Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)

I found Toxic Charity to be a very thought-provoking look at how churches and charities tend to harm rather than empower people who are struggling.  Some of the points Robert D. Lupton makes I've read elsewhere, but Toxic Charity is the first book I've come across in which the problem of giving people handouts rather than a hand up is explored in such depth and with so many practical suggestions for affecting change. 

Drawing from his 40 years of experience as an urban activist, Lupton illustrates how helping the poor means more than giving donations in order to affect lasting change and interdependence rather than ongoing dependency.  He isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions about models of ministry in his book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).  

Getting to the Nitty-Gritty of Charity

Who is really benefitting—those being served or those doing the serving?  Are others being educated and empowered to do for themselves, or are they learning to depend on others for manpower, funding, and outside assistance to do what members of their own communities are perfectly capable of doing on their own?

How Long Do You Keep Pushing?

I can think of a very easy-to-explain analogy for this.  Young children on swings at the playground may very well be too short to get into the swing themselves and need help.  When first learning to swing, they can’t reach the ground on their own, so they need a push.  Even before their feet can reach the ground, we can start teaching them how to pump their legs to keep the momentum going.  Giving them a push and perhaps assisting them getting on the swing are entry-point types of assistance they can’t do on their own, yet.  Teaching them how to pump their legs is the developmental aspect of the learning process that fosters independence.  They learn that they have much greater control when they can keep themselves moving even if no one is there pushing them. 

If we simply push them on the swings without showing them how to pump their legs—feet up when you go forward and down when you go back—then they will only keep moving as long as we are standing there pushing them. 

The same is true of helping others. They may need an initial boost to get started and some instruction, resources, and encouragement, but ultimately the goal should be greater self-sufficiency rather than utter dependency.  People will be a lot more invested in a project they’ve identified as being necessary and have had input, investment financially and/or have given in terms of their talents and time than they would a project that doesn’t meet a real need or solve an ongoing problem that has to be addressed in their community to affect positive change.

The following questions author and urban activist Robert D. Lupton raises  regarding charity also apply to our relationships with those we serve in ministry: 

1. Are we giving people what they need to survive in a crisis beyond the time of crisis when they can and should be doing for themselves?  

2. Do we provide disaster relief or relief that ends up becoming disastrous to community leadership, personal dignity, and a strong work ethic?  

3. Are we facilitating change or enabling unhealthy dependence?  

4. Is there a measure of accountability in the program?  

5. How are needs and wants determined, researched, defined, and met?    

To find out more about Toxic Charity or to get your own copy of the book, click here.
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