Many churches and charities have the best of intentions when helping the needy, but they may be doing more harm than good.
That’s the message Robert Lupton wants to get out in his book, “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).” It will also be the topic of his seminar March 15 at the Church of the Most Holy Comforter.
Many churches and charities try to help by offering free food and clothing, but over time that one-way giving creates a sense of dependency and hurts the dignity of the very people they’re trying to help.
“Our motivation is very good, but the results are often anything but healthy,” Lupton said. “The golden rule of compassionate giving is never do for others what they have the capacity to do for themselves.
“What I’m encouraging in ‘Toxic Charity’ is finding ways of reciprocal giving,” he said.
Lupton is a psychologist who founded FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta 38 years ago.
The nonprofit organization began by operating a food pantry, a clothes closet and a toy drive at Christmas to help the needy in an inner-city neighborhood.
Lupton said he began to notice a negative impact on the neighborhood around him.
“We intended (the ministry) to help. In fact, it was doing harm,” he said. “We worked to change our methodology of service so it was reciprocal and interdependent.”
The clothes closet became a thrift store and a training program that is used to train people in the community in retail merchandising.
The food pantry became a food co-op that has grown to about 300 members, he said.
Instead of a Christmas toy giveaway, parents are invited to shop for the toys, which are marked with a very modest price, through a program called Pride for Parents.
“On Christmas morning, the parents get to see kids opening presents they have selected themselves,” he said.
FCS Urban Ministries now offers affordable housing and youth, social service and education programs.
The neighborhood first served by FCS began to improve dramatically, and the ministry moved into another neighborhood. Now it is working in its fourth community, Lupton said.
“Our goal is to create in the inner city healthy places where families flourish and the shalom of God is present,” he said.
Through the book and seminar, Lupton hopes to inspire other churches and organizations to rethink their methods of giving and learn how to shift their paradigm from relief to development.
“They can learn an understanding of how the most effective service is community-based,” he said.