Last Wednesday we kicked off a book study at First United Methodist Church on Robert Lupton’s latest book Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like if We Cared About Results. Today the creative juices stirred, urging me to take this conversation to the streets of the internet. So here is my proposal for you: ten weeks together in person or on this blog or both, talking all things Charity Detox. If you live near Manhattan and want to join us in person, there is room at the table at First United Methodist Church. Each week on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. we will gather. Tonight we will discuss chapter one.
Poverty and its sister Charity are concerns of all who have a heart. Jesus commands his followers to “Give to everyone who asks you,” and people of Christian faith know that giving to those in need is an irrefutable part of who we are (Luke 6:30). We agree on this, no matter how little change may be in our pocket today or how many dollars we may have saved in our retirement account.
What we do not agree on is how. How is charity best accomplished? Are there circumstances when our giving is harmful to others, wasteful, or more self-focused than other-focused? How can we know if it is? And how can we turn things around? These are questions Robert Lupton first addressed in his book Toxic Charity, the precursor and prologue to Charity Detox.
These are big questions, questions that beg for context, both from a 30,000 foot view and an on-the-ground analysis. What does charity (or what I prefer to call mercy) look like at its best? Where does social justice come in? How can we know if we are being true to God’s call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?
All of these questions require brave conversation partners, especially when we turn our eyes to what we are actually doing and not doing with our money, our time, and our influence. We have invested our dollars and our hearts in certain ways of giving for so long.
I can tell you my bias. I believe it is not enough to give without an awareness of potential impacts to human dignity and growth, or negative consequences like dependency or entitlement. I believe we need to know the people who are suffering from the impacts of poverty at home and abroad, we need to listen to their stories, take counsel from their wisdom, and work alongside our brothers and sisters to address the root causes of poverty. I believe charity alone is never enough and must always be partnered with the work of justice, but that mercy ministry done well can transform lives.
What do you believe? Let’s start this conversation and see where it takes us.