Robert Lupton's new book is going to ruffle some feathers.
In Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) (HarperOne), the 40-year veteran urban minister "takes the gloves off" and argues that much of Americans' charitable giving "is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help."
The reason is that the "compassion industry" is "almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise," but its "outcomes are almost entirely unexamined." Years of charitable giving at home and abroad, Lupton contends, have made barely a dent in reducing poverty and often encourage dependency. Toxic Charity offers some statistics, but more stories, as evidence that both our philosophy and practice of charity are frequently misguided.
The news here is painful. Our self-centeredness contributes to the problem. We evaluate our giving, Lupton argues, "by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served."
Short-term mission trips are a case in point. Such "junkets" involve expenditures of between $2.5-5 billion annually, yet produce little lasting change, often displace local labor, and distract indigenous church leaders from more important work. We get more than we give when we go.
Meanwhile, our relief-oriented, commodity-based charity flourishes at home because even though its effects are irresponsible, it feels good to the givers. Lupton grieves that "our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency."
Lupton does offer some ideas for improvement. He proposes a new "Oath for Compassionate Service" for the charity industry to adopt, much ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 63+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more