Thoughts from Robert Lupton’s recent book Toxic Charity:
So many of us have good intentions. America is in the midst of a ‘compassion boom’ and serving others is pretty popular today. We give and give and give (feeling pretty fulfilled along the way) and often don’t examine the outcomes. Are we creating dependency? Are we destroying any personal initiative or responsibility to provide? Are we disempowering communities or people groups?
Immediate relief is not bad, but Lupton shares in his book Toxic Charity that “when relief does not transition into development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic.” I’m not really interested in being a part of toxic charity. However, giving a hungry child a hot meal is a lot easier than helping his single mother figure out how to keep a job (with a living wage), have adequate transportation, and not shack up with another abuser. It’s hard. And, really complicated. Oh, and often pretty personal. It involves investing emotion, prayer and long-term commitment. I mean, it’s so much easier to be ‘toxic!’
Bottom line, are we investing in communities and individuals in such a way that we are moving them towards health and self-sufficiency? Or, are we perpetuating the cycle of poverty by providing physical needs without ever addressing the root issues that have led to their cry for help?
Doctors abide by the Hippocratic Oath. Lupton suggests those of us in ministry abide by the Oath for Compassionate Service. Give this some thought today:
(1) Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
(2) Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
(3) Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
(4) Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
(5) Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
(6) Above all, do no harm.