In Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, he states the cold, hard truth to “Christians” who feel like they are doing good charity work for others. I first attended a very traditional Southern Baptist church who regularly performed “toxic charity” without even realizing it. After changing to a new, more contemporary church (which started from my original church) I became very aware of exactly what Lupton was writing about in his book Toxic Charity. You cannot continue to just do what traditional society tells you to do. Yes, we all agree that participating in a charity is beneficial, but we don’t analyze the lasting long term effects associated with our actions.
God tells us to “Love your neighbors as yourselves” (Mark 12:31), but we first need to build a relationship with these people to fully be able to meet their needs. Our neighbors can be in our own backyards or the people half way around the world in a foreign country. Whoever they may be, we first need to get to know them personally and determine the root of the problem. Lupton refers to mission trips as “Christian vacations.” Having gone on several youth mission trips to Tennessee, Louisiana Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago, just to name a few, that was a slap in the face to me. I have been raised to believe that mission trips are very beneficial and made me feel like I was doing something nice and completely selfless for someone else. But Lupton is right, each year our youth group would plan a trip to a new destination to help the people there. Only staying in a place for two weeks will not completely change someone’s life, there is just no way. Thinking back to those trips now, I was participating in selfish behavior and putting my spiritual fulfillment over someone else’s emotional needs. In Toxic Charity, the example of giving a child a gift at Christmastime was used. No one ever thinks that the poor parents would be embarrassed, they assume the father and mother would be so thankful to have presents for their children. But in reality that is the contrary. You have to be aware of other’s feelings. Also, this can also be said about food banks. Giving out free food is great, but then most will become dependent on a hand-out, which is in turn hurting them more than helping. At my church, we have a food bank, but we require that the people do some sort of task, such as cleaning the buildings, in turn for food. By doing this, it makes them feel like they earned their food and is essentially teaching them that you should work first to receive a reward.
This brings up another point that I concluded from reading Lupton’s book, Toxic Charity. Wanting to do charity work can be compared to entrepreneurship. Having taken Dr. Scarborough’s Small Business Management class, it made me think of a business plan. One of the reasons for writing a business plan is to determine if the business is practical to launch. Knowing the goals, mission statement, how to reach the people in need, what their needs actually are, and how to financially support the charity is important to know before beginning work. Guaranteeing that positive, life changing work is being done will result in a good form of charity.
I feel that if every pastor were to read this book, the world would be a different place. That is a bold statement, but I cannot agree with it more. If we all were on the same page of what good charity is, then all the time, money, and effort will be put to beneficial work. Since Lupton’s book was made up of many short personal stories, then pastors could have practical examples of how to begin the change the world for the better a small step at a time.