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Toxic Challenge

In recent months I have been asked many questions about Bob Lupton’s new book Toxic Charity, a book that has been incredibly challenging for many as they rethink how volunteering and missions is done in their context. I think the book hits on some very key issues that we need to examine as Christians and especially those who run missions organizations. The idea that we are making situations worse with the way we do charity is something we should examine and I think Lupton has given us plenty to ponder, but I am a bit afraid of some of the messaging.

Could some people, who would rather not give to poor people anyway, use this book as an excuse? Could it be a new cover for some on an age-old belief about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps? Could it simply be a way for powerful people to protect their turf? And finally could this be a way for the majority population to once again push rugged individualism?

“Don’t do for other what they can do for themselves” sometimes seems like fuel for the wealthy. A well thought out idea by Lupton to help organizations do Community Development may only give bigots and super conservatives a way to conceal their beliefs in a Christian message. I know Lupton makes an exception for disaster but does he address institutionalized racism that has created a permanent under class and continues to do so through massive incarcerations of black and Latino men in our country. This model in some ways may still leave power in the hands of the wealthy by refusing to help someone unless it’s on their agenda. I am not sure some won’t take this as a way to be more stringent and do less instead of being challenged to do more with dignity.

This idea may also push strong business concepts that fit well into the trickle down theories of the Regan generation. If you learn good business concepts like investment, capital, and profit you may be acceptable enough to invest with together. Business practices seem to be King. Could a reason why we have not seen charity work well is because those in power keep power? There are very few legitimate examples of local leaders being trained and given opportunity and resource to make a difference with their own ideas. I think Lupton is right. Perhaps we have seen little change in places like Africa and Haiti because we see little power disseminated, along with poor missional theories.

I would love to see a toxic debrief one that goes a little deeper into the issues at hand. I am thankful Bob Lupton has identified a problem in our Charity and I would like to go a bit deeper into the toxicity to find root causes, and come away with creative solutions. I think at this point without that conversation some in power will keep power and just have a different methodology. I am afraid the methodology won’t be new, just a new spin on old systems with bishops, pastors, missions organization leaders, and political types all still exactly the same just new language, and oh yeah doing even less because they will then be able to use Toxic Charity as a tool. I don’t think that’s bob’s intention, but I do worry.

One Comment (Add Yours)

  1. Thanks for your thoughts Leroy. I’m reading Toxic Charity for the second time with a small group of friends and church members. I agree with your concerns; mostly. The perspective cons of this book depends on the audience, in my opinion.

    When I think of the churches, para churches, ministries, and other non-profits that regularly engage in short-term missions and the interdependency of both them and the communities they serve, then I understand how toxic charity can be for both the giver and the receiver. I do believe that most christians that do missional work really desire for their work to be transformative. But, most often that work only places bandages on very deep puncture wounds. Ideally, the organizations should find ways to empower and aid the local communities in being self-sufficient, however long it takes. Not a “hands off” approach, but a “hands on” in unison type of collaborative approach; where there is equal sacrifice, not equal giving.

    I believe that those christians that want to truly make a difference will find ways to incorporate a more accountable, responsible process for engaging in missional work and giving to those in need. I also believe those christians who don’t desire to make real change and are conservative about assisting and resourcing the poor will always find a way to hoard their treasures; this book won’t change them either way.

    We all should strive “Not to follow the crowd, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. So that we can test and approve God’s good and perfect will for mankind”. Brother Bell’s version Romans 12

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