Toxic Charity

August 2013

I recently finished reading the book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton for the second time, and I loved it just as much as I did on my first go-round.  It seems that the concept of re-thinking our culture’s approach to “charity” has really taken root in recent years, and I am glad to see and hear the conversation taking place in more spaces.

Lupton’s book boils down to the essential truth that by doing for others what they could do for themselves, we destroy their pride, begin a downward spiral of dehumanizing, unilateral charity, and eventually create resentment and entitlement.  Some heavy stuff, for sure.

One of the pillars of the CARE for AIDS mission is to empower individuals, families, churches, and communities.  This model of empowerment is sometimes a long process, and sometimes it is challenging to stay in a long-term mindset.  Last week, Justin touched on the theme of “how much is too much” (catch the blog here if you missed it), and I want to expand on that theme this week a bit by challenging the way we think about missions as a whole.

There was a fantastic article in Relevant Magazine recently that speaks to what Toxic Charity and many other sources are pointing out;

“Mission work has become synonymous with good deeds, and that is the heart of the current crisis in missiology. A good deed can be defined as a usually spur-of-the-moment act that is not expected to be replicated or establish any sort of long-term partnership. For example: holding the elevator for a guy with his hands full or lending change to the woman who is a little short at the cash register. They say “thanks,” you say “you’re welcome,” and you can walk away feeling good about what you just did.

Missions is not that. Real mission work, what Jesus was really talking about when He said “go,” is a long-term commitment to preaching the Gospel while serving other children of God. It’s not quick; it’s not easy”

I constantly have to recalibrate my thought process when it comes to the Great Commission. The charge to “go”, as the article puts it, is not a one-time event or a certain task that we are expected to check off a list as Christians.  It is a lifestyle of neighboring that we have to adopt and live out consistently.  That lifestyle is also, as the article puts so beautifully, a long, slow, sometimes-painful process.  And in that process, we have to be cognizant of our neighbors in order to create a reciprocal giving and taking relationship.

We all know the scripture “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.  For so many years I took that scripture at face value until one day I actually stopped to meditate on it… who am I to constantly force myself into the  “more blessed” position in certain relationships?  That, to me, is the definition of toxic charity; the thought that I have everything to give and nothing to receive.  Instead, we as a Christian community should do our best to nurture relationships that humanize instead of degrade, that give empowerment and never breed resentment, and that mirror a true neighboring that can only come from the Kingdom of God.

I truly believe that CARE for AIDS is successful in the model of neighboring and empowerment. We are not perfect, of course, but when I hear stories of the families who are embraced in Kenya, and the life changes both with the clients and the staff, I feel confident that we are on the road to the Great Commission.  My prayer is that we all; staff, clients and supporters alike, can continue to grow in blessings from both giving and receiving from one another.