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21 November 2014

Ripping off the sticking plaster

Ripping off the sticking plaster

This week Band Aid 30 released Do They Know it's Christmas?

It's the fourth incarnation of the song, including the original 30 years ago. Already this version has become the biggest-selling single of 2014 and raised millions of pounds to help tackle Ebola in Africa. But Mr Geldof and friends have faced a fair degree of criticism and critique this time round.

Perhaps the quirkiest and most creative reaction to the Band Aid charity single concept is from the Radi-aid campaign. Their own 'charity single' opens with the lines,

"In Norway kids are freezing, it's time for us to care.

There's heat enough for Norway, if Africans would share."

1.Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
2.Better and more nuanced information is required alongside an understanding of the problems behind the headline issue.
3.There is a call for Western media to show more respect for local culture. Images that pass as gritty, hard-hitting journalism in the West might be culturally insensitive and unethical in the country of origin.
4.There is a need to go beyond good intentions and giving aid.

Like me, maybe you detect just a little tongue in the cheeks of our African friends as they sing these words. The parody develops as the radiator appeal is explained: "Frostbite kills too. Africans unite to save Norwegians from dying. You too can donate your radiator and spread some warmth."

The last time I found a charity single this amusing was when Ronnie Corbett fell off the running machine in the video for Peter Kay's 2005 Children in Need single: Is This the Way to Amarillo?

I'm convinced this satirical campaign is not about undermining the genuine intentions of those who support the Band Aid appeal. There is no doubt that lives have been saved and enriched through Band Aid's money and awareness-raising. Instead, Radi-aid deftly uses humour to make some really important points. Four specific challenges are issued to people like me who live in the West and long to see Africa flourish:

Maybe it's a tedious link but it's always struck me as ironic that band-aid is the American term for a sticking plaster. In some ways, that's what charity singles ­- and even crisis appeals - are.

Sticking plasters aren't bad, they're really good at stopping bleeding or binding a wound in the moment. But they are only ever a short-term measure. They can't treat serious underlying health conditions, like cancer.

The Bible has more to say about giving to the poor and sick than I could begin to expound here. But the text is clear: that Christians are to care generously for those in need. I'm not convinced though that the main theological challenge in this story is around giving and material poverty. For me, the Band Aid backlash reveals a deep frustration about our tendency to stick a plaster over a cancer, and our obsession with the quick fix. The Radi-aid campaign makes the point that emergency aid is not the only answer. Ethical investment, fair trade agreements and international structural changes are required for real and holistic development in poorer countries. More important than all of this though is Jesus' simple command to 'love our neighbour'.

"But who is my neighbour?" the clever lawyer in the crowd called out.

And Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Being a neighbour was not just throwing down some alms at the feet of the person next door or sticking a plaster over some wounds. It involved costly personal sacrifice and risk beyond boundaries. Loving my neighbour means going beyond cultural stereotypes into real relationship.

In fact, moving from a donor to a neighbour changes the relationship completely. We begin to see God-image humanity and dignity where others see labels. We see life, individuality and personality. We stop seeing a continent in black and white and begin to see it in all its vibrant colour. If there's one Friday Night Theology challenge from this story, it's a simple one: to see everyone through the eyes of Jesus, as our neighbour. Because this changes everything.

David Smyth, public policy officer, Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland