A pastoral colleague sent me an interview with Robert Lupton whose recent book Toxic Charity has some controversial elements in it, among them criticizing the one-way relationship charities often have: The people with food give food to those without, etc. Here’s a quote from the interview:
Q: You say churches and charities can harm those they propose to help. How?
A: Typically, the giving is one-way: those of us with the resources give to those with a lack of resources. One-way giving tends to make the poor objects of pity, which harms their dignity. It also erodes their work ethic and produces a dependency that is unhealthy both for the giver and the recipient.
I was reminded of a brief blog post from two years ago that is reprinted with some edits below. I think it encapsulates the charity work in a relational context rather than a one-way context.
September 24, 2009
I was traveling with a wise elder minister. We drove through a town and saw two different churches side by side. The United Methodist church ran a clothing store where clothing was sold for 25 cents, jeans for $1, shoes for $2, etc. The other church advertised free clothes, jeans, and shoes. Neither was open at that time in the evening so I had no idea of which was busier.
My travel companion and I had the following conversation:
Me: Well, I hope the Methodists don’t get put outta business.
Elder (craning her neck to see the churches): I would hope so, because that means that everyone is clothed and taken care of.
Me: I meant that the other church is giving clothes away while the UM church is selling their clothes. Seems like an easy choice.
Elder (twinkle in her eye): You think the UM church is selling clothes? They aren’t. Anytime you can buy something and feel a bit more like the rest of the world, you are getting dignity in the deal. So they aren’t selling clothes. They’re selling dignity.
(Image credit: Charity on Flickr)