About This Blog: Charity

In an earlier post, I wrote about refocusing this blog on three topics: charity, fundraising and communications, and being a pastor. In this post, I’m taking a little time to talk about one of these foci: charity.

In 2012 or so, my parents sent me a copy of Robert Lupton’s book, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It). It was my introduction to a movement — let’s call them ‘charity skeptics’ — that believes that charity is harmful. As Lupton describes it, America rejected the idea of doing for others what they can, or should be able to, do for themselves when welfare reform passed; but, through private charity, we continue to perpetuate a welfare system that creates dependency, erodes the work ethic, and cannot alleviate poverty. The solution to this problem is dramatically reducing charity in favor of a different approach that favors employment, lending, and investing.1Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It) (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 22, 128 And, of course, Lupton is not alone in this. Thought leaders like Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Ruby Payne, Steve Rothschild, and Dan Pallotta all make similar or complementary arguments. And a lot of the work of charity skepticism is aimed specifically at churches and Christian nonprofits.

As a pastor and a nonprofit development professional, I’ve spent the last decade or so studying the history, philosophy, theology, and effectiveness of charity, philanthropy, and other forms of giving. And the simple fact is that while charity skeptics may have some good points, and while some alternatives to traditional charity (like microloans) might be effective, the overall thrust of the skeptical argument is wrong. Charity is a cornerstone of Christian theology; charity is the foundation of the alternative social order that the Christian church embodies; and charity works.

I’m working on another, bigger project about charity and charity skepticism. But part of what this blog is about is what charity is and why it matters, as well as where (and maybe sometimes why) charity skeptics go wrong.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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