By: Amber Stargell
In elementary school, one of my teachers had a big “Good Job” poster with every student’s name listed down the side. Next to the names, the teacher put a gold star sticker for every good action she saw a student perform throughout the year within the jurisdiction of the classroom. If we got an A – gold star. Helped a classmate on a difficult assignment – gold star. Did something or said something nice – gold star. At the end of the year, the students with a certain amount of stars were invited to an ice cream social.
Throughout the year, we performed our tasks and made sure that these were seen and evaluated by our teacher. Gold stars became competition, and we would find ways to get more. I remember group assignments were like goldmines to us youngsters. Students who performed well on assignments were heavily pursued by students who struggled. As sort of a win-win, students who knew the answers on group assignments would give the answers to those struggling so everyone would get a good grades and, well gold stars of course.
The end of year came and only eleven of the twenty something students were invited to the ice cream social. How in the world did this happen? Reality began to sink in. A lot of our friends were not on the list. The things we did to earn those gold stars didn’t help our friends earn enough gold stars to go to the ice cream social. Blinded by ice cream and our youth, we didn’t think about their long term needs. Instead of telling our friends the right answers when they asked for help, we could have worked through the problems with them. Instead of studying by ourselves, we could have formed a study group with other students to make sure everyone received high grades on ALL their assignments.
There was so much we could have done to make sure our friends received their gold stars for the ice cream social – but we didn’t. Wasn’t that an elusive lesson for some grade schoolers?
This type of “gold star” behavior has crossed over in our churches and our charities. People find themselves in competition with others for gold stars to gain access into several ice cream socials – the news, a certain organization or even Heaven. The vision of charity has become blurred between helping others and doing things for the benefit of ourselves.
In his book, “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It”, Robert Lupton writes about Opportunity International. Opportunity International invests in poverty-stricken populations through micro-loans to help locals build their small, life-sustaining businesses. This initiative has provided new income for many families in struggling areas throughout the world. However, in some areas, this concept has been destroyed by missions of gold star volunteers and missionaries.
Juan Ulloa, Opportunity International’s Nicaragua director, explained to Lupton that many churches in Nicaragua were focused in their evangelism efforts. Though the churches were set with good intentions, they did little to assist in the struggles of the locals’ daily lives.
Juan talked about regions in the country where microlending ceased to exist due to large numbers of church partnerships. He describes how dignity had been eroded as people came to view themselves as charity cases for wealthy visitors. Wealthy visitors who would rather give handouts and money, instead of coach and teach.
“Why should we borrow money when the churches give it to us?” Juan says to Lupton. “They are turning my people into beggars.”
In Ephesians 4:28, Paul says in his letter, “The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work* with his (own) hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.”
True charity requires us to evaluate a situation and coach, teach and encourage those we do help. It’s very easy to fall in the trap of gold star charity. Who wouldn’t want to be on the news for their efforts? Or claim that tax write-off at the end of the year? To prevent our actions of helping other from being toxic, we must go beyond temporary fixes that we think will earn us a gold star. We – as volunteers, donors, charities and more – must strive to help others reach their entire God-given potential and take personal interest out of the equation.
Join the conversation on our Facebook page:
Should incentives to do charitable works be considered good motivation for helping others? Why? How do we, as Christians, correct our gold star mentalities?
In the third chapter of “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It,” Robert Lupton discusses the financial, psychological, and emotional effects charity has on those we seek to help. Lupton illustrates in the chapter, entitled “The Anatomy of Giving,” that the body of giving is composed of both mercy and justice. Justice to mean fairness and reasonableness. Mercy to mean compassion, kindness and forgiveness.
He challenges the reader to consider all elements in a person’s life justly before helping out of the impulse of compassion. He states that the Bible places equal emphasis on both mercy and justice and that both should be used to provide a holistic response to those in need.
Toward the end of the chapter, Lupton talks about an article by Christianity Post that explained three different opinions from three veteran ministry leaders who answered the question: Should we give to people on the street? Their answers varied. Here is what each ministry leader had to say.
Option 1: Freely Give
Gary Hoag, the Generosity Monk, says that we should be willing to give money to people on the street freely and without judgment. “Freely you have received, freely give, (Matt. 10:8)” Hoag says in support to his claim.
