They still don’t know it’s Christmas? Band Aid then and now

Josh Larsen

The band (aid) is back together, and I’m not so sure how I feel about it.

Band Aid 30 is an attempt to recreate a rock-and-roll charity sensation of some three decades earlier, when the likes of Bono, Sting, David Bowie and other superstars gathered to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in order to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. (Since, there have been otherversions.)

I was 10 at the time, so I didn’t think much about the song aside from the fact that it was in escapable fact of the holiday season. That’s still the case, yet as the years have gone by I’ve come to view the tune with something beyond resignation. With each passing year it’s made me increasingly queasy, especially as it relates to the idea of Christian charity.

Dianna Anderson touched on this in a 2012 TC piece about the spoof video “Africa for Norway,” which depicted a group of African singers raising money to send radiators to freezing Norwegians. Anderson wrote, “In charity and in the church, we often turn ‘the poor’ into this group we cannot identify with on any scale larger than pity. And pity is a tremendously dangerous thing in the world of social justice. Pity can very easily function as a dehumanizing tool - it turns the pitied person into a helpless object that needs ‘saving,’ rather than a fully functional human being who is caught in a system of poverty and oppression.”

Much of this can still be felt in Band Aid 30, which gathers the likes of One Direction, Sam Smith and Rita Ora to generate funds to fight Ebola in Africa. There is very much an us and – literally, in the lyrics – “them” vibe. Bono, bless his heart, even returns to once again grab the biggest vocal moment. (Although thankfully his most awkward line - "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you" - has been changed to, "Well tonight we're reaching out and touching you.”)

Now, I don’t doubt the participants’ intentions or the project’s potential, especially considering the original sold 3.7 million copies. Yet I wonder, as we enter the season of giving, if this is the best model for Christians who are called not only to serve others, but to see them as Christ sees us. Jesus’ call for benevolence is far more complicated than it first seems. Is Band Aid 30 how we’re called to give?

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