A small group of POLIS partners and friends recently had a Q&A with author and community developer Bob Lupton. He mentioned a new book he is working on called Toxic Charity. At one point he said, "To be a recipient of charity is to sacrifice some human dignity." Sounds bad. Sounds toxic. It’s the kind of statement that will make many a do-gooder cringe. Those who have received charity may object as well, “I really appreciated the help. I didn’t sacrifice my dignity.”

So what’s the deal? What’s wrong with charity? In a word, nothing. But as it is most commonly practiced, nearly everything. The main problem is that the ‘charity’ that we normally see, isn’t. It’s proud, impatient, self-seeking, and rude when it should be just the opposite. For the real deal check out 1 Corinthians 13 - plain as day. The King James translators well understood the connection between true charity and love and rendered the terms synonymous. Charity is not synonymous with ‘helping people’ because it must be loving – the ends never justify the means in Christianity. This means true charity must include what happens as the result of our help. When the dust clears from a service project how do those helped feel about themselves, others, and God? When we give someone money, what happens next? People should be built up by charity. They should feel and know they are loved.

Our methods and motivations are also going to reveal how loving our charity is – or if it’s toxic, creating more harm than healing. Those we help will certainly sense our motivations and will have to endure our methods. If we are really trying to make ourselves feel better, they’ll know it. If we’re really just trying to make sure they know how it was their poor choices that did them in, they’ll know it. Whatever our motivation, it’ll come through. We should want our motivations to help others to come from a pure heart – which means God will have to change us, cleanse us, renew our hearts so that our only motivation is to extend the absolutely undeserved love that he bestows on us. We won’t need to make ourselves feel better because we will be secure in his love for us. We won’t need to make others feel worse for their choices because we’ll know that God’s love for us was not merited. This will then influence our methods.

I’m not sure what all is in Bob’s new book but I am sure it will be a challenging and helpful resource. I do hope there’s something from the charity, aka love, chapter of the Bible. If not, go to the source, meditate on 1 Corinthians 13 and ask yourself, “How charitable is my love?” And, “How loving is my charity?” Love never fails. It is patient and kind. It keeps no record of wrongs (wow!). Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Oh-oh, sounds like we need God. No way any one of us can do this – Jesus did, God does, God will. He never fails. He is love. Enjoy it. Share it. Have a nice day.