Monday, January 26, 2009

Responsible Charity: Book Review

I hadn't heard the term "responsible charity" until I got out of college. I had always assumed that you were a responsible citizen when you gave to charities. One very influential book challenged my thoughts on this. At the time the book was published under the name and you call yourself a Christian - Toward responsible charity by Dr. Robert Lupton. It is now published under the title of Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life - Rethinking Ministry to the Poor.

In this book Lupton points out an often overlooked consequence of charity: charity can actually take more from those we seek to help than it gives. When we are in the business of charity, it is in the best interest of that business to always have clients, "the poor". When the poor are no longer poor, there are no jobs in the charity business. Lupton explores the attitudes we must have in order to come along side the poor, to be their neighbor, to stay out of the business of charity and to embrace a life-style of love. Lupton points out that, "Doing for others what they can do for themselves is charity at its worst. We know from 40 years of failed social policy that welfare depletes self-esteem while honorable work produces dignity. We know that reciprocity builds mutual respect while one-way giving brews contempt. Yet we continue to run clothes closets and free food pantries and give-away benevolence accounts and wonder why the joy is missing"

Lupton challenges those with a heart for the poor to not just have compassion on the "least of these" but to use their minds to creatively affirm the value, contribution and responsibility that everyone has. I was reminded that "when [I] do for others what they can do for themselves, [I] cripple them." I must invest in people in a way that doesn't enable them to be poor, but to help them learn how to improve their situations themselves. Yet, Lupton is also realistic in how he views this responsibility that everyone has, "We are equal in neither our capacity nor potential. We are equal only in responsibility." It is an unrealistic to think that everyone has the capability to break the cycle of poverty, yet it is realistic that everyone has a responsibility to work towards that end.

Lupton's final challenge is to live among the poor, to make their problems our problems and to work TOGETHER to break the cycle of poverty while always keeping in mind that we can't ever change people - only God can. We are to follow Christ's example of living among those we want to help and love and in the end point them to Christ.

It's a good book. Check it out.

1 comment:

  1. Tough words, Andi. In my school, the difference between "can't" and "won't" is key for students. In my experience, most kids who "don't" simply "won't," but sometimes it's not that simple.