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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Toxic Charity" (Robert D. Lupton)

TITLE: Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)
AUTHOR: Robert D. Lupton
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011, (200 pages).

Focus on outcomes, not activities. Not all giving is good. In fact, much giving is toxic. This is the basic message in this book. Lupton in one sweep exposes the scandals both intended and unintended. He explains the reasons behind the flawed thinking, that underlies conventional giving. He explicates the various alternatives to transform charity from toxic handout to healthy helping out.

1) Exposing the Scandal
The scandal of toxic charity is basically the dis-empowerment of the poor to help themselves. After all, if they can get things for free, then why bother to work or find work?  Large charitable giving has not shortened the handout lines. Instead it has pathetically increased the demand. Those in poor economies, despite the huge millions of aid given to them, have not improved their living or economic conditions. According to one African aid worker, the continent has gotten worse. With easy availability of free money, free food, and free stuff, begging lines become longer. Administrative officials in developing economies become more corrupt. The incentives to work dramatically drop.

2) Explaining the Problem

Lupton convincingly drives home the problem of good intentions based on poor knowledge that givers have of the recipients. Through their self-centered perspective of giving in order to feel good inside the heart, they unwittingly weaken those they serve, develop dishonest relationships among their intended communities, diminish work ethic among the people they are trying to help, and increases the dependency of the poor for foreign aid. Charity of giving needs to be accompanied by parity of what the people really need. The former may help in the short term. The latter will be essential for the long term. Likewise, mercy must be accompanied by justice. Otherwise, the cycle of dependency will continue to spiral hopelessly non-stop. This results in frustrations when givers do not see improvements in the plight of the people they are trying to help. At the same time, the recipients grows in their inferiority complexes, in which their potential is not reached. One of the powerful examples Lupton shares in the book includes the following unhealthy pattern of giving without proper accountabilities:

  • Give once and you elicit appreciation;
  • give twice and you create anticipation;
  • give three times and you create expectation;
  • give four times and it becomes entitlement;
  • give five times and you establish dependency.

3) Expressing the Oath

Luton provides the turning point by suggesting that charitable organizations and givers take the 'Oath of Compassionate Service.' The oath mirrors the Hippocratic Oath. (128)
  • "Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves."
  • "Limit one-way giving to emergency services."
  • ''Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements."
  • "Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served."
  • "Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said - unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service."
  • "Above all, do no harm."
4) Explicating the Recovery

This section is worth the price of the book. Lupton shares from his experience to give readers a few creative alternatives to conventional giving. He is quite supportive of the Opportunity International organization which seeks to equip and empower people to help themselves. He advocates the need to be patient, and that there is no quick fixes in the charity initiative. He promotes the ABCD method: 'Asset-Based Community Development' in which one prioritizes on achieving the 'potential' instead of focusing on 'problems.' Rather than trying to solve one small part of the needy's problems, Lupton argues rightly for a wholesome restoration of the recipients sense of self-worth. This needs patience. This requires due diligence. This demands responsible giving.

Closing Thoughts

'Toxic Charity' may not a book for bed-time reading but is an important book that needs to be read by all charities and churches who are keen to help the poor and the needy. The first half of the book is a no-holds barred reprimand on the flaws of our current charitable giving model. It contains such strong observations that even the most faithful giver can be tempted to stop giving altogether. Fortunately, the second part of the book redeems the idea of giving. If readers are able to go beyond the wallet-wrenching parts at the beginning, to reach the end, they will appreciate the pains and the meticulous ways in which Lupton redeems giving altogether. This is how the gospel works too. As much as it exposes and attacks the effects of sin and sin itself, it redeems the sinner.

I highly recommend this book for all givers, to let their giving be guided by knowledge and wisdom. Most importantly, giving is a way to empower, and not disempower the receivers.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


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