He adds: To be generous “on every occasion” requires faith to believe that God will, indeed, care for our needs if we show his love by caring for others. As Brennan Manning says, “God’s call for each of us to live a life of unlimited generosity is rooted in his limitless love and care for us.”
Option 2: Only as a Last Resort
Andy Bales, chief executive of Union Rescue Mission, believes that “giving cash to some in need is the least helpful and most temporary solution and should only be a last resort.” Based on experience, Bales’ says that most panhandlers are not truly homeless or impoverished and may walk off with $300 a day from generous people only to walk to their car and drive home. So what’s Bales approach to helping the homeless?
“When someone approaches me and asks for funds to get a place to stay, I connect them with resources, often hand them my card, and ask them to come to our mission. I also work to get them enrolled in a program that will provide not only a roof over their head but also, possibly, a life-transforming experience.”
Bales pulls support for his article from Acts which tells the story of Peter and John healing the lame man. The response to the beggar was not to give his money but to give him the gift of healing. Bales says that giving money to homeless should happen rarely and only when there are no other options for other services.
Option 3: Don’t Give
“Love is acting in the best interest of others. Providing money so some can continue immoral destructive behavior is simply not a loving act,” says Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action.
Sider says that givers should not provide handouts to support irresponsible behavior. He says that it is extremely difficult to quickly distinguish such persons from those in real need. We should give our money and resources to holistic programs that “liberate, empower and transform.”
“Due diligence. If you don’t have time to invest in forging a trusting relationship, give your money to a ministry that does. Even so, every once in a while we might feel an inner nudge to stop immediately and help a person, offering food or money or a ride. This may well be the intervention of the divine showing unconditional grace at a critical point in someone’s life. Still, there is no way of knowing until the curtain of history is pulled back to reveal the unknowable.”
Join the conversation on our Facebook page
Which response do you agree with? Why? Are there past experiences that may have led you to agree with that response? Are there other ways to consider being just and merciful to those on the streets?
To read the full article referenced by Lupton, go to: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/january/18.60.html?start=2
In Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton asks his readers to take part in the Oath for Compassionate Service. This oath is derived from the Hippocratic Oath – a pledge taken by doctors to establish high ethical standards when practicing medicine. It comes from one principle: Above all, do no harm. The Oath for Compassionate Service is very similar to Catholic Charities’ core beliefs. As we move into the next 100 years of serving others, we ask you to read and consider this oath before making the decision to become a donor, volunteer or a helper in our community so that we can better serve those who are in need.
The Oath for Compassionate Service
Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
Personal responsibility is essential for social, emotional and spiritual well-being. To do for others what they have the capacity to do for themselves is to disempower them. The negative outcomes of welfare are no different when religious or charitable organizations provide it. The struggle for self-sufficiency is, like the butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon, an essential strength-building process that should not be short-circuited by “compassionate” intervention. The effective helper can be an encourager, a coach, a partner, but never a caretaker.
Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
Is the need crisis or chronic? Triage may be the appropriate intervention in an emergency situation, but it is hardly the strategy for a continuing need. The victims of a devastating tsunami need immediate medical attention, shelter, essential supplies, and hoards of volunteers. Over time, however, survivors’ needs shift to expert consultation, a practical plan, and a combination of grants and loans to help them rebuild their destroyed community. Giving that continues beyond the immediate crisis produces diminishing returns.
Anyone who has served among the poor for any length of time will recognize the following progression:
• give once and you elicit appreciation;
• give twice and you create anticipation;
• give three times and you create expectation;
• give four times and it becomes entitlement;
• give five times and you establish dependency.
While one-way giving may seem like the “Christian” thing to do, it can undermine the very relationship a helper is attempting to build. Such charity subtly implies that the recipient has nothing of value the giver desires in return. To the extent the poor are enabled to participate in the systems intended to serve them, their self-worth is enhanced.
Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
Lending to the poor establishes mutually beneficial relationships characterized by responsibility, accountability, and respect. It is a method of legitimate exchange that requires the lender to be responsible for assessing the risk while leaving the dignity of the borrower intact. Lending, done well, builds mutual trust and respect. Investing – making money with the poor – is the ultimate method of sharing resources (including expertise, connections, energy). It economically strengthens the poor through job-creating partnerships. Investing implies an ownership stake. To invest well with those who have limited access to capital requires a sound business plan, reasoned risk/reward ratio, adequate controls and accountability. The investor has a stake in the sustainability and profitability of the venture. Grants are best used for R&D and gap funding to achieve sustainability.
Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
Organizational interests can subtly take precedence over the interests of the poor. When the agenda of a church is to create inspiring, enriching, and well-planned mission experience for members, the real needs of the poor (like decent schools or stable employment) may be over looked and dismissed as too complex or time consuming. Putting the front-burner agendas of those in need ahead of the self-interests of the helping organization may require considerable retooling, but it is a legitimate price for effective service.
Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
The poor we serve my be reluctant to reveal “the whole story” to would-be helpers for a host of reasons – intimidation, fear of judgment, fear of losing support, fear of appearing unappreciative. A single mother trying to clothe her children will be hesitant to tell the clothes-closet volunteers that their hours of operation make it difficult for working parents to shop there. But like good physicians whose thorough examination yields an accurate diagnosis and treatment, effective helpers must learn to carefully observe behaviors, ask insightful questions, use their intuition, and hear what is not being said.
Above all, do no harm
Every change has consequences. Church growth may cause traffic congestion; successful sheep breeding may lead to overgrazing. While we cannot foresee all the potential consequences of our service, we should at least make some attempt to predict its impact. Before we embark on any new service venture, we should conduct an “impact study” to consider how our good deeds might have unintended consequences. Are we luring indigenous minsters away from their pastoral duties to become schedule coordinators for our mission trips? Are we creating dependencies that may ultimately erode self-sufficiency? As Hippocrates admonished: above all, do no harm.
Lupton, Robert. “Take the Oath.” Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011. 128-131. Print.
Celebrate 100 years in Mansfield with Nationally Renowned Author Robert Lupton
This October, Catholic Charities will celebrate 100 years of service by bringing author Robert Lupton to Mansfield to challenge the understanding of charity in the community and surrounding area. Lupton will speak at three Do Something events in Mansfield including a youth rally at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on October 26, a workshop for professionals on October 27 and an evening wine and cheese fundraiser also on October 27.
Lupton is most notable for his latest publication, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, and How to Reverse It. He has worked for 40 years in inner-city Atlanta rebuilding urban neighborhoods where families can flourish and children can grow into healthy adults. He is the founder of FCS Urban Ministries, a non-profit organization that developed two mixed income subdivisions, organized a multi-racial congregation, started businesses and initiated a wide range of human services.
Catholic Charities staff members Rebecca Owens and Roxanne Sandles heard Lupton speak at an event in Cleveland. Impressed with Lupton’s service philosophy, they started a book club in Mansfield and read Toxic Charity with other service agencies in the community in August 2013. After the group finished reading the book, they reconvened at the beginning of 2014 to take action based on Lupton’s principals.
“Toxic Charity’s motto is about helping people help themselves,” says Rebecca Owens, Mansfield Site Manager.
Lupton challenges charities and individuals to examine whether their assistance is creating dependency on aid. In his book, he shares about a church mission group that built a water well for a remote village in Honduras. When the group returned a year later, women were caring water for miles because the pump had broken and the villagers didn’t know how to fix it. The group fixed the pump for them. Each year the group returned, the scenario was repeated.
Lupton contrasts this with a group who helped a Nicaraguan village build a well through involving villagers in creating a business plan, obtaining an affordable loan, building the well and setting up a water commission to maintain it.
“When relief does not transition to development in a timely manner, compassion becomes toxic,” Lupton writes. He also, “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.”
Catholic Charities’ Do Something events are intended to bring communities together for a discussion on how to best help people locally.
“Our ultimate goal is to help the community realize it’s not just the government or the non-profits who are helping people. Everybody has a role whether you are a donor, funder, volunteer or someone seeking assistance,” Rebecca adds.
The title of the events came from a song by Matthew West called Do Something. In the song, Matthew asks God why he doesn’t do more about the poverty and suffering in the world. God responds by saying, “I did, I created you.”
For more information about the events, please visit www.catholiccharitiesnwo.org/mansfieldcelebration or call contact Cheryl Dix at 419-524-0733, ext. 224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.