Charity is a core part of the church's mission to our nation and world. But what if our best efforts to help those in poverty actually drive their poverty deeper? Robert Lupton, founder and president of Atlanta's FCS Urban Ministries, argues that many popular forms of generosity and service are often toxic and destructive. In his new book, Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results (HarperOne), Lupton offers a roadmap for turning short-lived good intentions into lasting transformation. Bethany Hoang, founding director of International Justice Mission's Institute for Biblical Justice and co-author of The Justice Calling (Brazos), spoke with Lupton about stories of destructive charity and his vision for a new way of doing missions.
How does serving and giving become toxic?
We have a very involved and compassionate group of Christians in our culture who volunteer and give from the heart. In one sense, that’s something we can be proud of. We are a serving nation, a serving church, and our motivations are good. It’s just that we have been measuring our activities—how many people we see, how many food boxes we distribute, how many clothes we give away—instead of looking at outcomes.
The unintended consequences are sometimes destructive. When we do for others what they have the capacity to do themselves, we actually disempower them. We assume responsibility that was never ours to carry. And so the troubling message of Charity Detox is that we may be doing more harm than good, and folks who are well-meaning and operating from the heart have a very difficult time hearing that.
Can you give an illustration of when serving and giving becomes destructive?