Bruce's Blog


Thoughts on Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton: Part 4

May 12th, 2014

Part 4 in a 4 part series

In my first couple of posts in this series I wrote about 10 principles of Lupton’s book Toxic Charity with which I agree. In Part 3 I wrote of the broad statements that seem to me to go too far. Here are a couple of other flaws in the book.


Without meaning to do so Mr. Lupton has stereotyped nearly all the people about whom he writes.

Church people are not all the same. Poor people have as many different motives, attitudes and lifestyles as more privileged people. Inner city folk are not all cut from the same cookie cutter. People who provide social services do it in a variety of ways and with a multitude of motives. Donors come in all varieties as well, and none of us has a clear-cut agenda.

Stereotypes are never accurate for an entire group of people; categories are much easier to judge than individuals.

Community development vs. individual development

Most of the second half of the book looks at community development as “capacity building rather than service providing”.  Again let me emphasize the both-and approach. Even as we work with leaders in various neighborhoods to put systems in place to deal with their real challenges, even as we help to identify the assets of the community to build capacity, there is always a “freshman class”. There are always the new poor or the newly arrived poor who will need our support with the basics while we work with them to facilitate their personal and economic growth.

There is more than one way to achieve community development as well. One of those is to promote and facilitate individual growth which replicated will result in community development.

Wrong Question

“Is toxic charity better than no charity?”

If toxic charity is helping too many people too much for too long, my answer to this question (to which Mr. Lupton implies the answer is “no”) is “Yes.”  It is better to extend our support for too long than not to extend it at all. It is better to allow some people to feel “entitled” than to make everyone with a need ineligible. It is better to do the best we can while we look for more far-reaching results, than it is to wait for the community to develop to the place that everyone can help themselves. Community is, after all, interdependence—looking out for each other.

Nothing about us without us

Honoring this excellent maxim that I learned from the disabilities community, the next posting will feature comments from people with low income, some of them food insecure. They are discussing the book Toxic



In the meantime please comment honestly and kindly about your concept of helpful giving and toxic charity.


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