is a critique of how they do it.
For the last three Mother’s Days, NewSpring has given away a refurbished house to single mothers who attend the church. The handover is typically taped and edited in the style of Extreme Makeover and presented on the big screen as part of the service.
The show duplicates the ABC show in the opening interviews and profiles, the family getaway and pampering, the “move that bus” chant, the donated appliances, and even the scholarship checks.
I’m afraid that the Extreme Makeover mimicry is too clever by half and actually destroys the message that the church is trying to send. Here are a few problems I see with Perry Noble’s flashy philanthropy:
- It details NewSpring’s goodness while demeaning other churches. Giving a single mother a new roof over her head is certainly admirable, but wouldn’t you feel a little used as the recipient to see your gift turned into an opportunity to belittle other churches’ care for their own mothers? This was Noble’s giddy comment after the first home giveaway in 2007:
It was so cool to see our church come together the way it did…and so, this Mother’s Day, instead of giving a flower to the oldest and youngest mother–we GAVE a house to a single mom.
Hooray for you, Pastor Noble, but if you’re going to start comparing gifts, we could stack up the cost of the two flowers from those other churches with what you paid for the house.
Yes, there were volunteer contributions to fix it up, but $10 vs. a couple of flowers doesn’t really justify the boast.
- It disavows branding while delighting in it. In his Sunday evening reflections, Noble talked about how he hopes the event will point only to Jesus.
One day the name “NewSpring” will fade away…but the name of JESUS will endure forever!
I don’t disagree with Noble on this point, but it does make the repeated shots of the NewSpring brand in the living room and bedrooms a little harder to understand.
If NewSpring is going to fade away, wouldn’t they speed the process by not burning the logo into the actual gift?
- It declares the Gospel while distorting it. Noble introduced the video by explaining that this was a practical example of John 3:16.
Practically, what does it look like when someone gets something that they don’t deserve? What does it look like when unbelievable, extravagant love is poured out on someone? What does the Gospel look like in today’s world? This is what it looks like.
Undeserved? The video starts by showing us how admirable the recipient is (and I’m not disputing that she is). A few seconds into the clip, a NewSpring member says
You have to admire someone like Niekia that decides to raise her baby by herself, to make the best home for that baby, and to also realize that she needed to have an education.
Niekia is obviously a fine young lady, and I’m delighted that she has a new house for herself and her son. The point is that God does not give us his grace and love because we’re admirable people.
It is also interesting that Noble visualizes God’s gift in a very materialistic form. Translating God’s favor into material blessings is a characteristically American way of understanding God (watched any religious TV lately?). It’s something that even the producers of the real-life Extreme Makeover show understand.
What may have seemed at first to be an updated version of This Old House has become a spiritual happening, more revival meeting than TV taping. With its charitable sensibilities and ability to mobilize entire communities with a single episode, EM:HE is setting a standard for a new genre: Good Samaritan television.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say this is like a religious experience,” says Denise Cramsey, co-executive producer, standing on the new back deck. “It’s a modern-day barn-raising.”
Giving people new houses just feels like religion. It really isn’t.
- It demonstrates care while duplicating cynicism. This is where I think the whole Extreme Makeover routine cheats and manipulates the worthy recipients. The goal seems two-fold: give away the house, and be seen doing so in as emotional a manner as possible. Again, this will be easy to misinterpret, so let me say that my sympathies are 100% with the recipients, and I completely understand their appropriate emotional and grateful response to the gift they are receiving. But why the need for the ever-present cameras if not to document and show off every tear and emotion?
Extreme Makeover has the same goal. If you watch the show, you are no doubt moved by the stories of the families, but do you think that the program producers really care? If they weren’t making a handsome profit off their public pseudo philanthropy, do you think they’d continue? They wouldn’t. In fact, they scour the country in a grubby search of atypical hard cases to draw you back to the TV every week. It’s Good Samaritan cynicism at its finest.
I am not saying that Noble is nearly as cynical as Ty Pennington and Co., but when you speak the same language, your own good deeds don’t look much nobler by comparison.
If you want to give away houses, do it in the Biblical style (in secret and without show), not in the Hollywood style. Otherwise, the channel corrupts the message.