The Unintended Consequences of Good Intentions
I just finished reading, “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).” by Robert D. Lupton. With 40 years of experience with the poor in Atlanta and in Third-World countries, he seems to have some helpful thoughts on our approach to help the poor.
Free food/clothing hand-out lines for those that do have the capacity to take personal initiative, often develops an unintentional increase of dependency, a superior/inferior shallow relationship, diminishes dignity, and destroys personal initiative.
On the other hand, many in society need emergency relief, but should only be temporary and limited to usher them into the place of personal initiative and trust in God. Unless someone is in a permanently vulnerable position (such as an orphan, the widow, the disabled, single mothers with kids, seniors w/o family support, victims of abuse or natural disasters, etc), then they do not need long-term relief.
Is this true love to the poor? The problem is, our good and loving intentions may provide freebies to those in poverty, helping a few in desperate need, but the vast majority end up receiving the unintended consequence of exacerbating welfare dependency and eroding work ethic.
Lupton states, “We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct care-full due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity. Why do we miss the crucial aspects in evaluating our charitable work? Because, as compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served. We have failed to adequately calculate the effects of our service on the lives of those reduced to objects of our pity and patronage…What appears to be extravagant, selfless, even sacrificial investments from caring benefactors may well be exposed as large-scale misappropriations of charitable resources” (pgs.5-6).
How can shift from crisis relief to a more complex work of long-term relationship?
One person at time.
Building relationship with people over the long-term, and being Family to people. There is never a cookie-cutter approach to ending the devastating effects of poverty on people. But, there is someone who can bring hope and helping along the way.
His name is Jesus Christ.
He is incarnated within each and every believer who knows Him, to bring hope and help to the suffering.
But that’s not how we naturally think. It's much easier to build programs to give away free food, clothing, and connections (aka. give the problem to someone else) to the masses. It appears loving on the outside, but deep down for the person receiving the help, it hardly scratches the surface in a person's life. It costs a vast amount of structure, energy, volunteers and fundraising wealth (to receive public praise for their giving efforts I might add).
Have we traded an illusion of love for the messy long-term relationships of really loving the poor?
Instead, I believe we need to reavulate and choose to invest in fewer, deeper relationships without treating people like a service project or other believers as volunteers, cogs in our organization. It doesn't require a high cost of buildings, salaries or programs, and won't need to toot its own horn when someone gets a hand-up. Why? Because it's not about them in the first place. It's about God, and what He's commanded to us do. Love, as I have loved you.
Love is not loving the outcast because they deserve it, it's loving them because Jesus loves us all and none of us deserved it. "but God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Rom 5:8). We're all in the same boat. You didn't deserve love either, but Jesus loved you anyway too. Here lies the true mark of unconditional love, from the True Source of Love who gives us the ability to live out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Instead of thinking of people as a service project, which devalues their dignity and worth, we need to start thinking, “long-term relationship and community development.” Sometimes people do need crisis relief, and sometimes the need for rehabilitation (such as with children of neglect, victims of abuse, and drug addiction) is necessary, but it always must be within the sphere of a committed friendship long-term. It must be God-centered and discerned for the appropriate approach. The relationship, not the service itself, must be primary.
Relationship should never be needs-based, “I’m-here-to-rescue-you” approach, rather simply, let’s be friends. We are commanded by our Lord to love everyone, whether we think they deserve it or not (in reality they don't "deserve it", but neither did you). "Love, as I have loved you", Jesus said.
This leads to a "let’s get through this together" approach rather than "I can help you, I know better" approach. See the difference?
How do we do that? There’s not a cookie-cutter solution for everyone, but there are biblical and common sense principles we can choose to live by, and then reassess and evaluate, “Is what I am really doing producing real fruit in the Kingdom of God to the poor? Am I hurting with my loving intentions?”
Lupton also goes into further details in his book with insight and some solutions to begin with, to include, a “compassionate oath” to be taken as we work with the poor.
Check out the book!