Thoughts on Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton: Part 1
March 31st, 2014
Part 1 in a 4 part series:
Agreeing with the Principles
A popular book that has made the rounds in church and social services circles for the past couple of years is Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).
Christianity Today endorsed the book like this: “Lupton says hard things that need to be said....If we accept rather than resist his critique, the poor and the non-poor will both be better off.” The recommendation reflects the major flaws in the book. With any theory we do not have only two options (accept or resist) and we can’t make broad stereotyping statements about anybody including “poor and the non-poor”. On the other hand, the first statement resonates. The things that Lupton says are hard to say and they do need to be said.
5 of the Principles
- When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.
- When relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic.
- [We need to] navigate our churches and organizations away from the traditional “doing for” the poor models toward a “doing with” paradigm…..Doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm. Add to it the combinations of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and the charity becomes toxic.
- Mercy combined with justice creates immediate care with a future plan; emergency relief and responsible development; short-term intervention and long-term involvement; heart responses and engaged minds.
- Forging ahead to meet a need, we often ignore the basics: mutuality, reciprocity, accountability. In so doing relationships turn toxic. …if you don’t have time to invest in forging a trusting relationship, give your money to a ministry that does.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit with Robert Lupton and a small group of people involved in providing food to those coping with poverty and food insecurity, sometimes even hunger. I did not hear from anyone in the room any disagreement with these five principles. All of them point to the importance of relationships, reciprocity and options to make the future brighter than the bleak past and present of those with whom we work.
How do YOU feel or think about the principles above? Can you expand on the thoughts or maybe offer your own examples of these principles at work or neglected?