Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) Hardcover – Oct 3 2011
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“Lupton says hard things that need to be said, and he’s earned the right to say them. Believers would do well to receive his words with the mindset that ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend.’” (Christianity Today)
“[Lupton’s] new book, Toxic Charity, draws on his 40 years’ experience as an urban activist in Atlanta, and he argues that most charitable work is ineffective or actually harmful to those it is supposed to help.” (Washington Post)
“Lupton’s work, his books and, most importantly, his life continue to guide and encourage me to live and serve in a way that honors God and my neighbor. I highly recommend Toxic Charity.” (Danny Wuerffel, Executive Director, Desire Street Ministries)
“Lupton’s book reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. He shows how the people called poor can be blessed by supporting opportunities for them to give their gifts, skills, knowledge and wisdom to creating the future.” (John McKnight, Codirector, Asset Based Community Development Institute, Northwestern University)
“A must-read book for those who give or help others.” (Booklist)
“In Toxic Charity, Lupton reminds us that being materialistically poor does not mean that there is no capacity, no voice, and no dignity within a person. If we truly love the poor, we will want to educate ourselves on how best to serve. Let our charity be transformative not toxic.” (Roger Sandberg, Executive Director of Medair International)
“A superb book. Toxic Charity should serve as a guide and course correction for anyone involved in charitable endeavors at home or abroad.” (Ronald W. Nikkel, President, Prison Fellowship International)
“Toxic Charity provides the needed counterbalance to a kind heart: a wise mind. Though I often thought, “Ouch!” while I was reading the book, Robert Lupton gave this pastor what I needed to become a more effective leader.” (Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland A Church Distributed)
“When Bob Lupton speaks of the inner city, the rest of us ought to sit up and take notice... [His work is] deeply distrurbingin the best sense of the word.” (Philip Yancey, author of What Good Is God?)
“Top 10 book of the year.” (World Magazine)
From the Back Cover
Public service is a way of life for Americans; giving is a part of our national character. But compassionate instincts and generous spirits aren’t enough, says veteran urban activist Robert D. Lupton. In this groundbreaking guide, he reveals the disturbing truth about charity: all too much of it has become toxic, devastating to the very people it’s meant to help.
In his four decades of urban ministry, Lupton has experienced firsthand how our good intentions can have unintended, dire consequences. Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency. We converge on inner-city neighborhoods to plant flowers and pick up trash, battering the pride of residents who have the capacity (and responsibility) to beautify their own environment. We fly off on mission trips to poverty-stricken villages, hearts full of pity and suitcases bulging with giveaways—trips that one Nicaraguan leader describes as effective only in “turning my people into beggars.”
In Toxic Charity, Lupton urges individuals, churches, and organizations to step away from these spontaneous, often destructive acts of compassion toward thoughtful paths to community development. He delivers proven strategies for moving from toxic charity to transformative charity.
Proposing a powerful “Oath for Compassionate Service” and spotlighting real-life examples of people serving not just with their hearts but with proven strategies and tested tactics, Lupton offers all the tools and inspiration we need to develop healthy, community-driven programs that produce deep, measurable, and lasting change. Everyone who volunteers or donates to charity needs to wrestle with this book.See all Product Description
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As Brooks (Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism) has shown, giving by religious Americans, both to church-based charities and secular agencies like the Red Cross, is extraordinarily generous by any measure, in time, treasure, and talent, compared with that of secular Americans and citizens of other affluent countries. Lupton does not disparage these efforts or their (mostly) good intentions, but argues that most of this activity does more harm than good. Given the author's own commitment and credentials in the field, anyone engaged in this work will want to pay attention to his critique.
In some ways, Lupton echoes those 19th-century critics of "sentimental charity," who sought to replace random handouts with organized charity based on a relationship between giver and recipient that offered "not alms, but a friend" (the motto of the Charity organization Societies). Those charity reform efforts, which gave rise to the profession of social work, are widely disparaged today, not least by professional social workers. But the problem of how to help those who need help, whether through government programs or private charity, in ways that do not shame, demoralize, sap initiative, and create dependency remains, as Lupton shows, as big a challenge today as ever.
Lupton's approach, that of asset-based community development, aims to empower and partner with those helped, recognizing and engaging their capacity to contribute to their community with their own resources, knowledge, and wisdom. Instead of flying in with a team of eager young missioners to build a well for a poor village whose women have to carry water long distances on their heads - and coming back every year to fix `their' well - Lupton argues for an approach that facilitates engaging the skills and energy of the local people to fund, build, and manage their own well.
