Joyous Generousity? A Commentary on Oprah’s “Big Give”

by Kimberly Grams

Let’s be clear here. My husband is a pastor and I’m a writer. As a children’s author, I have one published work, “Smedley and the Sprinkle Machine.” Right now, I make a small amount on book sales, and an infinitesimal amount on royalties. I make enough to cover the cost of writing and my writing related expenses. But going in we knew that we weren’t going to be making a lot of money with our career choices. We pretty much run every paycheck right down to the wire, and have a very small amount of savings for major emergencies. But every Sunday, I sit down and write our offering check – and I do it joyfully. It doesn’t matter how low our checking account is, how close we’re cutting it, or that we don’t get paid until Tuesday. I have learned to trust God that we will not overdraw on the offering check. I also trust that somehow we will meet all of our essential expenses. And when we’ve been truly desperate, unexpected money came from somewhere. We give of our time and talents too, but on the money front, we don’t have much to give, but like the widow’s mite, it doesn’t matter in God’s eyes.

Now that you have a synopsis of our financial story, we can move on to the topic at hand – Oprah’s recent show, “The Big Give.” I was asked to watch it for this column. I DVR’d it, and started watching it when it was down to five out of ten competitors. I kind of had to force myself to watch it – I had a feeling that I wouldn’t like it, but I had to give it a fair chance. Now I REALLY don’t like it. Here’s why:

Giving shouldn’t be a competition. The point of the show is for each competitor to “Give Big or Go Home”. They are given the standard challenges, like in any reality show, and a time limit. Each person tries to give bigger than the other people. Now I’m not saying that they didn’t help people, but there was also a LOT of talk about winning, or giving more, or being better than the other competitors. “I’m the biggest giver”. “No, I’M the biggest giver.” It kind of turned my stomach.

Helping others should be selfless and joyful – this was definitely not. Many times it seemed it was more about the competitors and who had the best idea, than it was about helping people. And don’t get me wrong – sometimes a little rivalry is OK – like when your school has a “penny war” to see which class can raise the most for a project, and you sabotage each other by putting in dollar bills that get subtracted from their total. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of good-natured humor in giving. But this show felt like a completely different vibe.

Giving shouldn’t have rules. Some of the giving was monetary and the competitors were given a “budget” from which they could give, and sometimes the challenge was the pitching-in-and-helping kind. In an effort to be creative and win the challenge, people didn’t always give where it was needed most. Example: one guy helped a family with 28 children – the majority with Down’s syndrome or other special needs – by cleaning their garage and spending $500 on Chinese food for a party. When you saw how much they struggle through the day to day (and the mother’s reaction to the cost of the food) it almost made me sick. Why couldn’t the “big give” be just that – go and give? Send people out to help people – no rules – and film the results. Now THAT would be a good show.

It wasn’t that big. On a show called “The Big Give”. I expected the giving to be bigger. A few of the things they pulled off were really big in life-changing ways for the people they helped. But a lot of the giving was what I call drop-in-the-bucket help. It might help those people for about 5 minutes, but not for the long haul. If you’re going to put the show on right after “Extreme Home Makeover,” you better be up to that standard of giving – every single time. Again, I’m not saying they didn’t help people, but in comparison to its companion show, I wasn’t impressed.

I know the show had in mind to start a pay-it-forward revolution. A lot of people watch Oprah, and she has a lot of clout. But I found out some interesting things while working on this piece. My husband, Pastor Jeffery Grams, made a comment about Oprah’s misguided belief system – which I wasn’t aware of – and I asked him to write about what he told me, as follows:

Oprah is an icon of American culture. She is admired by many due to her:

kindness and generosity toward others. The story of her life, and her many triumphs over

adversity, serve as an inspiration to people throughout the world. Unfortunately, thisplaces her in the position of one who offers spiritual counsel to millions of people.


While still claiming to be a “Christian”, coming from Baptist roots, there is little doubt

that Oprah has departed from the One True Faith, and has every intention of leading

others into the darkness as well.


In a recent interview she praises a quote from Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth” 

where he writes (p. 15); “Man made “God” in his own image. The eternal, the infinite,

the unnameable was reduced to a mental idol that you had to believe in and worship as

my god” or “our god”.” She then says, “Even as a Christian, I don’t believe that Jesus

came to start Christianity.” She also says “There couldn’t possibly be just one way!” For

her – and many others in our current culture – there is no need for belief in Jesus: all

paths to enlightenment lead to the same destination.

The show’s over now, the finale has premiered, so you can’t watch it. I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. Personal stewardship should be a priority in every Christian’s life. This show at best showed giving as a contest (which I obviously have a problem with, just on principle); at worst, it leads people to think that works on earth are necessary to “be a good person” and get you where you want to go – in life, and after.


Kimberly Grams is a pastor’s wife and writer. She is a member of Saint John Lutheran Church in Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, where her husband Jeffery is pastor. 

Created: May 1st, 2008