It is not a matter of being stingy rather than generous, but of helping in ways that truly help, without the enervating, dependency-creating disempowerment of much current charity in practice. Lupton's argument is not against charity as such, but for charity in its true sense of willing the good of the other. This implies, Lupton shows, a consistent focus on results rather than intentions, on the good of those helped rather than the supposed benefits to the giver (e.g., the 'life-changing experience' of young participants in expensive mission junkets or the warm feelings of congregations that want to help.) The virtue of charity in this view cannot stand alone. It requires the exercise of other virtues like justice and prudence, and full engagement of the head as well as the heart.
However, while important warnings are raised, unfortunately Toxic Charity seems to fall short on solid research, leaning heavily on anecdotal stories and intuitions. While rightly rejecting that all giving works great, the book frequently falls into an almost equally simplistic ideology, that can be summarized, "avoid dependencies". Citations of research on the topics discussed are rare, and range from hearsay to simply false data, such as citation of a World Bank study that quoted the wrong region, wrong intervention, and wrong data.
Again, Lupton has some great suggestions, and certainly the focus on doing a better job of listening to recipients and seeking to understand and research what they truly need to be empowered is wise. But too much of the book fails to follow this advise, instead relying on following the intuitions of the anti-dependency ideology. Sometimes these intuitions are good, but often times they lead to poor conclusions. For example, anti-dependency mentality recommends always preferring microfinance over direct cash transfer. Microfinance has worked well in some situations, yet much of the most recent and best development research has shown very disappointing results in many others areas with microfinance, with remarkably promising results with direct cash transfers or free access to medicines. Such reality can't be explained by a single principle; human behavior and development economics are far more complicated.
As a theological book, this book uncovers nothing new and draws very little upon the real theological teachings of scripture on giving, rarely even referencing the Bible. As an economics book, the assessments seem to ignore the wealth of research and literature on behavioral and development economics. Combined, the economic and theological principles are weak. But Lupton's warnings about the pitfalls of giving are important wake-up call and his experience from years of working with churches in inner-city should prove invaluable to churches seeking to also bless and empower their communities by humbling listening and focusing on what recipients truly need.
Hopefully this book will push readers to reconsider how they give, but hopefully readers will resist the urge to settle for a single ideology and instead take up the admonition found in these pages to continually invest seriously in listening and researching what types of giving and interventions really work in their area of interest.
Firstly, Lupton exposes the scandal of conventional giving. He questions why the poor remains so poor despite the huge aid given to them over the years. He wonders why handout lines continue to stretch. He probes the flaws of current giving models.
Secondly, the author re-calibrates the basic philosophy of good charity being learning to take the oath of compassionate service. Such an oath puts the development of the recipient's potential as primary, and the fulfilment of the giver's emotions as secondary.
Thirdly, the author tries to provide alternatives that redeems the whole giving process.
Readers will be shocked by the many revelations of how giving has not only not improved the conditions of the receivers, giving has become toxic instead. Thankfully, Lupton is able to articulate very practical and workable models for us to re-think and to restore good giving. What the poor and the vulnerable needs most are not more handouts or more problem solving. They need a helping hand to help themselves, and for the rest of the world to enable them to reach their highest potential. All good giving does precisely that.
I strongly recommend that all givers, both present and future read this book.
In this book, the author takes it to the next step in identifying why the modern western mission approach is so pathetic and unfruitful. He provides a set of principles that should be used in desigining any mission program whether it's a mission to a third world nation or to a neighborhood a half mile away. It's not a how-to book. The issues are too complicated and the people too diverse for him to write a simple set of instructions or a simple strategy. Following his guidance will not be easy. It will require studying people, identifying leaders and influences and creating relationships all before the first step is taken. If you're looking for an easy read that you can communicate to your pastor or group during a 30 minute presentation, then forget about it.
While this book is from the point of view of a religious person, the principles and information in this book are not religious at all. In fact, any talk of preaching or developing churches is totally absent. The only goal mentioned is helping people improve economically and socially. There is no spiritual diminsion to this book.
While the principles in this book do involve working with and developing leadership among the targeted groups, it is still from a perspective of white knights coming in and solving all the problems of the third world or inner city poor. While that can be annoying and is easy fodder for whiners, it shouldn't disqualify the entire book. It's a good book with sound principles from someone with experience. This book should not be ignored or overlooked.
As another reviewer mentioned, there is very little (almost zero) spiritual or overtly Christian dimension to this book. Perhaps it is all internal for him, but it's just odd to not have more theology and appreciation for the sinful nature of mankind be explicitly discussed in a such a book. It is a very insightful book for sure, but there is nothing terribly "Christian" about his approach or conclusions--accurate though they are. I would recommend, instead, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself. The conclusions are similar but the discussion will be more helpful for those seeking spiritual meat and desiring a more positive, humble tone.